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Royals hold off Orioles 2-1, finish ALCS sweep

Royals catcher Salvador Perez and relief pitcher Greg Holland celebrate 2-1 win and sweep of Orioles. (Associated Press)
Royals catcher Salvador Perez and relief pitcher Greg Holland celebrate 2-1 win and sweep of Orioles. (Associated Press)
Dave Skretta Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – James Shields led thousands of fans in a celebratory chant. Lorenzo Cain pranced along the warning track, cradling his newborn son. And manager Ned Yost finally allowed himself to smile.

After nearly three decades spent as one of the game’s biggest laughingstocks, the Kansas City Royals are once again baseball royalty. They are headed to their first World Series since 1985, finishing a four-game sweep in the A.L. Championship Series with a 2-1 victory Wednesday over the Baltimore Orioles.

In a perfect postseason, the Royals are intent to relish every moment.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Cain, whose clutch hits and dramatic catches earned him the series MVP award. “We’re clicking at the right moment right now.”

There’s no doubt about that.

Now, the Royals will carry an 11-game playoff win streak into the World Series, one shy of the major league record. That includes their first eight this season, something that had never been done in postseason history. Kansas City beat Oakland in a 12-inning wild-card thriller to start things off, then swept the Los Angeles Angels in the Divisional Series.

Kansas City will open its first World Series since 1985 on Tuesday against the winner of the NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals. San Francisco leads it 2-1.

Coincidentally, it was the Cardinals who the Royals beat for their only World Series title.

“It’s been an amazing run,” Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. “It’s nothing better than when you win. Today, same old story: good pitching, good defense and scratch out a win.”

Same old story for the Orioles, too: Solid pitching, good defense – and just not enough offense. They managed seven hits the last two games, resulting in the first sweep for the franchise in 21 postseason series.

“You saw how close the games were,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s more a testament to what they did. They were playing great defensively.”

After holding the Orioles to three hits in Game 3, Jason Vargas and the Royals bullpen held them to four hits Wednesday night. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis got the game to Greg Holland, who matched Dennis Eckersley’s record with his fourth save of the best-of-seven series.

Holland got J.J. Hardy to ground out to third base for the final out, and the Royals spilled onto the infield in a wild celebration. Fireworks shot over the crown-shaped scoreboard in center field, and a blue-clad sellout crowd that included Royals greats George Brett and Brett Saberhagen let out a roar while cars on nearby Interstate 70 honked their horns.

“That’s what you dream of as a kid,” Holland said. “Punch your ticket to the World Series, especially before your home crowd. These fans have been waiting a long time.

“They deserve it.”

The Orioles, meanwhile, will limp into the offseason after a 96-win season in which they overcame injuries and suspensions to several key players along the way.

“I think it’s not what we didn’t do. It’s more what they did,” said the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty, whose home run in the third represented their lone run. “We played good baseball.”

The Royals manufactured a pair of runs when Alcides Escobar singled off Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez to open the game, and Nori Aoki was drilled on the right knee a couple pitches later. Yost then opted to bunt with Cain, one of his hottest hitters, to advance both runners.

Eric Hosmer followed with a chopping ground ball. First baseman Steve Pearce went home with it. Escobar slid safely as the ball bounded away from catcher Caleb Joseph and Aoki scored, too, for a 2-0 lead for the scrappy Royals.

After that, it was up to their defense and bullpen.

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