Royals Top 50 Moments: No. 50-41

The Royals are celebrating their 50th season.  We’re going to celebrate with a Top 50 list of the greatest moments in franchise history.

50.  Eric Hosmer hits game-winning home run in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series

The Royals were in extra innings for the third straight game to start the 2014 postseason.  After having won the previous two, the Royals were trying to take control of the ALDS by winning the first two games in Los Angeles against the heavily-favored Angels.  A win would mean the Royals would have two shots to win one game at home and finish the series.  A loss would mean they’d have to win both games and a return trip to Los Angeles would be likely.

After a stellar performance from Yordano Ventura and the Royals bullpen, Hosmer stepped to the plate with the game tied at one and Lorenzo Cain on first with one out facing Kevin Jepsen.

Hosmer jumped on the first pitch, a 95-mph fastball, and hit it over the wall in right to give the Royals a 3-1 lead.

The Royals would add-on another run and Greg Holland would close things out to give the Royals a 4-1 victory and a commanding two game lead in the ALDS heading back to Kansas City.

49.  Johnny Damon collects 200th hit of 2000 season on a grand slam

Johnny Damon was the local kid who was going to help take the Royals back to Baseball Nirvana.  A great leadoff hitter who could get on base and was an excellent baserunner.

In 2000, Damon had his best season with the Royals, and arguably his career. He led the American League in runs scored (136) and stolen bases (46) – both career high’s. However, his best moment that season came in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers.  Damon entered the game with 197 hits.  After getting two hits off Rangers starter Darren Oliver, he stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth with the Royals trailing 9-4 and the bases loaded and one out facing Rangers reliever, Jeff Zimmerman.

Damon turned on the first pitch Zimmerman threw and hit it just inside the foul pole for a grand slam, trimming the Rangers lead to 9-8 and giving Damon 200 hits on the season.  Damon would become the fifth player in Royals history to collect 200 hits in a season, joining George Brett (1976, 1979), Willie Wilson (1980), and Kevin Seitzer (1987).

48.  Eric Hosmer wins the 2016 All-Star Game MVP

Eric Hosmer was having a career year in 2016, hitting .299 with 13 home runs and 49 runs batted in.  The leader of the defending World Series Champions was elected to start his first All-Star Game in San Diego.

With the American League down 1-0 in the bottom of the second and facing off against former Royal, Johnny Cueto, Hosmer drove a 90-mph two-seamer over the wall in left to tie the game at one.  Hosmer’s home run was the first home run by a Royals’ player in the All-Star Game since Bo Jackson in 1989.

Hosmer would come up again in the bottom of the third facing the late Jose Fernandez and laced a RBI single past Kris Bryant to give the American League a 4-1 lead.  Hosmer would finish the game 2-for-3 with two runs batted in and end up winning the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award in the 2016 All-Star Game.

47.  Royals win 1984 American League Western Division

The 1984 Kansas City Royals are often a forgotten team in large part because they were swept in the American League Championship Series by the eventual World Series Champion, Detroit Tigers.  However, the 1984 Royals were the team that laid the foundation for the run to a World Series title in 1985.

After a 2-1 loss and dropping three of four to the Cleveland Indians, the Royals record fell to 40-51 and eight games behind the first-place California Angels.  The Royals would have to get hot to win the division the five teams ahead of them would have to go cold.

The next day, the Royals won 6-3 over the Baltimore Orioles and would win seven of their next eight.  Behind the pitching of Bud Black and Charlie Liebrandt, as well as the late season contributions from rookie Bret Saberhagen and a dominant bullpen anchored by closer Dan Quisenberry, the Royals would win the American League Western Division by three games over the Minnesota Twins and the Angels.

After the loss on July 18 to the Indians, the Royals would finish an American League best 44-27.  Though they were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS, the 1984 Royals would take experience gained from their young pitching stars like Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, and Danny Jackson, into 1985.

46.  Alex Gordon leads Royals to Game 1 victory of Baltimore Orioles

The Royals had come into the 2014 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, as Rex Hudler would put it, “lava hot.”  They had the exciting come-from-behind win in the American League Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s, then swept the top-seeded Angels in the American League Division Series.  Now, they were beginning their run for the team’s third American League Pennant.

Alex Gordon, one of the longest-tenured Royals, would play a huge part in setting the tone for the series.  In the top of the third, after Alcides Escobar gave the Royals a 1-0 lead, Gordon stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.  On a 3-2 pitch, Gordon sawed his bat in half on a 93-mph two-seam fastball with the ball falling just inside the foul line, clearing the bases and giving the Royals a 4-0 lead.

