With two passionate fist pumps Saturday evening, Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain punctuated an evening when he swung nearly every big moment in a tense 4-hour, 17-minute game in his team's direction.
The first celebration came after his final running catch of the night kept the game tied. The second, two innings later, came after his fourth hit of the night helped ensure his Royals would head back to Kansas City with a 6-4 win and a two-game lead in the American League Championship Series.
"I normally don't do it during the season — I'll get excited sometimes in the season — but it's the postseason," Cain said of his celebrations. "We've got a chance to go to the World Series. If you're not pumped up for this, then what can you get pumped up for? I feel like it was a big hit, it gave Holland some insurance, and I'm always excited when I drive in a big run."
Cain, who moved to right field in the seventh inning, ended a bases-loaded threat by chasing down a blooper that could have put the Orioles ahead. First base umpire Joe West held his fist clenched in an out sign for long enough that Cain tapped it with his own on his way past.
With one run already scored in the ninth, Cain was barely out of the batter's box after his fourth hit in five at-bats when he swung his fist to celebrate the final run in Kansas City's victory.
With his four-hit performance Saturday to go along with two more in Friday's win, Cain has reached base eight times in the first two ALCS games and raised his playoff batting average to .333 in six games. On Saturday, he scored twice, stole a base, and drove in a run.
His postseason success comes after a career year in which he hit .301 with 29 doubles, five home runs, and 28 stolen bases.
The 28-year-old Cain, acquired in 2010 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a blockbuster that sent pitcher Zack Greinke the other way, struggled to gain a foothold in Kansas City during his first three seasons. Now that he’s healthy and has found his swing, he has been a frequent playmaker in these playoffs.
"The country is seeing a very exciting player in Lorenzo Cain," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Standing on second base in the opening inning after slapping a double inside the right-field line, Cain's speed and a precocious base-running read helped stake the visitors to an early lead.
When first baseman Eric Hosmer flicked the first pitch he saw the other way into short left field, Cain broke for third base on contact and only hesitated briefly when he saw Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy break towards the ball's landing spot.
Hardy reached out his glove as he dove towards the outfield, but the ball landed just to his right, and Cain scored easily.
With two outs in the top of the third inning, Cain started a rally with home-to-first speed that, on this night, was a touch below elite.
He chopped the first pitch of his second at-bat to Hardy, broke quickly from the box, extended his final stride and touched first 4.06 seconds after he made contact — barely safe. Cain went first-to-third on another blooper by Hosmer and scored on designated hitter Billy Butler's third-inning double for Kansas City's third run.
In the fifth inning, Cain chased Norris with a line drive to left-center field, and welcomed reliever Brad Brach by stealing second base. Left-hander Andrew Miller retired Cain in the seventh, but by then, he had taken to impacting the game with his glove.
Hardy had hit a drive deep into center field that Cain caught for the first out of the sixth. The seventh-inning play to rob Hardy down the right-field line, which he made after pinch runner Jarrod Dyson stayed in the game to play center field, ended the Orioles' last threat of the game and prompting a celebratory exchange with West.
"He had a great day today, four hits," Yost said. "Made great plays in the outfield, none bigger than the one J.J. Hardy hit down the right-field line, came out of nowhere and caught it. I thought for sure that ball was going to drop when it first left the bat, and then all of a sudden here he comes and makes the play."