The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!
There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.
What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.
In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.
Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.
Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.
This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.
I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.
Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.
The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.
So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:
- The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
- Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
- The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
- The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
- Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
- The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:
Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.
Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.
For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.
Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:
The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:
For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.
When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!