Gordon wasn’t done.  In the bottom of the inning, Gordon made a diving catch in left-center to put an end to the inning and preserving a 4-1 lead.  Gordon experienced a scary moment in the top of the eighth when he was hit in the neck with a pitch.  However, he would show the toughness that he had shown all season and stay in.

In the tenth, Gordon would step to the plate with the game tied at five looking to do what he had done all season, come up big.  On a 1-1 pitch, Gordon took a Darren O’Day fastball over the wall in right to give the Royals a 6-5 lead.  The Royals would add two more and take Game 1, 8-6.

Gordon’s final line, 3-for-4, a home run, double, four runs batted in, and Gold Glove defense.  He would set the tone for the rest of the series and help lead the Royals to their third American League Pennant and first since 1985.

45.  Bo Jackson vs. Deion Sanders

Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete in Kansas City history.  He could throw, he could hit for power, and he was as fast as a deer, he made miraculous plays in the field, and could break bats over his head. He was already a legend when he was drafted by the Royals, especially since he had chosen baseball over football.  The Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick of the NFL draft became a hero in Kansas City lore.

In the later part of the decade, Bo played both for the Royals and for the hated Los Angeles Raiders. At the same time, another duel-sport player was emerging in Deion Sanders who played cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons and centerfield for the New York Yankees.

On July 17, 1990, the Royals traveled to the Bronx to take on the hated Yankees. Deion would start in center for the Yankees and Bo would start in center for the Royals.

Neither team was having good season.  In fact, both teams were in last place in their divisions.  However, anytime two of the greatest athletes to grace a field played each other, you didn’t leave your seat.

Bo would strike first by hitting a home run to dead-center over Deion to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.  Bo then came up in the third and sent the first pitch he saw deep into the right field stands.  The ball was hit so far that Jesse Barfield in right-field barely moved.  Bo would hit his third home run of the game in the fifth inning, a three-run shot to right.  That would be his last at-bat of the night after he was pulled in the sixth after diving for a Sanders line-drive that skipped past him, allowing Sanders to circle the bases.  However, Bo’s finished 3-3 with three home runs and seven runs batted in and also received a standing ovation from the Bronx faithful.

Unfortunately for the Royals, that would be the last at-bat Bo would have until August 26 when he took future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson deep in his first at-bat (he is one of only 34 players to hit a homer in four straight AB).

After the season, Bo would hurt himself for good in the AFC Divisional Round against the Cincinnati Bengals.  That would bring an end to Bo’s football career and would lead to the end of a legendary, albeit brief, career in baseball.

44.  Carlos Beltran wins Rookie of the Year

The late Nineties were the beginning of a dark time for Royals fans.  From 1995-2002 the Royals would fail to post a winning record.  What was most frustrating about those teams was that they didn’t lack talent.  In fact, the 1999 Royals had the best outfield in baseball: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and a Beltran.

Beltran made his big-league debut in 1998.  He took over center-field in 1999 with high expectations and fans excited to see the young talent on the team.

With his speed, superb fielding, and power from both sides of the plate, Beltran hit .293 with 22 home runs, 108 RBI and 27 SB and also recorded 16 outfield assists.

Those numbers would lead Beltran to earn 26 out of 28 first-place votes for American League Rookie of the Year.  He would join Lou Piniella and Bob Hamelin (later joined by Angel Berroa) as the only Royals ever to win the award.

Beltran finished his career in 2017 getting the one thing that eluded him throughout his career, a World Series ring.

43.  David Cone wins the Cy Young

Very few people can claim to be “hometown heroes”.  The Royals have had a few in their franchise’s history (Frank White and Johnny Damon instantly come to mind).  David Cone fits that perfectly.

Cone, who graduated from Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, came up through the Royals farm system and made his debut in 1986.  However, just before the 1987 season began, the Royals traded Cone along with Chris Jelic to the New York Mets for Rick Anderson, Mauro Gozzo, and Ed Hearn.

The next chapter in this book would be how the hero got away.  Cone would become one of the premier pitchers in baseball and would, along with Dwight Gooden, lead the Mets to a 1988 National League East title.  Cone would get traded to the Blue Jays as a rental deal to bolster the Blue Jays rotation for the 1992 playoffs, earning his first of five World Series rings.

