Shortstop racks up 11 hits, sets table as Royals return to World Series
By Alden Gonzalez
KANSAS CITY -- With his 2-year-old son in his arms and his wife by his side, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar approached Kauffman Stadium's home dugout late Friday night, looked up and saw a sold-out crowd serenade him with the "MVP" chants he never could've imagined.
Escobar -- the atypical leadoff hitter with the unconventional approach -- shined throughout this American League Championship Series, capturing Most Valuable Player honors with 11 hits in 23 at-bats. And in the moments following Friday's 4-3 win over the Blue Jays, he still couldn't believe it.
"Just a dream come true," Escobar said in Spanish, smiling wide. "It never crossed my mind to win the MVP in the postseason. Thankfully things went well for me. I'm thankful they gave me the MVP."
Escobar batted .478 with two doubles and a triple. He also became the first player to lead off the first four games of a postseason series with a hit, all while driving in five runs, scoring six others and playing his usual sparkling defense. Escobar joined Frank White (1980), George Brett (1985) and teammate Lorenzo Cain (2014) as the only other LCS MVPs in franchise history.
Really, it was a continuation of what Escobar always does in the postseason.
The 28-year-old batted .292/.303/.415 in last year's playoffs, when Kansas City came within 90 feet of a title. This year, Escobar batted .230 over his last 29 regular-season games, then .386 in the first two rounds of the postseason. There's just something about this time of year.
"He's a high-energy player and he loves to play, and he's extremely talented," general manager Dayton Moore said. "He can beat you in a lot of ways. When he comes to play and he's focused, he can really carry a club."
Manager Ned Yost reinserted Escobar in the leadoff spot for the final five regular-season games, even though he carries a career .298 on-base percentage that doesn't necessarily fit at the top of a lineup. Yost didn't care. His Royals just seem to win with Escobar at the top. They're now a combined 47 games above .500 since the start of 2014.
"Everybody's saying, with all the numbers, the statistics, they don't know how he gets it done," Kansas City reliever Danny Duffy said. "But the bottom line is, he gets it done."
Right around the time Escobar resumed his duties as a tablesetter, hitting coach Dale Sveum approached him with an idea: Swing at the first pitch.
Escobar bought in. He swung at the first pitch he saw in each of the last five regular-season games, then three times in the five-game Division Series and all six times in this ALCS. It was an approach that instilled the aggressive mentality that allowed Escobar to raise his game.
"When I go to the batter's box aggressive, I focus more and I try to take better at-bats," Escobar said.
"There's just some people you have to turn loose, like a wild horse," Sveum added. "Some people just aren't good at taking pitches and letting things go by."
Yost has known Escobar since his days as the Brewers' manager, before the Royals acquired him alongside Cain in the December 2010 trade that sent Zack Greinke, and others, to Milwaukee. At the podium late Friday night, Yost recalled how he used to invite Escobar to Spring Training when he was still in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, just because he loved watching him play.
"For him to get the MVP this year is very satisfying to me," Yost said. "I've always known he was an MVP-type of player in these type of situations."