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Royals' lights-out bullpen has answered the call

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland and

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland and catcher Salvador Perez celebrate after defeating against the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals advance to the World Series. Photo Credit: AP / Chris O'Meara

Just over 104 years ago, Franklin Pierce Adams penned Baseball's Sad Lexicon that contained an immortal line:

Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.

Herrera-to-Davis-to-Holland doesn't roll off the tongue quite as poetically, but for the Kansas City opposition this season, and certainly this postseason, the trio has been no less depressing.

Three managers left in their wake -- the A's Bob Melvin, the Angels' Mike Scioscia and the Orioles' Buck Showalter -- certainly can attest to that.

On Tuesday night, against the NL champion Giants, the Royals will host a World Series game for the first time in 29 years. Stellar team defense, wicked speed on the basepaths and timely hitting are all reasons why Kansas City is back in the World Series. But its killer bullpen, highlighted by hard-throwing righthanders Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland, is the primary one.

"When you can turn it over with confidence, literally in the sixth inning, my goodness, that's a luxury that every manager would love to have," said Jack Morris, who owns four World Series rings and was the MVP of the 1991 Series. "It's impressive."

The numbers for the group during the Royals' 8-0 start to this postseason are staggering.

Herrera, who pitches the seventh inning -- though Royals manager Ned Yost brought him on with one out in the sixth in a 2-1 pennant-clinching victory in Game 4 of the ALCS -- has allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings (a 1.08 ERA). Davis, who pitches the eighth, has allowed one run in 9 1/3 innings (0.96) and Holland has allowed one run in eight innings (1.13), recording six saves, including one in each ALCS victory.

The trio has totaled 30 strikeouts -- 10 each -- in 25 2/3 innings.

"There's no better weapon," Yost said.

That's because of the Royals' propensity to play close games. This postseason, they've won four one-run games and played four extra-inning contests.

"Mr. Glass said last week, 'Can we get a laugher?' " general manager Dayton Moore said after his team completed its ALCS sweep, referencing a conversation with Royals owner David Glass. "And I said, 'Mr. Glass, a 3-2 win is a laugher for us.' "

Lorenzo Cain earned ALCS MVP honors by going 8-for-15 (.533) with two doubles and five runs, but he knew the award could have gone elsewhere.

"Our entire bullpen, lights-out the entire postseason," Cain said. "Any of those guys or even the entire bullpen is definitely deserving."

After nailing down the save with a perfect ninth in a 2-1 victory in Game 3, the tail end of a streak of 16 straight retired Orioles to end the game, Holland spoke for the unit.

"We take pride in expecting to win when we go to the bullpen," he said. "We take it as a challenge. If it goes to a battle of the bullpens, we take pride in coming out on top."

Yost agrees with Morris regarding his life of "luxury" when it comes to the bullpen.

"For me, the whole focus is just get through the sixth inning tied or with the lead so that we could get to those guys," Yost said earlier in the series. "If we have the lead, I feel like the game is over."

But here's the thing about the bullpen's emergence into the national spotlight: Yost has felt that way all season. The back end of his bullpen hasn't done a thing different in the playoffs than it did during the regular season, when the Royals won 89 games to capture an AL wild-card spot.

"These guys have been doing it all year long," Royals starter James Shields said.

According to USA Today Sports, before this season, no team had ever had two relievers throw at least 60 innings with an ERA under 1.50. This season the Royals featured three, with Davis (1.00 ERA), Herrera (1.41) and Holland (1.44), who went 46-for-48 in save chances.

Their performances helped the Royals go 65-5 in games in which they held the lead after six innings, 72-1 with the lead after seven innings and 79-1 with the lead after eight.

"It just shortens the game for us," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "We realize if we have a lead going into the seventh inning, we're in a good spot. It's tremendous. It changes everything offensively . . . It's huge to have those guys back there. But they've been doing it all year, not just postseason. It's been all year."

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