Remember when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series?
Now – thirty years after the Royals first and only other World Championship – we ALL can say, yes, yes we do.
“The Kansas City Royals are the 2015 World Champions. Should I say it one more time? The Kansas City Royals are the 2015 World Champions,” Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre said on the radio call Sunday night/Monday morning as the Royals won Game 5 of the World Series in New York, winning the series over the Metropolitans 4-1.
You can’t say it enough times, Ryan. Say it over and over again.
I wasn’t for sure that it really happened. I woke up yesterday morning, and it was not a dream. It finally sunk in today at the Royals Celebration, where I was in complete awe of the awesomeness of Kansas City as an estimated 800,000 people poured along the Sprint Center to Union Station parade route – unfreakingbelievable. Kansas City, we know how to celebrate, and we do it with tearing the city down. Instead, we shut it down.
What this team has done to this city is indescribable. Kansas City > everywhere else on Earth.
It’s real. The Kansas City Royals, indeed, won the 2015 World Series. And, they did it in the most Royals fashion – coming from behind, late, again.
But, should we even be surprised? They have done it all year. Pretty fitting that in the year of Yogi Bera’s death, the Royals are the most, “it ain’t over till its over” team…EVER.
It was especially true in the playoffs, where the WORLD CHAMPION Royals trailed in eight of their 11 wins, overcoming multi-run deficits a playoff-record SEVEN times. They trailed in all four World Series wins. The Royals scored 40 runs from the eighth inning on…no one else scored more than five. They outscored opponents 51-11 after the 6th inning – 15-1 in the World Series.
WHO THE HELL ARE THESE GUYS?
Mets fans have to be pondering the same thought.
Matt Harvey outdueled Edinson Volquez, who was pitching just five days after the death of his dad (6 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 H, 5 BB, 5 K). He at one point struck out the side in consecutive innings, but after 14 swing and misses in the first five innings, only had one after. At 102 pitches through 8, he talked baseball-lifer manager Terry Collins into letting him come back out for the ninth. With the shakiness of the bullpen in the series, it didn’t take too much convincing.
“I let my heart get in the way of my gut,” Collins said after the game. “It’s my fault.”
It looked like the Royals were going to come home for Game 6 and Johnny Cueto, to win it front of the home fans.
That’s when General Manager Dayton Moore leaned over to former catcher-turned special assistant Jason Kendall and said, “Get ready. We’re about to find a way to win the World Series.”
I guess, if anyone would know, it’s him. This was his team – one that has more in common with a team out of the 80’s – built on speed, defense, pitching and athleticism and one that doesn’t wait around for the 3-run HR like so many other teams do, but keeps constant pressure on the opponent by putting the ball in play and making you play at their pace. Sure, they don’t walk (fewest walks in baseball the last two seasons), but they don’t swing and miss, either – striking out the fewest times over the last two seasons. We wished the Royals would hit more HR this season – and they did, hitting 44 more this year than last, but the 139 was still second last in the American League, better than the Chicago White Sox and six NL teams – but it’s not who they are. They don’t work counts, they swing early and often, but they don’t swing and miss. They play great defense and run the bases aggressively, but smart. It’s the Royal Way and why they are World Champs.
The power improvement was enough. They even hit 17 HR in 16 postseason games, but 15 of those came against mashers Houston and Toronto. Of the two HR hit in the Fall Classic, one was an inside-the-parker to lead off the game – the 13th ever in World Series history and only the second to leadoff a game; the other, Alex F Gordon’s game-tying 440-foot bomb in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Game 1, 14-inning marathon. But, for the Royals, it was keep the line moving. And, it’s what they did in this series. It’s what they did all season. Meanwhile the Mets, who hit six long balls in the series, had just one other extra base hit.
It was Curtis Granderson’s leadoff HR that put the Mets up right off the bat. They tacked on another in the sixth, but it could have been much more, but Volquez came up huge and limited them after they had bases loaded with no one out.
Fast forward to the ninth.
“I just had a feeling,” Moore added. “I don’t usually make those predictions. But I just had a feeling.”
