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Royals, Orioles sweep into next playoff round

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles have returned to postseason play with a vengeance after years of looking in from the outside.

They swept their respective American League Divisional Series in advancing to the American League Championship series. The team that wins that one will go to the World Series.

The Royals waited 29 years to return to the postseason. Now that they're there, they want to stick around for a while.

Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each homered and the wildcard Royals finished off their three-game sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Angels with an emphatic 8-3 victory Sunday night.

The Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers 2-1 in Motown Sunday to complete their sweep and advance to the ALCS for the first time since 1997.

That means the big-money, big-market AL teams -- the Angels, Tigers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are gone. "The big boys are all out now, the true blue bloods," observes Baseball Insider Jon Heyman, who calls this the "year of the upstart" in the AL.

The scrappy Royals, with a quirky manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will open the ALCS Friday night in Baltimore.

Kansas City won four games and lost three against the O's this year.

"I've never seen this group of kids so confident on the big stage," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's really fun to see their development and watch them come into the postseason and just really take their game to the next level."

The Angels, 98-64 in the regular season, became the second team in the divisional era that began in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept out of the playoffs, STATS said. In no small coincidence, the Royals dealt the same humiliating fate to the New York Yankees in the 1980 ALCS.

Stalking around the mound amid an electric atmosphere, James Shields lived up to his "Big Game James" billing. The Royals' ace gave up homers to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup

Shields was helped, too, by a pair of diving grabs by center fielder Lorenzo Cain on back-to-back plays. All told, the highest-scoring team in baseball managed six runs in the entire series.

"Anything happens in the playoffs," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You don't go in with any badge saying you won the most games, and you're certainly not going to get any points for that going into the playoffs."

As for the Royals, "they're going to be a team tough to beat in this tournament," he said.

Kansas City showed off great glovework in every game, especially by its fleet outfielders. In this one, Cain's catches in the fifth inning ended an Angels' rally and preserved a five-run lead.

The Royals coasted the rest of the way to their seventh straight postseason victory dating to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, the last time they were in the playoffs. George Brett, the star of that team, watched from an upstairs suite and raised his arms when ace closer Greg Holland fanned Trout for the final out.

This bunch of Royals is certainly making up for all that lost time.

Kansas City won a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wildcard game, and a pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to an adoring crowd at Kauffman Stadium.

This one had none of the drama -- not that anybody wearing blue cared.

Almost an hour after the game ended, the postgame party had moved from the field to the Kansas City clubhouse, where victory champagne was once again flowing. Yet as sheets of rain fell at Kauffman Stadium, thousands of celebrating Royals fans refused to leave.

They had waited 29 years to soak in moments like these.

"This is a special time in the city right now and they're enjoying this as much as we are," Shields said. "This is the best atmosphere I've ever been a part of."

The Oriole ran away with the title this season in a division of behemoths, then got the unexpected sweep against the Tigers and a trio of Cy Young Award winners.

Baltimore Orioles celebrate in locker room after 2-1 win over Detroit Tigers in Game Three of the American League Division Series in Detroit on October 5, 2014 Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Nelson Cruz sliced a two-run homer for his latest big postseason hit in the Birds' Sunday victory.

Bud Norris outpitched David Price.

The Tigers scored in the ninth inning and put the tying run on second with no outs, but Orioles closer Zach Britton escaped the jam to lift manager Buck Showalter into his first League Championship Series in 16 seasons as a big league manager.

"This is fun to watch. Believe me, I'm happier than you can imagine," Showalter said. "But most of it comes from getting to see the players get what they've put into it."

"We've got a lot to go and we're grinding," outfielder Adam Jones said. "If we play as a team, we can do anything."

So often an afterthought in the rugged American League East, the Orioles won their first division title since 1997 this year, dispatching the second-place New York Yankees by 12 games and last-place Boston by more than double that margin.

That put Baltimore up against another of the game's most star-laden rosters, and Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and the rest of the Tigers couldn't manage a single win.

Cruz's homer Sunday was his 16th in postseason play, including eight against the Tigers. He was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS for Texas in a six-game victory over Detroit.

Cruz spent much of this past offseason without a team after serving a 50-game suspension last year for violating baseball's drug agreement.

"He knows things were self-inflicted," Showalter said. "He really wanted to re-establish himself, and we thought that we could provide a real good opportunity for him, and the sky might be the limit."

Norris pitched two-hit ball for six-and-a-third innings, and Andrew Miller got five straight outs to keep the shutout going.

Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez opened the ninth with back-to-back doubles off Britton. Bryan Holaday struck out after a failed bunt attempt, and Showalter made the unconventional decision to put the winning run on base by intentionally walking Nick Castellanos.

That meant the bottom of Detroit's lineup would have to come through. The Tigers sent up Hernan Perez - who had five at-bats in the regular season - to pinch hit, and he bounced a 96 mph fastball into a 5-4-3 double play. It was Britton's second save of the series.

Cruz led the majors with 40 homers this season, and the Orioles topped baseball with 211. It was his two-run homer in the first inning of the opener that set the series' tone, and he came through again in the sixth inning against Price. Cruz's drive cleared the wall in right, about 2 feet to the left of the foul pole.

Not bad for a guy the Orioles signed in late February. Cruz turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer that would have kept him with Texas - but he ended up having to settle for an $8 million, one-year contract with Baltimore that included $750,000 in roster bonuses.

Cruz's powerful bat enabled the Orioles to withstand season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, as well as Chris Davis' 25-game suspension for an amphetamine violation.

"If you tell me before the series we're going to sweep, I don't believe it," Cruz said.

Detroit won its fourth straight Americna League Central Division title this year. But after reaching at least the ALCS the last three seasons, Detroit couldn't make it there this year. The Tigers remain without a World Series title since 1984 - a drought one year shorter than Baltimore's.

"It's disappointing. You feel like you let the fans down and you feel like you let the organization down," said Brad Ausmus, who replaced Jim Leyland as Detroit's manager after last season.

Detroit acquired Price at this year's trade deadline, adding another impressive arm to an already-formidable rotation. Max Scherzer, Price and Verlander are the AL's last three Cy Young Award winners, and the Tigers started them all in this series. Verlander and Cabrera have combined for the last three MVP awards.

No use against a Baltimore team that had already surprised most of baseball with a 96-win regular season.

"We got beat. There's all there is to say," Scherzer said. "We got outplayed in the series in every facet."

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