The following chapter would be the return of the King. Cone signed with the Royals after the 1992 season to bolster a rotation with Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon, and Mark Gubicza.  In 1993, the Royals rebounded from a losing 1992 to finish 84-78.  However, nothing compared to what Cone did in 1994.

He would lose his first game of the season, 4-2.  After that point, he would finish the strike-shortened season 16-4, including a stretch of three straight shutouts.  Cone would be named to the 1994 All-Star Game with a 12-4 record and a 2.88 earned run average.  He would help lead the overachieving Royals to a fourteen-game win streak and their best season since 1989.

Unfortunately for Royals fans, we don’t know how the book would have ended.  In August, players went on strike and Major League Baseball cancelled the rest of the season, including the playoffs and World Series.  Cone would be traded in the offseason to Toronto (again) for Tony Medrano, Dave Sinnes, and Chris Stynes.  Would it have ended in the regular Season battling a surging Cleveland team and solid White Sox team?  Maybe they would have got hot again and made the postseason as a wild card?  Maybe, with a rotation of Appier, Cone, Gubicza, and Gordon, the Royals make a deep postseason run and challenge the Expos or Braves.

One thing we do know is Cone would be named the American League Cy Young winner in 1994, becoming the second Royal to win the award (Bret Saberhagen in 1985 and 1989.  Zack Greinke would later join them in 2009).  Though his time in Kansas City was brief, the Royals did have a winning record in both full seasons he spent with Kansas City.  The next time that feat would happen is 2013-2014.

42.  Danny Duffy K’s 16

The Royals were coming off their second World Series title in 2016 and were struggling to repeat with injuries and regression hitting them.  However, on August 1, Danny Duffy would turn in one of the best pitching performances in Royals history.

He was in the middle of a career-year in Kansas City (one that would lead him to a big contract extension in the offseason) and the Royals needed him to step up and be the ace of the staff.

Duffy would get Logan Forsythe to pop-out to begin the game.  The next five hitters would all go down on strikes.  Through five innings, Duffy had struck out ten and still had not allowed a hit.  The sixth inning would be the only inning where Duffy would not strike out at least two hitters.  Through seven innings, he had still not allowed a hit.  Though Desmond Jennings would break up the no-hitter leading off the eighth, Duffy still had a chance to break Zack Greinke’s team record of 15 strikeouts in a game. He would get Kevin Kiermeier to lineout and then strikeout Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin to set a new Royals record at 16.

Duffy would face a total of twenty-six batters, striking out sixteen.  His final line read: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 16 K

The win would start a month in which the Royals finished 20-9, getting them back into the playoff hunt.  Though the Royals would end up short of making the postseason, Duffy would come out of the season as one of the key pieces of Royals teams to come.

41.  Bret Saberhagen No-Hits the Chicago White Sox

Bret Saberhagen was already a Royals legend.  The 1985 World Series Most Valuable Player as well as a two-time Cy Young award winner, Saberhagen was the ace of the staff of some of the best Royals staffs in franchise history.  It was only a matter of time before he threw a no-hitter.

On August 26,  1991 the Royals would play host to the Chicago White Sox at Royals Stadium. Saberhagen, looking for his tenth victory of the season, came out on fire striking out the first two hitters of the game.  The Royals would stake Bret to a 2-0 lead in the bottom half of the inning.  From there, Saberhagen would cruise.

The only close call was in the top of the fifth when Dan Pasqua hit a fly-ball to left, which drove Kirk Gibson to the wall.  Gibson misplayed the ball and it went off his glove, scoring an E7 on the play and keeping the no-hitter intact.

Saberhagen would go back to the mound in the ninth, three outs away from a no-hitter.  Saberhagen would get future Hall-of-Famer Tim “Rock” Raines to groundout.  Joey Cora would then flyout.  The only person in his way was another future Hall-of-Famer in the “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas.  The power-hitting righty hit a soft grounder to Royals second baseman Terry Shumpert, who threw over to Todd Benzinger at first to complete the fourth Royals no-hitter in team history and the first since Jim Colborn in 1977.

This would be the last great thing Saberhagen would do in a Royals uniform.  After the season, Saberhagen was traded to the New York Mets with Bill Pecota for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller.  The would wrap-up a Royals career that would see him win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, throw two complete games in the 1985 World Series (only allowing one run), win twenty games in 1985 and 1989, start the 1987 All-Star Game, and win the Cy Young in 1985 and 1989.  On this night in August of 1991, Saberhagen would give one more accomplishment for Royals fans to celebrate and cherish for a lifetime.

Stay tuned for the rest of the countdown.

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