With the Royals holding a one-run lead in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday, the Orioles' J.J. Hardy turned on an inside pitch from Jason Vargas and walloped it to left field. Kauffman Stadium held its collective breath as the ball sailed, according to the Statcast tracking technology, precisely 374.4 feet.
That wasn't enough to clear Alex Gordon. The three-time defending AL Gold Glove Award winner turned and raced back, looking for the ball over his right shoulder as he reached a top speed of 16.7 mph. He leaped as he crossed onto the warning track, extending his left arm up and behind him. The ball smacked into Gordon's glove just before he smacked into the screen-covered scoreboard, and he held on as he fell backward to the dirt, holding his glove aloft.
"I was just trying to make the play any way that I could," Gordon told TBS after the game. "If they were hitting it my way, I was gonna catch it, and that's what happened."
Instead of having a runner in scoring position to start the inning, the Orioles had nobody on with one out. They never scored again, and the Royals punched their ticket to the World Series.
LCS STATCAST HIGHLIGHTS
ALCS Game 4:Moustakas gets final out
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, the Kauffman Stadium crowd of more than 40,000 was on its feet as Hardy dug in against closer Greg Holland. The Royals needed one more out to complete an ALCS sweep and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1985. Holland delivered, and Hardy hit a bouncer down the third-base line. Mike Moustakas moved to his right, fielded the ball near the line and fired across the diamond in plenty of time to get Hardy, running at a maximum speed of 19.1 mph. As soon as first baseman Eric Hosmer caught the throw, the Royals poured out of the dugout. The celebration had begun.
ALCS Game 4:Schoop nabs Cain
The Royals, already leading 2-1, nearly added an insurance run in the fifth inning, but a fine defensive play by second baseman Jonathan Schoop kept the Orioles within one. Kansas City had Nori Aoki at second base with one out for Lorenzo Cain. The center fielder, who went 8-for-15 in the ALCS to earn MVP honors, smacked a line drive back up the middle. Pitcher Miguel Gonzalez got a piece of the ball with his glove, slowing it down and directing it right over second base. Schoop collected it and had to unleash a rocket to first to get Cain, who flew down the line at a top speed of 20.8 mph. The throw got him by a half-step, and the Orioles later got out of the inning unscathed.
ALCS Game 3:Dyson shows what speed can do
In the first two games of the American League Championship Series, Royals speedster Jarrod Dyson entered as a pinch-runner, only to be caught stealing. Dyson got another chance on Tuesday, in Game 3 at Kauffman Stadium, and although he didn't attempt to swipe a bag, he still used those talents to help push across the go-ahead run in a 2-1 Royals victory.
With one out in the sixth inning, the man who coined the phrase, "That's what speed do," stood at first base as a pinch-runner for Aoki. From there, the Statcast tracking technology shows just what his speed did.
Dyson took an initial 12-foot lead off first as Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen began his delivery to Hosmer. A secondary lead extended that to 18 feet by the time Hosmer ripped a one-out single past first baseman Steve Pearce, who had been trying to hold Dyson close to the bag. Then Dyson was off to the races, charting a tight course around second and never hesitating as he cruised into third, reaching a top speed of 21.1 mph in 2.19 seconds.
When Billy Butler followed with a fly ball to left field off reliever Kevin Gausman, Dyson was out of the blocks even quicker, accelerating to 21 mph in only 1.34 seconds as he darted home on the sacrifice fly. Dyson's run was the final tally of the game as the Royals grabbed a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS.
ALCS Game 3: Hosmer beats Cruz to first
The Orioles were looking for their first baserunner of the game when Nelson Cruz led off the second inning and slapped a ground ball toward the hole on the right side of the infield. Hosmer, already playing pretty far off first base, dove to his right to smother the ball. At that point, it was a race to first. Cruz, with the benefit of momentum and 90 feet of space, accelerated to a top speed of 19.9 mph in 1.64 seconds. Hosmer reached up to 15.5 mph in 2.79 seconds. But with less ground to cover, his headfirst dive to the base got him there a step ahead of Cruz.
ALCS Game 3: Moustakas lays out
Moustakas' dive into the seats for a foul ball will be the defensive play people remember from Game 3, but the Royals' third baseman flashed his leather earlier in the contest as well. In the fourth inning, Pearce jumped on a Jeremy Guthrie pitch and smashed a line drive that seemed ticketed for left field. Moustakas had time to make only a couple of quick steps before launching into a full-extension dive to his left, reaching up to snare a ball that almost seemed to have sped past him.
ALCS Game 3: Schoop's heads-up play
With the game locked in a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning, the Royals had two outs and nobody on when they got a break. Alcides Escobar hit a chopper to the third-base side of the mound, with Chen fielding it and throwing wildly to first. As the ball eluded Pearce and headed up the right-field line, Escobar turned and headed for second, going as fast as 20.2 mph, though he lost momentum while changing directions. Schoop, meanwhile, was backing up the play. Running toward the line from his position at second base, he found himself in a perfect spot to grab the ball as it caromed off the wall. Schoop then spun and fired a strike to Hardy, who put the tag on Escobar at second to end the inning.
ALCS Game 3: Cain makes great grab in foul territory
With one out in the ninth inning and Holland trying to nail down the 2-1 win, Cruz lofted a high fly ball down the right field line. Right fielder Cain, who has made great plays in both right and center throughout the series, gave chase. Accelerating to a maximum speed of 20.6 mph in 2.18 seconds, he raced into foul territory and snagged the ball a couple of steps before running into the wall. Two pitches later, Kansas City was celebrating its seventh straight win to begin this postseason.
