Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost yielded the hot seat to Angels Manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday night.
While Yost pulled all the right strings in a battle of bullpens, it was Scioscia who left himself open to some second-guessing, first with three late-inning sacrifice bunts and attempts that netted nothing, then with a pivotal decision to go with reliever Fernando Salas over Jason Grilli or Mike Morin in the 11th inning.
Salas caught too much of the plate with a changeup, and Mike Moustakas, a former Chatsworth High standout, belted it over the right-field wall to lead off the 11th and lift the Royals to a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the American League division series in Angel Stadium.
“Salas has been terrific at holding leads and against left-handed hitters,” Scioscia said of the right-hander, who went 5-0 with a 3.38 earned-run average in 57 games. “He just yanked a changeup a little bit down and in, and Moustakas didn’t miss it.”
It was Moustakas’ first homer since Aug. 25 and the first extra-inning playoff homer ever for the Royals, who erased three deficits in a 12-inning, walk-off wild-card win over Oakland on Tuesday night.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Moustakas said. “It seems like every night, it’s someone different for us, someone stepping up in a big situation.”
Closer Greg Holland, who didn’t arrive in Angel Stadium until after the first pitch — he was in North Carolina for the birth of a child Wednesday — struck out two of three in the 11th for the save.
So ended a frustrating night at the plate for the Angels, who saw Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick and Josh Hamilton combine to go 0 for 18 and had two rallies thwarted by charmed Royals right fielder Nori Aoki.
In fact, if not for Aoki, who made a no-look catch of Kendrick’s drive to the wall in right-center to end the sixth and a stumbling catch after his circuitous route to C.J. Cron’s fly ball to end the seventh, the Angels would have won in regulation.
Kole Calhoun reached on a one-out single in the sixth, Pujols drew a two-out walk, and Kendrick followed with a drive to deep right-center that had the makings of a two-run double.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall to rob Calhoun of extra bases in the first, catapulted his body toward the fence, but the ball was just out of his reach.
Aoki yielded to Cain at first, but then he thrust his glove toward the ball at the last second. With Aoki looking toward center field, the ball somehow landed in his glove for the third out.
“I wasn’t sure either one of them was going to catch the ball,” Yost said. “I was shocked when Nori caught it.”
With a runner on third and two outs in the seventh, Cron lifted a high fly ball to the right-field corner. Aoki started back, then quickly altered course before making a catch on the track, punctuating the play with a tip of his cap and pump of his glove to the fans before hurling the ball into the crowd.
“Aoki killed us tonight,” Hamilton said.
The Angels got superb starting pitching from Jered Weaver, who gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings, striking out six, and stout relief from Joe Smith, Huston Street and Kevin Jepsen, who combined for three hitless innings.
But they went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position, their only runs coming on Chris Iannetta’s solo homer in the third and David Freese’s solo homer in the fifth, both off Royals starter Jason Vargas, who gave up two runs and three hits in six innings.
The Royals used seven relievers, with Brandon Finnegan, Wade Davis, Tim Collins, Jason Frasor and Danny Duffy combining for four scoreless innings.
“You pitch well, you get opportunities, you’ve got to come through,” Freese said. “This is playoff baseball. Whether it’s the regular season or not, when two tough teams go at it head-to-head, you’re going to get games like this.”
Weaver gave up Alcides Escobar’s RBI double in the third and Omar Infante’s sacrifice fly in the fifth and threw 100 pitches, leaving him in good shape to start Game 4 on short rest.
“These guys have done it all year,” Weaver said of the offense. “Obviously, we fell a little short tonight, but I wouldn’t expect that for the rest of the series.”