Royals Top 50 Moments: No. 30-21

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

No. 50-41

No. 40-31

We’re more than a third of the way into the 2018 season and its quite clear that the Royals, on pace for a 55-win season, will not have much else to celebrate this season besides their 50th Anniversary.

30.  Lou Piniella wins 1969 Rookie of the Year

On Tuesday, April 8, 1969, the Royals would beat the Minnesota Twins, who would go on to win the American League Western Division title, 4-3 in twelve innings.  The first batter of the game, a rookie by the name of Lou Piniella, whom the Royals had acquired via a trade with the Seattle Pilots just a week prior, led off with a double off Twins pitcher, Tom Hall.  The next batter, Jerry Adair, would single to left field, scoring Piniella and giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.

Piniella was responsible for the Kansas City Royals’ first AB, first hit, first run and led the Royals to their first win in their first game in their franchise’s history.

Piniella, who had limited experience with Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians before getting a shot in Kansas City, would hit .282/.325/.416 in 135 games for the Royals with 11 homers and driving in 68 in the inaugural season for the franchise.

For his efforts, Piniella won the first major award in franchise history – the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year.  He would become a key piece of the Royals in the early 1970s, even being named as one of five Royals to represent the American League in the 1972 All-Star Game.

He was then traded after the 1972 season, and, as described himself, cried when he received the phone call. The trade woud come to haunt the Royals, as Pinella helped the rival Yankees to three consecutive American League Pennants (1976-78), beating the Royals all three times.

29.  Frank White homers in Game 3 of 1985 World Series

Frank White is one of the best players ever to don a Royals uniform.  A 5-time All-Star, an 8-time Gold Glove winner at second base, a Silver Slugger winner, and the MVP of the 1980 American League Championship Series, White spent his entire 18-year career making the improbable plays seem routine on the fast turf at Royals Stadium and becoming one of the best second baseman to play the game.

However, like many Royals, White was looking to redeem himself in the 1985 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  In the 1980 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, White was just 2-for-25 (.080) from the plate, as the Royals lost in six games.

Down 2-0 after having lost the first two games at home to the Cardinals, the Royals were in desperate need of a victory in Game 3 in St. Louis.  If the Royals win, they’re right back in the series.  The Royals lose and they’re down 3-0 with the Cardinals one win away from a World Series title.

White, who was the first second baseman to hit cleanup in the World Series since Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952, stepped to the plate in the fourth inning against Joaquin Andujar with George Brett on first and nobody out with the Royals holding on to a 2-0 lead.  The very first pitch from Andujar was clobbered by and all Tito Landrum could do was watch as the ball soared into the left field bleachers to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.

Later in the game, White would add a RBI double in route to a 6-1 victory that would get the Royals back into the series.

28.  Zack Greinke wins the 2009 American League Cy Young Award

It’s not often when a baseball player with so much promise and hype comes up, struggles, leaves the game, comes back, struggles some more, gets demoted, finds his way, and then becomes the best at what he does.

Greinke came onto the scene in 2004 and had a solid year, finishing 8-11 with a 3.97 ERA – good for fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.  However, in 2005, Greinke would lead the league in losses (5-17), while posting a 5.80 ERA (which, surprisingly, was not the worst on the team). Then, in 2006 he hit rock bottom when he left the team to battle a social anxiety disorder (**NOTE:  This is a good time to remind people, if you need help with anything in life, you can seek treatment.  It’s okay to ask.  Just look at Zack Greinke and how well he’s done with his life**).  He returned mid-season, pitching in the minors and didn’t return until September of that year, pitching out of the bullpen in three games, getting credit for the win in one.

In 2007, Greinke again struggled early as a starter and was demoted by manager, Buddy Bell, to the bullpen after posting a 1-4 record with a 5.80 ERA through seven starts. That would be the best thing to happen to Greinke’s career. While in the bullpen, Royals reliever, David Riske, would help Greinke become a better pitcher on the mound and help him realize the potential and greatness fans and scouts knew he had. He learned how to throw hard, where he threw a dominant arsenal at batters, as he really revved up knowing he only had to go a few innings, at most. He returned to the rotation in August, starting seven games, and continued to throw hard, posting a 1.85 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 34 innings, including a dominant 10-strikeout, 2-hitter.

