By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - The title-starved Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals both seek to end decades of frustration when they battle for a World Series berth in a best-of-seven series starting on Friday.
The once-proud franchises and their fans, who enjoyed great success in the past with such Orioles stars as Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken Jr. and Kansas City's George Brett, relish a return to glory in the American League Championship Series that opens in Baltimore.
"The crowd, it's an unbelievable atmosphere," said Royals pitcher James Shields, who won the Division Series-clinching Game Three in Kansas City for a sweep against the top-seeded Los Angeles Angels. "This is a special time in this city right now and they're enjoying this as much as we are."
The wild card Royals, using blazing speed, dazzling defense and solid pitching, are appearing in the postseason for the first time since beating St. Louis in the 1985 World Series.
The AL East champion Orioles have gone two years longer since hoisting the trophy in a 1983 triumph over Philadelphia.
Baltimore has been no less enthralled with the performance of their power-hitting Orioles after witnessing six trips to the World Series between 1966 and 1983 including three in a row from 1969.
The Orioles vanquished Cy Young winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price in a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers that fueled a belief that this is their year.
Both teams rely on strong, if not star-laden, starting rotations and shut-down relievers to keep scores close.
Shields (14-8) is expected to be named the Royals' opening game starter against Chris Tillman (13-6) in the cozy confines of Camden Yards.
The Orioles have as deep a bullpen as there is in Major League Baseball, allowing manager Buck Showalter to manipulate match-ups before handing the ball to sinker-balling lefty Zach Britton, who emerged as a top-rate closer this season.
Kansas City has Major League Baseball's best one-two late inning duo in closer Greg Holland and set-up man Wade Davis. Flame-throwing Kelvin Herrera bridges the gap to Davis.
On offense, the teams are chalk and cheese.
The Royals are built for speed to take advantage of their spacious Kauffman Stadium, leading the majors with 153 stolen bases featuring shortstop Alcides Escobar (31), outfielder Lorenzo Cain (28) and back-up outfielder Jarrod Dyson (36).
Baltimore (96-66) had an MLB-fewest 44 steals, relying on a major league-leading 211 home runs, led by home run leader Nelson Cruz, who swatted 40.
Kansas City (89-73) hit a major league low of 95 in the regular season though emerging young hitters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit for power in the Division Series.
The Royals took four of seven games from the Orioles in the regular season and another close scrap could be looming.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)