Then, it started. Cain drew a 7-pitch leadoff walk. He stole second and Mets catcher Travid d’Arnaud stood no chance – as he hasn’t all postseason, where he has not thrown out a runner stealing since Sept. 30. Eric Hosmer, the man who has the Royals postseason record for RBI (29) in just 31 games (17 in 16 this year), did it again – a clutch opposite field double over the head of left fielder Michael Conforto. His average with runners on base in the series: .343. His 17th RBI? The most in postseason history by a player 26 or younger and the second most through 31 postseason games behind only the great Lou Gehrig (35).
But his story gets better. With one out, he was over at third base. World Series MVP Salvador Perez (.364/.391/.455 in this World Series, with three runs and two RBI, and his single in the 12th inning started everything) appeared to hit an innocent grounder to David Wright at third. Except, Hosmer took off as Wright, who went to his left to field the chopper, and first baseman Lucas Duda’s throw to the plate – which would have been in plenty of time to get Hosmer and END THE GAME – was NOWHERE CLOSE. The game was tied at 2, 17 hours and 38 minutes into the World Series. You can’t make this stuff up.
“You’ve just got to realize who’s on the mound,” Hosmer said. “Hits are hard to come by off that guy. So you’ve got to take any chance you can.”
A risk that is much easier to take when you’re three games to one and still have two games left at home, in the series, if out, but kudos to Royals scouting who noticed that Duda’s throws sailed on him to the right because of his left-handed side-arm motion.
Harvey, entering the inning aiming for the first complete game in a potential World Series elimination game since Curt Schilling in 1993, could not win the game. Then, Jeurys Familia blew his third save of the World Series.
“Once we tied it, I said, `We’ve got this game,’ just because our bullpen is so good. So really, after we tied it, I felt totally relaxed. I even said, `My heart should be beating faster than it is,'” Yost said.
In the 12th, Christian Colon, who had not appeared in a postseason game, calmly stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter and became an unlikely hero by delivering the game-winning single, scoring Jarrod Dyson, who stole second running for Perez. No big deal.
“I was so pumped up, it’s hard to describe the moment,” Colon said. “It’s crazy to go from not playing much to being in that situation. But I’ve lived it. I went to bed last night just thinking about this moment, and being there for my brothers and my teammates. So I’m not surprised that I got the opportunity when I did and I was prepared for it.”
This makes Colon, the fourth pick in the 2010 first-year player draft out of Cal State Fullerton, who was picked ahead of Harvey and Chris Sale, worth the pick, even if he does NOTHING the rest of his career. It’s not the first time he’s showed out in a playoff game. He singled, stole a base and scored the winning run in the 2014 Wild Card Game.
Colon scored on an Escobar double and later in the inning Lorenzo Cain’s bases clearing, 3-RBI double gave the Royals had a 5-run inning, another late-inning multi-run inning. It is what the Royals do best, after all – keep the line moving. They had 21 hits on two strikes in the World Series and hit .347 with runners on base.
Three batters later, the cyborg Wade Davis fittingly ended the game and the series with a strikeout, and embraced backup catcher Drew Butera. The once unbelievable was a reality – the Royals, one year after leaving the trying run at third base in Game 7 of a World Series where only the greatest postseason pitching season EVER by that man who’s name I will not say, had won it all.
Re-live it here:
“The way it ended last year, with everything that happened, such a magical run, you knew it couldn’t end like that again,” Hosmer said. “You knew that story had to have a way better ending than losing Game 7.”
“The cool thing is everything this team set out to accomplish,” Yost said. “They did.”
This, 10 years after the Royals had a 19-game losing streak and lost 106 games, in a decade when they Royals lost more games than any other MLB franchise. The last MLB franchise to NOT lose 100 games in a season, did so four times in five years. It has not been easy being a Royals fan. But, we always had something keeping us going, keeping us believing.
There was the tease of 2003. Then, they drafted Gordon, the new hope – the next George Brett – and watched him receive a standing ovation in his MLB debut on Opening Day with bases loaded against Curt Schilling after spending just one season in the minors. He struck out, and it was the beginning of a rocky road for the now 3-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glover. We hired Dayton Moore, drafted Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and signed Salvy and followed them through the minors. Moore had built the best minor league system in baseball in a short time. If the Royals were ever going to be good again, this was the time. But, we needed more to get over the hump, and he made two of the biggest deals in franchise history, dealing Cy Young Zack Greinke for Esky and Cain – the last two ALCS MVP’s and our top two prospects, Wil Myers – the reigning Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year – and Jake Odorizzi to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Davis. The results of these two trades speak for themselves.
