KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The Los Angeles Angels scored the most runs in baseball this season and, boosted by a high-priced lineup of free-swing power hitters, posted the best record in the majors.
None of that mattered when they got to the playoffs.
Manager Mike Scioscia's team was stymied by a scrappy bunch of Royals, whose daring baserunning and timely home runs spoiled its season. By the time Mike Trout swung and missed for the final out in an 8-3 defeat Sunday night, the Angels had been swept by Kansas City in an improbable AL Division Series.
"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," Scioscia said. "We did a lot of things well during the series. We just didn't finish some games off."
That would be the first two that the Royals won in the 11th inning.
The Angels never really got started in Game 3.
"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."
Now, the stubborn team with the unorthodox manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will open the AL Championship Series against the Orioles on Friday night in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, 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. He gave up home runs to Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup
Shields was helped, too, by 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.
"Playoffs is a different story," Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "They were doing it all — defense, pitching, key hits."
Kansas City showcased great glovework in every game, especially by its fleet outfielders. In this one, Cain's catches in the fifth inning 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.
Kansas City played a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wild-card game, and that pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to a raucous, adoring crowd.
Trout staked his team to a first-inning lead, but Angels starter C.J. Wilson quickly got into trouble. The left-hander with the $16 million price tag this season gave up consecutive singles and a four-pitch walk in the bottom half to load the bases for Gordon, whose slicing two-out double gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead.
Sensing the game already slipping away, Scioscia immediately marched to the mound and turned the game over to his bullpen. It didn't fare a whole lot better.
The Royals kept the pressure on, and even plodding designated hitter Billy Butler got in on the act, stealing second base to another roar. It was his fifth career steal and first in two years, but it typified the way the Royals have been winning this postseason.
Dazzling pitching, daring baserunning and some dogged determination.
"They were just up there trying to put the ball in play," Wilson said. "Then they went into damage mode and started swinging for homers. They're hot right now. That's what happens."
After swiping seven bases and playing small-ball against the A's, the club that hit the fewest homers in the regular season pounded out four long balls against Los Angeles.
Hosmer's two-run shot came in the third inning. Moustakas connected in the fourth.
By that point, the Angels — their offense having fizzled and pitching having failed them — were slumped over the railing of their dugout. They spent the final five innings bundled up against the October chill, periods of rain making their night miserable.
But hardly putting a damper on thousands of Royals fans.
"Everyone knows how long it's been since we've been in the postseason, and you can tell because of all these people out here," Hosmer said. "To do this in front of our home crowd, it couldn't be any better than coming and celebrating with all these people out here."
Trout became the youngest player in Angels history to homer in the playoffs at 23 years, 59 days. Pujols hit his 19th career postseason homer, most among active major leaguers.