He parlayed that success into a breakthrough season in 2008, posting a 13-10 record with a 3.47 ERA and 183 strikeouts, tying with Royals ace, Gil Meche, for the team lead. The following year, Greinke became the Greinke that everybody knows today. He started the season 6-0, didn’t allow his first run until his fourth game (an unearned run against the Detroit Tigers), wouldn’t allow his first earned runs until his fifth start against the Toronto Blue Jays, and had a minuscule 0.40 ERA in those six games which included three complete games and two shutouts.

His first loss of the 2009 season came in a hard-luck, 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. He was 10-5 with a 2.12 ERA at the All-Star break, and one appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the All-Star Game in St. Louis, he would pitch a scoreless fourth inning with two strikeouts in a 4-3 American League victory.

On August 25, Greinke would break Mark Gubicza’s team record for strikeouts in a single game by striking out fifteen Cleveland Indians in a 6-2 victory (this has since been broken by Danny Duffy’s 16). Greinke would finish 2009 with a 16-8 record (the fewest wins at the time for a Cy Young winner) and led the league ERA (2.16) and WHIP (1.073) while posting six complete games and three shutouts. His 242 strikeouts wer two shy of Dennis Leonard’s team record.

The Royals would trade Zack to the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2010 season, when he was marred with little run support, a losing record (10-14) and an admitted lack of effort down the stretch as the Royals continued to lose. He had a losing record (60-67) as a Royal, with a 3.82 ERA – the highest ERA of any of the five teams he has played on – and only had a winning record twice (other than a 1-0 season in just three appearances in 2007), but he played on some really bad teams and was really good beginning in 2008 after a slow start to his career. Of course, he’s 116-44 (110-42 in the NL) since. Dude was still a STUD, here. Imagine Greinke on the 2013-2016 teams.

However, he would play a big, indirect role in the Royals teams that would win two American League Pennants and a World Series title. In the trade, the Royals acquired Lorenzo Cain (2014 American League Championship Most Valuable Player), Jake Odorizzi (traded for James Shields and Wade Davis), and the 2015 American League Championship Most Valuable Player and the subject of the No. 27 moment on our list…

27.  Alcides Escobar leads of the 2015 World Series with a Home Run

It’s been said throughout generations of baseball fans that you will see something during a nine-inning game that you’ve never seen before. Then, we saw Alcides Escobar lead off the bottom of the first-inning in the 2015 World Series with an inside the park HR.

The Royals had ended the 2014 World Series with heartbreak in Game 7.  Alex Gordon would hit a single with two outs in the ninth inning against Madison Bumgarner.  The ball would bounce under Gregor Blanco’s glove in center-field and roll all the way to the wall, where Juan Perez would kick it and allow Gordon to get to third.  The debate would (still does?) rage on about if Mike Jirschele should have waved Alex home (he made the right call).  Salvador Perez would pop out in foul territory to Pablo Sandoval and the Royals dreams of a World Championship would end ninety-feet from home plate.

The Royals got back to the World Series the very next year against the New York Mets, who had one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball. Escobar, who is one of the most unconventional leadoff hitters, known for his first-pitch swinging, stepped up to the plate to leadoff the home-half of the first against Mets starter, Matt Harvey.

Yoenis Cespedes, Gold Glover…*rolls eyes*

It was the first inside the park HR hit in the World Series since Mule Haas (1929). This was the first inside-the-park home run to lead-off a game in the World Series since Patsy Dougherty for the Boston Americans in the 1903 World Series (the very first World Series).

In response to Escobar’s “ambush hitting,” Noah Syndegarrd, who said he had “a few tricks up his sleeve,” revealed his trick by delivering this message to Esky:

In postgame, the Royals clubhouse was, as expected, NOT happy:

Moose, though:

“If anybody’s got a problem with me throwing inside they can meet me at 60 feet, 6 inches away,” “Thor” said after the game.

They did, and…

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26.  Bret Saberhagen wins two Cy Young Awards

When you think of great Royals pitchers, the first name that usually comes to mind is Bret Saberhagen.

