SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Kansas City Royals followed their formula for success to perfection turning a tight game over to their “monstrous” bullpen to beat the San Francisco Giants on Friday and seize the upper hand in the World Series.
After each team claimed a lopsided win in the first two games of the best-of-seven, Game Three was a 3-2 nailbiter that gave the visitors a 2-1 lead in the series.
The pivotal victory was preserved by four hitless innings thrown by Royals relievers.
“Monstrous,” Royals manager Ned Yost said in describing the firepower he is able to call on in the late innings.
“The key factor in all of this for us is timely hitting, great defense, really solid starting pitching, but dynamic back of the bullpen.”
Of the previous 56 times a Fall Classic has been tied 1-1, the team that has won Game Three has gone on to win the Major League Baseball championship two-thirds of the time.
Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie pitched five shutout innings before wobbling in the sixth and turning the game over to the bullpen brigade.
Unbeaten through the post-season until they lost the first game of the World Series at home on Tuesday, the upstart Royals have produced back-to-back wins and could take command of the series in Saturday’s Game Four in San Francisco.
Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Hosmer each drove in a run for the Royals, in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years, while closer Greg Holland wrapped up the win in the ninth for his seventh save of the postseason.
“We’re just trying to get leads and hand off to our bullpen,” said Hosmer, whose single to center in a battling, 11-pitch at-bat against lefty reliever Javier Lopez gave Kansas City their third run.
“This is a huge win for us and hats off to the bullpen for holding it down for us.”
The Giants found themselves in an early hole when 39-year-old starter Tim Hudson received a rude welcome when Alcides Escobar stroked his first pitch for a double to left and eventually scored on Lorenzo Cain’s ground out.
“It was high and probably outside corner or outer third (of the plate),” said Hudson. “He was just swinging. He had his mind made up. Give him credit, he hit it.”
Hudson settled down after that and retired 12 successive batters until Escobar collected his second hit with a single in the sixth.
That was quickly followed by an RBI-double from Gordon that bumped Royals’ lead to 2-0.
With two out and a man on second Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Hudson with Javier Lopez but the Royals scored one more run when a determined Hosmer spoiled several good pitches before delivering a single to score Gordon.
The Giants answered right back in the bottom half with two runs as pinch-hitter Michael Morse sparked the rally with an RBI-double down the left-field line. Buster Posey drove in another run on a grounder to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Royals bullpen did the rest with Kelvin Herrera, rookie Brandon Finnegan and Wade Davis setting the stage for Holland.
Holland clinched the win by retiring the heart of the San Francisco lineup — Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey — in order.
Yost broke up his usual starting lineup as a concession to the spacious AT&T Park outfield.
Starting in center was Jarrod Dyson with Lorenzo Cain shifting to right instead of usual starter Nori Aoki.
“Because it’s a unique park... we’re going to put our best defensive outfield out there,” said Yost. “They just cover all kinds of ground out there.”
The change also moved Gordon up in the order into Aoki’s usual number two slot in the lineup.
“I was really glad to see Gordy get the big hit,” said Yost, who pushed all the right buttons in another Royals win.
Addtional reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto and Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly