SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Summoned in a tough spot, Royals rookie Brandon Finnegan trotted in from the bullpen, threw his warm up pitches and then did something curious.
He walked behind the mound, took off his hat, rubbed his hair and looked at the right-field foul pole.
Nervous about being in the World Series? Naw.
“That’s just what I do,” he said.
With a rollicking crowd at AT&T Park ready to erupt, Finnegan made it all look routine.
Only four months after he pitched in the College World Series, the 21-year-old lefty got two key outs in the seventh inning and helped Kansas City hold off the San Francisco Giants 3-2 on Friday night to take a 2-1 edge.
Just like that, the Royals were halfway to the championship, boosted by a dominant bullpen, several nice defensive plays and barely enough hitting.
Credit manager Ned Yost, too, for a series of moves that paid off. Even when he let reliever Kelvin Herrera bat for the first time in his major league career, it all came out OK.
“54 outs to go,” Herrera tweeted later.
Game 4 is Saturday night, with Jason Vargas set to start for Kansas City against Ryan Vogelsong. Rain is forecast for most of the day in the Bay Area.
Yet nothing could dampen what Finnegan accomplished.
Back in June, he threw for TCU in the College World Series. This time, it was a little bigger. He became the first to play in both events in the same year.
“I feel like I’m still in college,” Finnegan said. “It’s no different. It’s still baseball.”
Of course, no one from the Hall of Fame ever asked for his hat when he was in school. Finnegan agreed to donate the cap he wore on this night to Cooperstown.
“My time came, and luckily I got the job done,” Finnegan said. “This is the real deal, y’know?”
His parents knew.
Outside the Kansas City clubhouse, surrounded by a bevy of Royals rooters, Betty and Gary Finnegan tried to absorb what they’d witnessed.
“It is a dream …” she said, some of her makeup washed away by tears. Without a pause, her husband finished the sentence, adding, “… that you don’t want to wake up from.”
Finnegan was called on to replace Herrera with a runner on first, one out and the Royals clinging to a one-run lead over the rallying Giants.
All of Kansas City infielders huddled behind the mound as Finnegan loosened up, realizing the most important point of their season was being entrusted to someone who recently was taking tests in a college classroom.
Right before pinch-hitter Juan Perez stepped up, Finnegan went into the routine he uses to steady himself.
Then it was time for business. Finnegan delivered, retiring Perez on an easy fly. When he fell behind in the count 2-0 to Brandon Crawford, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez went to the mound.
The message: “Be aggressive, not nervous,” Perez said.
Finnegan came back to strike out a swinging Crawford on a full count, headed to the dugout and was congratulated by Herrera and several other Royals.
“I’m very proud of him,” Royals ace James Shields said. “To be able to keep your composure on this big of a stage the way he’s doing, it is very impressive.”
“He’s pitching well beyond his years. If he keeps that up, he’s going to have a really good career,” he said.
A lot of Royals are having a really good October.
Already the MVP of the AL Championship Series, Lorenzo Cain put the Royals ahead for good with an RBI grounder in the first inning.
Shifted over to right field to help the defensive alignment, Cain also made a couple of fine catches, prompting Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to take off his hat in tribute.
Guthrie kept the Royals ahead and four relievers combined for four hitless innings.
Herrera struck out to end the seventh — Yost wanted to keep him in the game. After Finnegan finished the bottom half, Wade Davis worked the eighth and Greg Holland pitched the ninth for a save.
In a postseason filled with tight games, Kansas City had won another one.
“This is the way our games have gone all year,” Yost said. “I’m getting really good at protecting a one-run lead because a lot of times that’s exactly what we have to deal with. But I have the necessary tools to be able to do that.”
Giants starter Tim Hudson made the first World Series appearance of his 16-season career. He gave up a double to Alcides Escobar on his first pitch.
“That’s not how I drew it up. But it was a great experience,” Hudson said.