In 1985, coming off a rookie season that earned him a Game 2 start in the 1984 American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, Saberhagen would led the Royals young and talented pitching staff with a 20-6 record and a 2.87 ERA. “Sabes” would also have 10 complete games that year and pitch more than 235 innings and was even more impressive in the 1985 World Series against the Cardinals, going 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA while earning World Series Most Valuable Player and becoming a first-time father. Saberhagen would be named the 1985 American League Cy Young Award winner.

Four years later, in 1989, Saberhagen would start out with good numbers, going 2-2 with a 3.35 ERA in the first month of the season. His first-half numbers where really good, 8-4 with a 2.61 ERA (somehow, those numbers weren’t good enough to earn a spot on the 1989 American League All-Star team). His second-half numbers were insane: 15-2 with a 1.74 ERA.  In the final two months of the season, he would finish 13-1 with a microscopic 1.29 ERA while keeping the Royals in the race for the American League Western Division title.  Though the Royals would fall short of that, Saberhagen was not to blame, finishing 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA and earn his second American League Cy Young Award.  Saberhagen would become the fourth pitcher in American League history (joining Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, and Roger Clemens) to win two American League Cy Young Awards.

Saberhagen’s career with the Royals would end after the 1991 season, when the Royals traded him to the New York Mets.  However, his career and accomplishments with the Royals would later earn him a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame.

25.  Edinson Volquez’s emotional 2015 World Series

There are some things in baseball, and in life, that go beyond the box score.  The 2015 World Series for Edinson Volquez was one of those things.

The Royals signed Volquez before the 2015 season.  The one-time all-star had seen his numbers balloon after the 2008 season.  However, he saw a career resurrection with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, earning him the start in the 2014 National League Wild Card Game for the Pirates.  In 2015, produced a 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA while pitching over 200 innings for the first time in his career. He had pitched well in the postseason, including six scoreless innings against the best offense in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays, in a Game 1 victory of the ALCS.

All this earned “Steady Eddy” the honor of a Game 1 World Series start. However, just moments before the game, everything was thrown in doubt when ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reported that Volquez’s father had passed away before the game. Only Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Dave Eiland, and Chris Young (who had lost his father only a month before) knew of the death and Volquez’s family didn’t want to tell him before the game.

Volquez would pitch six innings, giving up three runs in a quality start that would keep his team in the game for a late-game comeback and a win:

ALEX F GORDON!

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

After he was pulled from the game, he was told of his father’s death.  He left the team to go back to the Dominican Republic for the funeral. He came back just in time for Game 5. With his dad weighing heavily on his mind, Volquez would pitch a great game, giving up two runs (one earned) over six innings, while striking out five. He had a situation in the sixth where the Mets had the bases loaded on no outs and they only scored one run.  That would be huge for the Royals as they would again stage a late-game comeback to win the World Series.

It’s hard to imagine a pitcher making this list with a 3.00 ERA and no wins in the World Series make this list.  However, baseball heals.

24.  Johnny Cueto dominates Mets in 2015 World Series

The 2015 Kansas City Royals were nearly perfect.  They had a solid starting rotation, a shutdown bullpen, and a lineup so balanced that Alex Gordon (before he struggled to hit the Mendoza Line) was batting eighth.

In July, leading up to the trade deadline, Dayton Moore went all in, getting Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, in exchange for five minor league pitchers, including four lefties – because prospects come and go, flags fly forever.

Cueto struggled in the regular season for the Royals, posting a 4-7 record with a 4.76 ERA.  Those numbers would lead Royals fans to worry about his performance in the postseason.

Heading into the World Series, Cueto had been up and down in the ALDS and ALCS.  He was roughed up early in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros before settling in – another Royals rally. In a winner-take-all Game 5 against Houston, Cueto threw eight innings, giving up two runs on only two hits while striking out eight.  After a Luis Valbuena home run in the second, Cueto set down nineteen straight hitters.  Cueto was knocked around in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, so, Royals fans were leery about what they would be from him in Game 2 of the World Series.

After winning Game 1 in fourteen innings, both teams needed a good start from their starting pitchers to save their bullpens. Johnny Cueto would face the Mets all-star pitcher, Jacob deGrom.

Cueto would answer the call, pitching arguably the best game in Royals postseason history.  While deGrom would not make it through five innings,Cueto would go the distance, throwing a 122-pitch complete game 2-hitter, including retiring the final 15 batters faced in the Royals Game 2 7-1 win to give them a 2-0 World Series lead. It was the first CG from an AL pitcher in the World Series in 24 years (Jack Morris):

It was his second 2-hitter of the 2015 postseason and the second time in said postseason that he retired 15 (or more) consecutive batters.

