Spotting the ramblin' Royals a 2-0 advantage in a five-game American League Division Series, the AL West champs' mission is clear and simple: Win, win and win again. Seize Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Monday at Kauffman Stadium to arrange a Game 5 back home Wednesday -- or scatter to the winds for a long winter of contemplation.
"Lose another one, you go home," said Mike Trout
, who has been uncharacteristically silent with the bat in the first two postseason games of his career. "We've got to be relaxed. We can't be tight."
Two numbing losses pinned on an offense producing just three runs in 22 innings will test the Angels' resolve as they engage Royals ace James Shields in Game 3, 4:30 p.m. PT Sunday on TBS.
C.J. Wilson, a front-line starter for a 2011 Rangers outfit that came within one out of a World Series title against the Cardinals, is looking for a command performance similar to those of fellow starters Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker during Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim.
A time of reckoning has arrived for a team that expressed itself with such confidence for six months, driving its way to the best record in the Majors with a phenomenal second half.
At this critical moment, veteran leadership comes into play. The Angels have it in every corner of the clubhouse, from World Series champions Albert Pujols and David Freese (with the Cardinals) to franchise foundations such as Weaver, Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
Teams in this position have been known to forge an "us against the world" mentality in unfriendly environs. And it has been known to work in a galvanizing way.
Kendrick and Aybar, coming off their best of eight seasons together in the heart of the Angels' infield, grew up in the game surrounded by leaders and in that role now.
They put hits together in the fifth inning of Game 2 against Yordano Ventura, but the game-turning rally didn't materialize. The Angels' run the following inning is the only one they've manufactured in the series. The others came on solo homers by Chris Iannetta and Freese.
Kendrick launched a drive to right-center that could have driven in two runs and turned Game 1 the Angels' way if not for an improbable stab by Royals right fielder Nori Aoki against the wall.
"Some nights they don't fall for you, guys make great plays," Kendrick said. "We have to play our game, make things happen now."
Two nights of frustration can be forgotten in a hurry if an offense that generated more runs than any other across 162 games regains its mojo against Shields. The focus is on the absence of power production from Trout, Josh Hamilton and Pujols, but there are other ways to score -- as the Royals love to show us.
With their ability to make contact and run, Kendrick and Aybar can manufacture runs. Highly productive down the stretch in the cleanup spot, in front of Aybar, Kendrick hit .293 with 75 RBIs.
"We've been through a lot together," Kendrick said. "We're like brothers, me and Erick. We go all the way back to Double-A together. It seems like we've been together forever. This is where we grew up. We can be ourselves here.
"I can read Erick's mind, and he can read mine. Albert comes in, and he's like another brother. It's great chemistry here. Guys like Albert and Freese have won it all, and we've been to the playoffs three straight years. That experience is invaluable."
There is no time like the present to express it.
"I learned from Vlad [Guerrero] that you have to play free," Aybar said. "Now Albert helps me a lot. If you feel good, that's how you can play."
A Gold Glove winner in 2011 who was just as good with the leather this season, Aybar produced a career-high 68 RBIs while hitting .278.
"Howie and Erick have been our unsung stars all year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They've both had terrific seasons on both sides of the ball. We know how important they are to us."
In 2009, Kendrick and Aybar were part of a team that came within two wins of a World Series. The Yankees knocked out those Angels in six games and won it all. The duo has been driven ever since to get another shot at that elusive ring.
"That's what you play for," Kendrick said, "to get to the postseason and get an opportunity to play in the World Series. As long as you give it everything you've got, that's all you can ask of yourself and your teammates."
The final four from that great '09 outfit -- Aybar and Kendrick, Weaver and Kevin Jepsen -- have waited too long to let this end so quickly without resistance.
"We've been fighting," Kendrick said, "and we're going to keep fighting."