NLCS Game 3: Panda saves a double and the game
With Jon Jay on first and two outs in the top of the 10th, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval made a diving stop toward the line then fired a throw to first base, robbing Matt Holliday of a hit -- and possibly an RBI. Sandoval's stop proved to be critical, as Statcast shows us that Jay got a great jump toward second, accelerating to full speed in just 1.20 seconds and reaching a maximum speed of 17.6 mph as he prepared to round second base. Had Sandoval not made the play, Jay would have likely achieved a higher maximum speed during his full sprint between second and third base and scored. The play not only frustrated Holliday, who slammed his helmet down behind first base, but it set the table for the Giants' walk-off victory.
Statcast shows that Blanco then raced out of the batter's box, reaching a maximum speed of 20.2 mph on the play. With Blanco bearing down so quickly on first base, Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate airmailed the throw to second baseman Kolten Wong, who had raced over to cover the bag. Crawford, who had extended his secondary lead to an even 20 feet as Choate entered his delivery, needed just 0.56 seconds to accelerate into a full sprint, reaching a top speed of 17.2 mph before scoring. It was just the eighth postseason game to ever end on an error.
NLCS Game 3: Wong's triple plates two
One game after playing the hero with a walk-off home run, Wong continued to swing a hot bat in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
With Jay at second base and Holliday at first in the fourth inning, Wong lifted an 0-1 pitch from Tim Hudson to deep right field. With two outs at the time, Jay and Holliday took off at the crack of the bat, and both scored easily after right fielder Hunter Pence failed to make the play after battling the wind. Wong took a small hop out of the box and had a 2.78-second acceleration time as he started his looping jog toward first base. It didn't take him long, however, to turn on the jets, reaching his maximum speed of 18.8 mph shortly after rounding first base.
ALCS Game 1: Hundley's crazy scoop
With the game tied at 5 in top of the ninth, Orioles reliever Zach Britton walked the first three batters he faced, but then got bailed out when Hosmer hit a weak grounder to first base. Escobar, the runner on third, had a secondary lead of 13 feet, 9 inches, but got an understandably slow start, as he wanted to be conservative with no one out. (He ultimately reached a top speed of 20.3 mph, which is impressive.) First baseman Pearce charged Hosmer's grounder and made a clean scoop, but his throw came in low, and it took an incredible scoop by catcher Nick Hundley to record the out, with the ball beating Escobar by just .17 seconds.
ALCS Game 1 and 2:Dyson gets caught ... twice
Counting the postseason, Dyson entered this series 121-for-141 (85.8 percent) as a basestealer in his career, including 71-for-84 (84.5 percent) over the past two seasons. Yet he is now 0-for-2 against Baltimore, marking only the second time he's been caught in consecutive games. In Game 1, Dyson took his first step in 0.27 seconds and accelerated to a top speed of 20.1 mph in 2.2 seconds. He slid in ahead of a 70.1 mph throw from catcher Hundley, but second baseman Schoop kept his tag on Dyson's left leg as he appeared to push it off the base. Dyson was called out.
No such tactics were necessary in Game 2 with Caleb Joseph catching lefty Andrew Miller. This time, Dyson reached a higher top speed (22.3 mph), but the pitch was high, giving Joseph a good opportunity to throw. Joseph, who threw out 40 percent of attempted basestealers this year, threw a laser strike that hit shortstop Hardy perfectly, on the first-base side of the bag. Hardy put the tag down on Dyson's left shoulder just before he reached the base.
ALCS Game 2: Cain races home from second
With no score in the first inning, Aoki stood at third and Cain at second with one out when Hosmer hit a blooper that dropped over Hardy's head, into shallow left field. Statcast shows that Cain took a 19-foot lead off second, went about halfway, then shifted into high gear once he saw Hardy couldn't make the play. The fleet-footed outfielder accelerated to top speed in 1.92 seconds, reaching 20.5 mph as he flew the last 90 feet and slid home ahead of Joseph's tag.
ALCS Game 2:Cain swipes a bag
After his third hit, in the fifth inning, Cain's legs carried him into scoring position again. Reliever Brad Brach, pitching out of the stretch, paid close attention to Cain with a pair of pickoff throws as Hosmer worked the count to 3-0. The Royals hadn't attempted a steal on that count all season, but this time Cain took a 12-foot lead and broke for second on a 94-mph fastball that went for strike one. Accelerating in 2.11 seconds, Cain reached 20.4 mph and slid in ahead of Joseph's throw, which bounced off Hardy's glove.
ALCS Game 2: Cain sprints, lays out to rob Hardy
Cain tormented the Orioles defensively as well. Hardy led off the sixth inning with a drive that traveled about 350 feet into the right-center-field gap off Yordano Ventura. It looked like an extra-base hit off the bat, but Cain had other ideas. From his position in center, he took his first step toward the ball in less than a quarter of a second, accelerating to a maximum speed of 21.2 mph in 3.74 seconds. But to make the play, Cain needed more than pure speed. Statcast measured his route efficiency at 99.7 percent, meaning he traversed a nearly optimal path from his original location to the spot where he dove to snag Hardy's shot. That allowed his long strides to cover 82 feet of outfield in only 3.65 seconds.
ALCS Game 2:Gore shows off his wheels Terrance Gore was on second with one out in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game. And because so much speed represented the go-ahead run in such a crucial juncture, Orioles second baseman Schoop had to watch Gore closely at second, which meant first baseman Pearce had to shade well off first base, which opened up a gaping hole down the right-field line for the right-handed-hitting Escobar, who doubled home Gore to put the Royals ahead for good.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.