This is why the Royals acquired Cueto: WIN PLAYOFF GAMES. Nothing he did in the regular season, mattered (although he did clinch the division and home field advantage).

23.  Steve Busby throws 2 No-Hitters

There’s only been four no-hitters tossed in franchise history, and Steve Busby has thrown half of them, and in a two-year span.

New Royals fans may not know a lot about Busby, however, he was one of the best pitchers in the early 1970s before injuries took their toll and shortened his career. He pitched in only eight seasons, of which only three were full seasons.

On April 27, 1973, Busby took the mound at hitter-friendly Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Busby certainly wasn’t dominant that day, but he was effectively wild. Despite walking six, he baffled the Tigers at the plate no-hitting the Tigers in a 3-0 victory.  The no-hitter was surprising, given that Busby, in his previous outing, only lasted one inning and his ERA was 8.04 before the game.

In the following season, 1974, Busby would make the first of two All-Star Game appearances. On June 19, 1974 at County Stadium in Milwaukee, Busby faced off against the Brewers. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Busby walked George Scott to begin the second.  He then retired the next 24 batters in the 2-0 no-hitter, becoming the 24th pitcher in MLB history to hurl multiple no-hitters and the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to hurl a no-hitter in each of his first two seasons.

Busby would make the All-Star Game again in 1975, his final full season in baseball before a torn rotator cuff ended his career.  What could have been with Busby remains a great mystery with the Royals. Had he stayed healthy, the Royals may have won the American League Pennant at least once between 1976-1978 and the 1980 World Series may have ended with a different result.

22. Bo Jackson Says Hello!

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is an exhibition where the best of the best (though some of the Royals all-stars would test that through the next three decades) are all on the same field together.

Nine Hall-of-Famers would play in the game (the two managers would also be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame) and the lineups were chalked full of stars.  The one star that stood out was Vincent “Bo” Jackson.

The man simply known as Bo, was amid his best big-league season in 1989.  Already a 20-20 guy (21 HR, 23 SB) at the break, he was elected by the fans to start the game.  Tony La Russa wrote Jackson into the leadoff spot. In top of the inning, Jackson robbed Pedro Guerrero of two runs batted in with a diving catch in left-center. In the bottom of the inning, Jackson took veteran sinker-baller Rick Reuschel’s second pitch at the knees and mashed it 456-feet to dead center.  The legendary Vin Scully was on the call and was interviewing former President Ronald Regan when what sound like a cannon came off the bat of Jackson. All President Regan could say was “Hey” with Vin Scully adding “Bo Jackson says hello.”

Bo would add another RBI on a force-out in the second, would steal a base, and add a single to his line on the night Nike unveiled the “Bo Knows” campaign, finishing 2-4, with 2 RBI, 1 HR, 1 SB.

Jackson would become the first Royal to earn the All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player Award.  In a night that had many stars, Jackson’s star was the brightest of them all.

21.  Darryl Motley sets the tone!

The 1985 Kansas City Royals were the cardiac kids.  All season long the Royals had to play comeback, similar to the 2014 Royals. They had to comeback from seven-games down in the division race to overtake the California Angels.  The had to comeback from down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays to win the pennant.  They trailed St. Louis 3-1 in the World Series only to come storming back to tie the series.

Game 7 was played at Royals Stadium with the Cardinals ace, John Tudor (who already had two wins over the Royals in the series) against Bret Saberhagen, who won Game 3.  After a scoreless first inning, Steve Balboni walked with one out in the second inning. Darryl Motley stepped in against the lefty Tudor. On the seventh pitch of the AB, Motley hammered a ball over the foul pole down the left-field line.  It was hit so high that it went over the foul pole and was ruled foul. Motley, who was going down the line in a similar shuffle to Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series, picked up his cracked bat. As he stepped back into the box, he noticed the crack in his bat and asked for a new one. With a new bat, Motley received the exact same pitch again, this time with a different result – fair. The Royals led 2-0.

From that point on, the Royals would be off to the races against Tudor and the Cardinals in route to a moment that will appear later in the list.

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