TBS analyst Ron Darling talks about Royals-Orioles ALCS, Showalter, Kansas City's speed

Former Mets pitcher Ron Darling will be part of a three-man broadcast booth anchored by play-by-play man Ernie Johnson and former Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. during the American League Championship Series, and he spoke with The Baltimore Sun about his expectations and impressions entering the series.

Darling and company have been covering the Kansas City Royals for the past week, and he had plenty to say about their base stealers, Orioles manager Buck Showalter, and both team's bullpens.


Darling, bless his heart, got all of these observations into five questions, so I decided to break them up into subheads for easier reads.

On the feeling he gets being around the Kansas City Royals…


"I don't know if aura is the word, but they've got something going on in that clubhouse that's very hard to tap into. It only happens when you've spent an entire year with each other and I think what happens for a lot of teams, or at least has with Baltimore and Kansas City, is that each win, or each guy that guys out with an injury, or each guy that picks up someone else is a building block of confidence for a ballclub. After you've been through so much together, very few teams — and usually the teams that we're watching now—get to the point where they look to their left, they look to their right, and you have a wry smile, like you're in on an inside joke that no one else gets. You can't really describe it."

On whether you can say the same about Baltimore…

"You look at a guy like, Steve Pearce. They have a roster spot problem. They've got to release him, they say, 'We love you, though. We want you to come back. We'll resign you' … [and] he's had a magical year. Those kind of things you can't script. Those kind of things, they're so infectious to a ballclub that you start to go, 'uh-oh, this might be our year.' You sign [Nelson Cruz] at the very, very end [of spring training]. Everyone else has issues about him, this that or whatever. [General Manager] Dan [Duquette] and the Orioles took a chance."

On Kansas City's bullpen…

"On the Kansas City side, you have a bullpen that's almost perfect in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. I haven't seen that in quite some time. I don't know if I've seen it since the beasts, the guys from Cincinnati in the 90s where it literally looks like if you can win the first six innings, it's over. I've seen some teams do it well in the eighth and ninth, but seventh, eighth, and ninth I haven't seen. That gives you confidence. You saw Baltimore with Detroit. If your bullpen doesn't get the job done, there's nothing that can wreak havoc on the confidence of a ballclub [like that]."

On the Royals base-stealers…

"I can only use my own past. I think the [Mets] team in '85, we won 98 or 99 games, we finished second to the Cardinals. The Kansas City Royals, two years in a row, have stolen 153 bases — remarkable in today's game. The Cardinals in '85 stole 314. So it kind of tells you that yes, they definitely steal bases. The wild card game when seven different people stole bases was a real indication of what they can do. Late in the season, of course, [outfielder Terrance] Gore scored from second on an infield hit. They definitely have some amazing speed. Is it overplayed? I always look at it this way. The only way they can steal is if they get on. You've got to do a real good job of keeping Escobar off the bases, Cain off the bases. [Outfielder Jarrod] Dyson, late, is going to run for Butler, or Gore is going to run for him. So if you're going to play tied baseball against these guys, they're going to score one of those kind of runs that other teams can't. But I know Baltimore, [pitcher Chris] Tillman is really good against the running game. I know [catcher Nick] Hundley has struggled a little, but [catcher Caleb] Joseph's been real good. I don't know who's going to catch. It's not overstated, it's just that my thought was always they've got really fast guys, you've got to keep them off base."

On a potential wild card for the Royals


"I think the wild card—what I've heard so far is James Shields is going to start the first game against [Chris] Tillman, I don't know if you've heard the same thing—I thought it would have been a real interesting choice if [manager] Ned [Yost] would have decided to go with the youngster [Yordano] Ventura. If you watch him in the postseason, he's one of those guys that has unhittable stuff. It doesn't matter how good of an offense the team has. I know he gave up a two-run home run in the Wild Card game, but his start was the best of that series by far. So I think he could be a wild card for Kansas City, how well he pitches in this series. He'll probably pitch [Games] 2 and 6."

On an impact player for the Orioles…

"I think the key for me in Baltimore is their starting pitching has been so good all year, they have great bridge guys, but I'm so impressed by [closer] Zach Britton. He's had one of those careers where he's supposed to be the next great starter for the Orioles and he didn't do a lot of that, but he seems to have found a home in the bullpen and you just like to see those stories. He didn't fulfill all his promise in one particular way, but he's outdone it now. It's going to be fun to watch."

On the difference between Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Yost…

"I think watching the game the other day and watching Buck walk the winning run on and telling Zach that we're going to get the double play, there's not a lot of managers that can pull that off, that have the confidence to pull that off. As far as the confidence level, the intelligence level of Buck — I've known him a long time — I haven't been more impressed by anyone else. He's right up there with the top that I've watched or played for. I played for [Tony] La Russa, I played for Davey Johnson. Buck's up in that group.

"As far as Ned is concerned, it's a shame that because one guy is so good, that the other guy has got to be bad. I'll tell you one thing. He's done some things this year that might not have been what people on the outside would call in-line, great managerial decisions, but I think he's evolved as a manager, where I think he would be a little less patient than he is now. What he did with this ballclub is he gave them confidence that they needed as a young club. He was patient with them, he said 'I believe in you.' Over the course of the year, I think he has evolved as a manager to the point that he was confident enough to let his players play. I know a lot of managers in baseball think that they can decide the outcomes of games. I think Ned lets players decide the outcome of games. I think that's why they battled Detroit until the end and had this confidence here in the postseason. It's easy to compare because Buck has more experience, Buck's pedigree is different than Ned. But what Ned has is he has a lot of [set] decisions that he makes. He throws the starter out there, he has the exact same lineup almost every game, he pinch runs with Dyson late, puts him in center, puts Cain in right. He pinch [runs with] Gore late for Billy Butler, their DH, then he brings his relievers in 7-8-9. I don't know how many decisions Ned's going to have to make. That's how talented his club is."


On the ALDS performances of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer…

"I think they thing about Eric and Mike is that there's so much put on them. Butler's been kind of a DH, Alex Gordon probably is their best all-around player, but when Hosmer and Moustakas were their high draft picks, I think everyone expected as soon as they made it to the big leagues that the team was going to instantly win. I think a lot of pressure, undue, was put on those two and sometimes that made it difficult.

Moustakas went back to Triple-A this year. I talked about those building blocks of confidence. You have to be a person who wants to go down to Triple-A, who doesn't mope, because you want to get better and come back and help this team. Now he's being rewarded. I've always thought Hosmer is one of the emerging young players in baseball. He's gotten hot at the right time."

On his broadcast colleague Cal Ripken's feelings on the series…

"I think he's real happy he gets to sleep in his own bed. I think that's the first thing, that he gets to spend time with his family. But the great thing about working with cal is cal is all about the level of play. He's Mr. Oriole, he's one of a long history of amazing players who have worn that uniform and might be considered the best of all time, but cal played a long time ago. I played a long time ago. … I'm rooting for a great series. I want a historic series and I think both of these teams can produce that. I think that talking with Cal and working with Cal, There's never any bias like he's rooting for a team. It'd be like me, if the Mets were ever to get in the postseason, me rooting for them. I have no interest rooting for them. Now do I have an interest in both Kansas City and Baltimore playing a historic series and having a seventh game in Baltimore? Yea, I'll root for that. But as far as rooting, Cal's too much of a professional for that. He's all about refining and calling and trying to make the viewer understand how difficult it is to play and how well these guys are playing. I think he's more interested in that."