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Hometown hero Mike Moustakas makes good for Royals against Angels

Hometown hero Mike Moustakas makes good for Royals against Angels
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Angels in the third inning. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The moment was seven years in the making, that flash of glory that awaits every kid showered with expectations and millions of dollars in a signing bonus.

The journey was not easy, but the reward was well worth it for Kansas City's Mike Moustakas. After a season that saw him dropped to the bottom of the batting order and demoted to the minor leagues, Moustakas hit the game-winning home run in Thursday's opener of the American League division series, an 11th-inning shot that gave the Royals a 3-2 victory over the Angels.

"That's probably the biggest hit I've ever had," Moustakas said. "It felt really amazing."

Moustakas grew up in the San Fernando Valley, cheering on Mike Piazza and Raul Mondesi with the Dodgers, starring at Chatsworth High. In the 2007 draft, when David Price was the first pick, Moustakas was the second.

He made his major league debut at Angel Stadium, in 2011, his first hit a single off Ervin Santana. He returned Thursday, for the first division series game in Royals' history, and he delivered the game-winner, with friends and family getting loud as the rest of the stadium went silent.

Not that Moustakas heard it, though.

"I wish I could have enjoyed it more," he said. "Everything happened so fast."

Not his success, though. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have gone down in each of his three full major league seasons. The Royals sent him to triple-A in May, when he was batting .152, and they since have made their peace with a third baseman who has some pop and plays good defense.

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And, as teammate Eric Hosmer pointed out, the regular-season batting average goes away when the postseason gets underway.

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"You get up to the plate and you're looking at brand-new average," Hosmer said. "It kind of revives you."

Moustakas batted .212 in the regular season. He is batting .333 in the postseason after hitting an 85-mph pitch from Fernando Salas over the right-field wall.

"I don't know what it was," Moustakas said. "I thought it was a fastball."

Amid the joy in the Royals' clubhouse, there was one somber note. Kelvin Herrera, one of the Royals' key relievers, left the game with what Manager Ned Yost called "mild forearm stiffness." Herrera is expected to undergo an MRI examination Friday.

The back end of their bullpen — quite possibly the best in baseball — lines up with Herrera working the seventh inning, Wade Davis the eighth and Greg Holland the ninth.

Those days might be over, at least for the postseason and perhaps for next year as well. Herrera left with what the Royals initially called tightness in his right forearm. That often is the initial diagnosis in pitchers that ultimately require Tommy John surgery.

At the very least, Herrera's injury scrambled the Royals' plans for the late innings on Thursday.

For this night, the Royals had won, and the celebration was on. It had been 29 years since the Royals' previous postseason appearance, and it still has been 29 years since their last postseason loss.

Two more victories against the Angels, and the Royals advance to AL Championship Series. To do it, they might have to rebuild the back end of their bullpen on the fly.

But this postseason newbie stuff is refreshing, and a bit charming. Moustakas, asked the cliché question about how important it was for the Royals to win Game 1, paused to think about his answer.

Then he smiled, and answered honestly.

"I wish I could tell you," he said. "This is my first go at this."

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