Escobar's dazzling defense saves game
Royals shortstop makes trio of clutch plays to set up dramatics
KANSAS CITY -- Billy Butler might have been a hero for his bat, but that was just one swing. During the top half of many innings, it was shortstop Alcides Escobar who saved the game again and again in the Royals' 2-0 win Wednesday afternoon.
With two outs in the top of the eighth, the Angels managed to load the bases on a single, double and walk. Alberto Callaspo stepped to the plate with his .340 average with runners in scoring position.
Royals pitcher Tim Collins got Callaspo to hit the ball on the ground, but it was headed in a hurry for left field. That's when Escobar dove to his right to stop the ball in the grass, saving at least one run. And when he launched a two-hopper to first that Eric Hosmer scooped for the final out, he made sure the score would stay at 0-0.
Some would say it would be gutsy to go for the out at first from shallow left field, but for Escobar, there was no question where the throw was going.
"When I saw the ball, I saw Callaspo hit the ball, so I had the time to make the out at first," Escobar said. "Callaspo's not the fastest runner, so I threw to first and Hosmer made a very good play, too."
Escobar got a chance to not only save the game but potentially win it in the bottom of the eighth. He came up to bat with one out and Chris Getz on second, but could only manage a groundout that moved Getz to third.
Some of the fans were not as appreciative of Escobar's game as Royals manager Ned Yost was.
"It's crazy," Yost said. "When Esky was hitting in the eighth inning and we had a runner on second, somebody screamed from the stands, 'Ned, get a hitter in there!' And I'm thinking, 'Dude have you been watching the game?' This guy just saved us four runs -- that's like driving in four runs. His runs are in his glove."
Escobar finished the series 0-for-10 at the plate, but he realizes that as long as he keeps playing spectacular defense, he can help his team win games.
"I need to help the team, whether with my defense or my hitting," Escobar said. "Right now, my bat's so down, so I'm working very hard."
Butler, whose first career walk-off home run was all the scoring the game would see, credited Escobar for having just as big an impact on the game.
"People think you can only get runs by scoring, but you can definitely keep runs off the board, and that's what he's done for us. He did it a couple of times today," said Butler, whose reviewed homer in the bottom of the ninth won it. "That play he made in the eighth, he never ceases to keep amazing me. That was a great play, that saved us from being down there in the later innings."
Escobar came up with another run-saving play in the third inning. Like the eighth, the Angels loaded the bases, but this time with one out. Torii Hunter scorched a grounder to Escobar, who handled it cleanly and easily, starting an inning-ending double play.
"When Hunter hit it, that's a hard ground ball," Escobar said. "This guy hits the ball hard all the time. He never hits the ball easy."
Those were the kinds of plays the Royals needed to keep the game scoreless while their bats woke up.
And while the Angels defense didn't have much to worry about most of the game, the Los Angeles hitters kept Escobar busy.
"That's why I think he's the best. In big-time situations like that, he came through," Hosmer said of Escobar. "When you're good like him, that's what good players do. He showed why he's one of the best shortstops in this league. For him to make that play [in the eighth] lit a fire under our team, really, it helped us win that ballgame."
For the final out of the ninth, Escobar again fielded the ball from the left-field grass, this time throwing out Hank Conger.
That makes two textbook infield singles that were turned into outs by Escobar, which doesn't surprise Hosmer.
"With him, he covers so much ground," Hosmer said. "The thing about him is, his arm is so good, so he can make a play from shallow left field, so you always have to be on your toes with him."
And while it was Escobar who started the plays, Hosmer managed to finish them, including fielding one throw that went far to the home plate side of first base.
"When I got that ball and I threw to first, I said, 'Oh, come on Esky,' because I threw the ball [badly]," Escobar said. "That's Hosmer on first, I love Hosmer on first."
But Hosmer was quick to redirect any credit back to the shortstop.
"That's my job over there, is to make it as comfortable for [Escobar] as possible," he said. "So he just knows, if he makes a diving play like that, to just get up and fire it; it's my job to catch it. That play was hard enough, that's the least I can do is pick that ball up for him."
Adam Holt is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.