“Thank you Zack Greinke,” Escobar said in today’s Royal Celebration. Sick burn, bro.
Now, back to this being the most it ain’t over till it’s over team, ever. The Royals were only the third team ever to be at least two runs behind in the ninth inning or later of a clinching game and winning and the first since 1939 (Yankees). The Royals were losing heading into the sixth inning SIX TIMES. No team had ever won six games that way in a single postseason, either. They not only trailed in all five games, but won three games in which they trailed in the EIGHTH inning or later. No team had ever done that before in any of the first 110 World Series in history. Until now. Maybe not the best starting rotation or the best starting eight, but, I’ve never seen a team this deep, this balanced. Every player played their part in making the 2015 Kansas City Royals World Champions. Even, in the postseason, minus maybe Frankie Morales, everyone had their moment, even the “other guys.” Butera, drew a MAMMOTH walk to extend the eighth inning in the Royals, epic rally down in Houston in Game 4 of the ALDS with the season on the brink – another 5-run Royals inning. There’s Colon. Dyson, who went 0-for-4 in the postseason, scored the winning run and stole three bases – second highest total in the postseason for Royals (Cain, 6). Paulo Orlando saw action in 12 of the 16 games, gaining 11 AB, hitting .273, and caught the final out in two games. Whipping boy Alex Rios hit .271/.341/.375, hitting a homerun in Toronto off R.A. Dickey against his old team. For the pitchers, Luke Hochevar, who missed last year’s run on the mend from Tommy John surgery, joined Davis in throwing 10.2 scoreless innings. His two wins shared the postseason team-lead with Ryan Madson, who was NOT sharp this postseason (5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) and lost his spot in bullpen pecking order to Hochevar. Like Gordon, he has been here since the dark times. A failed starter was kept in the rotation forever during the bad years, has finally found a home in the bullpen, even with a lost season in between (Tommy John).
This team, while not posting the greatest record, is the best team in Royals history. George Brett, Royals GOAT, said so himself after the winner.
“They’d beat us,” Brett said. “I really believe they’re a better team. They have more depth throughout the lineup, they have better speed, defensively they’re better. We could beat them in some positions, but they’re a better ballclub. It’s great to be associated with them. It’s great to have them as friends.”
Eric Hosmer said the team is “too good of a group, too good of a team, not to be remembered as world champions.”
“You play so many games, it becomes a dream,” Cain said. “Then you’re in the World Series, and you accomplished your goal.”
Adding some intrigue to the Royals opening the season in 2016 as the defending World Champions will be hosting the Mets, on Opening Day. First, the Royals celebrate on their field (KansasCiti Field) and then they get to watch us hang a banner and get rings. That ‘ought to be tough.
Soon, we’ll be moving on to the offseason Hot Stove, debating what the Royals will do in RF and 2B, will they add a pitcher or go with a rookie as the No. 5 starter? Will Chris Young be back? Will it be Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon or Ben Zobrist or Alex Gordon? But, now’s not the time. Enjoy this Kansas City. There was once a day where we sat back and wondered how the Royals were going to lose a game this time. How were they going to blow it? Or, chanting, “we want donuts” because that was more exciting then watching the Royals on the field. Now, it’s ‘how will the Royals win it today, or “wake me up when we get to the seventh inning.” What a ride it’s been and I didn’t want it to end. Enjoy this Kansas City. Who knows when it will happen again? It could be next year. It could be 2017. It may not ever happen again.
“Remember when people said we were a fluke last year,” Kelvin Herrera, who tossed three HUGE shutout innings on Sunday, asked. “That was cute.”
For two straight seasons, the Kansas City Royals have defied just about everyone’s expectations. An American-flag touting Jonny Gomes expressed that in mic-dropping fashion today: “It’s unbelievable what these guys did. They stole bases, they hit homers. And guess, what Cy Young Winner, not on our team. Beat him. Rookie of the Year, not on our team. We beat him. MVP of the whole league, sorry guys, not on our team…But, we beat that guy, too…We whooped their ass.”
What will 2016 bring?
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