Tony Armas' fourth consecutive hit and second double lifted the Oakland A's past the Kansas City Royals today, 2-1, and into a 2-0 lead in the American League West Division playoffs.
The teams will move to Oakland where the A's can sweep the best-of-five series with a victory Friday night. Rick Langford will pitch for the A's and Larry Gura for the Royals.
Armas' game-winner in the eighth inning hit the artificial turf and bounced sharply past third baseman George Brett. It also left Dick Howser, the Royals manager, open to second-guessing.
Dwayne Murphy had opened the inning with a single and moved to second on Cliff Johnson's sacrifice.
With one out and first base open, Howser let rookie left-hander Mike Jones pitch to Armas, who, in the first inning, had driven in Murphy with a double.
With a 1-1 count, Armas pulled a pitch and Murphy scored again.
"When I walked to the plate, I thought they would put me on first base," Armas said. "When I saw the catcher get down, I said, 'No, this is my chance.' "
Jones had pitched six shutout innings since falling behind, 1-0, in the first inning. Howser had Paul Splittorff and Renie Martin warm in the bullpen, but elected to let Jones pitch to Armas.
"I wasn't going to pull Jonesie, or have him walk the man, because Armas wasn't wearing him out like it might have seemed . . . If Armas gets the hit, which he did, it's still just a one-run game, and not a two- or three-run rally," Howser said.
The Royals tied the game against right-hander Steve McCatty in the fifth with their first run of the series. McCatty, a likely prospect for the Cy Young Award after a 14-7 season and 2.33 earned run average, had a one-hitter until two were out.
But John Wathan, U.L. Washington and Willie Wilson singled and it was 1-1.
Frank White, who had criticized Oakland pitcher Mike Norris the day before for throwing "slop," grounded out to end the inning. White left four runners on base today.
After the A's regained the lead in the eighth, McCatty got into trouble in the bottom of the inning.
He prevailed because Amos Otis twice failed to sacrifice with two on and none out. Brett singled to open the inning, and Willie Aikens walked. Otis fouled two bunt attempts, then struck out.
"Eighteen times this year I have bunted and put it down on the first pitch, without one, single foul-off," Otis claimed. "Until today."
Howser invited more second-guessing with Hal McRae at bat. He allowed McRae to swing at a 3-0 pitch; McRae flied out to shallow center for the second straight time with two men on. Then Clint Hurdle drove one deep to center only to have Murphy, a Gold Glove speedster, chase it down for the final out.
"I had confidence he wouldn't swing at a bad pitch," Howser said of McRae. "If he does walk, we're not guaranteed anything, the way we've been scoring. We are not going to sit back. He's the most productive DH in the history of the position, he's disciplined, and he's had a hot bat lately."
McCatty said he was surprised that McRae swing.
"I was just hoping for that opportunity to win the game," McRae said. "I just swung at a pitch I wish I hadn't."
The Royals stranded two runners in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings.
The A's totaled nine hits off Jones, then Dan Quisenberry pitched the ninth.
The three hits that produced the A's first-inning run seemed playable. With one out, Murphy singled past first, and official scorers pondered whether to give Aikens an error.
When Johnson hit inside the bag at third, Brett showed immobility from a hip bruise and Johnson had a double. Brett had collided with Wilson in the first game when they were chasing a foul fly.
Armas' first-inning double fell in front of right fielder Hurdle. Hurdle had backpedaled, then charged in too late to catch the ball. Johnson could not score from second on the play.
Armas had to leave the game after his eighth-inning double. He had dived headlong into second to beat the relay and pulled groin muscles.
He was the A's main source of power in the regular season, but had slumped in September. He had regained his swing in the final regular-season series against the Royals, homering off Jones and driving in four runs last Saturday night. Before that, he had gone 24 games without a home run.
During his slump, Armas had only two doubles and a .178 batting average. He apparently found a cure in Kansas City, and was the main reason for a lost week for the Royals, who stand 19-30 in home games this season.
"Before we came here last weekend, I told everybody that Armas hits this (Kansas City) pitching, so just watch," said A's Manager Billy Martin.