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Wild-card game gives Angels a running start on preparing for Royals

Wild-card game gives Angels a running start on preparing for Royals
Angels starter Jered Weaver delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 20. Weaver will start Thursday against the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the American League division series. (Victor Decolongon / Getty Images)

Baseball's postseason blew in like a hurricane Tuesday night. No gentle sprinkles growing to a downpour. No breeze slowly turning to a gale.

The Kansas City Royals won the American League wild-card game over the Oakland A's, 9-8, and it only took 12 innings and nearly five hours in the Royals' Kauffman Stadium.

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It was a combination Dick Enberg and Harry Caray game. Oh, my! Holy cow!

The A's led, 2-0. Then they didn't. The A's led, 7-3. Then they didn't.

There was something for everybody.

"I started out watching that game as a scout," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday, "and finished it as a fan."

An A's catcher, Derek Norris, dropped a pitchout.

A 21-year-old who pitched in this year's College World Series, Brandon Finnegan of Texas Christian, pitched in this big-league postseason game a few months later and did so well you couldn't tell he was just a kid until he was interviewed, in the worst flat-bill cap ever, and said the game reminded him of the College World Series.

"Big stage. Big crowds," he said.

Royals' veterans will be having a chat with him about reality.

A Royals' hero, Billy Butler, wandered off first base early in the game in one of the silliest-looking double steal attempts ever.

As the broadcasters pointed out, Kansas City has the required roster of 25 players and seven of them stole a base Tuesday night. Ponder that. That's not Little Ball. That's the Olympic 4 x 100 relay.

With this incredible outing — immediately deemed "nearly unfathomable" by the Kansas City Star — the Royals come west to play the Angels in an American League divisional series, starting Thursday night. If the Angels were watching closely, one strategy is obvious. Water down the basepaths.

Maury Willis is still around town and could tell them what works best. Other teams used to do that to him in his premier base-stealing days with the Dodgers. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols may turn out not to be the most valuable Angels in this upcoming series. That may be the guy on the grounds crew with the hose.

Jered Weaver, Angels starting pitcher Thursday night, has the only real answer to the Kansas City tracksters.

"You try to keep them off the bases," he said Wednesday. "I think that's first and foremost."

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If Scioscia is the manager we think he is, he ordered his catchers, Chris Ianetta and Hank Conger, to watch the Voice, not the game. Pregame nightmares are not good. The Royals run so much and so well their press book may add yet another statistical category, alongside batting average, RBIs and homers: time in the 40-yard dash.

Ianetta will be behind the plate Thursday night. Pray for him.

There is hope for the Angels. Nobody stole home.

It was a game for the ages, and that's about how long it has been since the Royals were in the postseason —29 years, back to 1985 and Game 7 of their World Series victory. The Royals won that game over the St. Louis Cardinals, 11-0, and Cardinals pitcher John Tudor was so furious he punched out an electric fan with his pitching hand.

Our own El Segundo George Brett, a Kansas City baseball hero — 20 years with the same team — and now the team's vice president of baseball operations, was shown often on camera Tuesday night from his booth. At the end, in obvious amazement and disbelief, he ran his fingers through his lack of hair.

The game-of-inches thing is a cliché, except when it really is a game of inches.

The A's went ahead in the 12th and the Royals tied it after Eric Hosmer tripled off the left centerfield wall, as Oakland's Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld leaped against the wall and collided and the ball missed Fuld's glove by the length of a pencil.

The Royals won the game when Salvador Perez, who had been 0 for 5, slapped a hard RBI grounder just inside the bag at third base that scooted under Josh Donaldson's glove by the length of a pencil eraser.

A TBS announcer got to interview Perez, who was wearing lucky No. 13 and being hit from all sides by buckets of water and Gatorade. Perez, from Venezuela, struggled with his English but was able to get the key to the game to come through clearly: "These guys like to run."

In the end, you had to feel sorry for the Oakland A's, who cruised along atop the Angels' division for most of the season and then spent the last six weeks or so like a bunch of dogs chewing on chicken bones.

And then this.

Suffice to say, no four-leaf clovers grew in Oakland this summer.

The question now is, will it be an exuberant Kansas City Royals team that shows up at the Big A on Thursday night? Or an exhausted one?

Also: Will savvy Angels fans show up with both scorebooks and stopwatches?

Finally: If this is just the beginning, can fans live through another month of this postseason, and if so, will our gross national product take a dive with the work of blubbering, sleep-deprived millions?

Much depends on Trout, Pujols and the guy with the hose.

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