KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One of the most improbable postseason runs in baseball history will go to the final round.
The Royals, riding a beast of a bullpen and a golden-gloved defense, swept into the World Series with a 2-1 victory over the Orioles Wednesday in front of a blue-and-white sea of 40,468 deafening fans at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals, who became the first club in major-league history to start a postseason with eight straight victories, will play in their first World Series in 29 years starting Tuesday night at home against either the Giants or Cardinals.
"How can you envision that? I never envisioned that," Royals manager Ned Yost said of the eight-game streak.
Earlier, perfectly summarizing the series, Yost said: "Speed and a bullpen, great defense, no better weapons."
The stunned Orioles, who saw their final 16 hitters retired by the Royals' bullpen in a 2-1 loss in Game 3, collected just two hits over the final four innings Wednesday in Game 4 against the KC bullpen.
"Our entire bullpen, lights out the entire postseason," said centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, the series MVP after going 8-for-15 (.533) with two doubles and five runs.
Greg Holland followed Kelvin Herrera (12/3 scoreless innings) and Wade Davis (one scoreless) to the mound, closing it out with a scoreless ninth to begin a celebration not seen in this forgotten gem of a baseball city since 1985.
"It's what you dream of as kids, punch your ticket to the World Series," said Holland, who joined the A's Dennis Eckersley as the only other pitcher in LCS history to save all four games of a best-of-seven series. "Especially in front of your home crowd. These fans have been waiting a long time and they deserve it."
Held to four hits a day after being limited to three, the Orioles came away feeling as if their only chance to score was hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
Otherwise, a Royals fielder was sure to catch it.
"It's not like something we didn't do," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It was more of what they did. They were playing great defensively."
The first two Orioles batters of the afternoon foreshadowed both what was to come and provided a review of what already had occurred.
Nick Markakis led off with a grounder back up the middle that second baseman Omar Infante gloved as he ranged behind second before throwing the Baltimore leadoff man out.
Steve Pearce followed with a bullet down the leftfield line that Alex Gordon, part of an outfield that frustrated the Orioles in all four games, chased down.
Lefty Jason Vargas (one run and two hits in 51/3 innings) struck out Adam Jones to end the seven-pitch inning.
"Just trying to join the crew," Gordon said of the fine catches made all series and postseason by fellow outfielders Cain and Nori Aoki. "They've been doing it the whole series."
The Royals essentially put it away in the bottom of the first against Miguel Gonzalez, who allowed two runs (one earned) and four hits in 52/3 innings.
Alcides Escobar led off by chopping one over Gonzalez's head for an infield single and Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch. Yost, criticized often for his propensity to bunt, called on Cain to do just that. The centerfielder sacrificed the two runners ahead. Eric Hosmer followed with a sharp grounder to first, where Pearce fielded the ball and fired home to catcher Caleb Joseph. As Joseph caught the low throw, the sliding Escobar dislodged the ball from the catcher's glove. It trickled far enough away to allow Aoki to also come around and score to make it 2-0.
"We're really at the top of our game right now," Hosmer said. "We always said when this team is firing on all cylinders, we can be dangerous, and we're firing on all cylinders right now."