The last play of the 2014 MLB season was a pop out to foul ground, not far from the visitors dugout. Seems mundane, except it was game 7 of a closely contested World Series, and the tying run, the run that could produce the first ever extra-innings game 7 EVER, was 90 feet away. When that harmless little pop-up settled into Pablo Sandovals glove, it sealed the third championship in six years for the San Francisco Giants. Their opponents, the scrappy Kansas City Royals (making their first World Series appearance since 1985) would sulk off the field, so close to history. They should’ve held their heads high though, for they defied the odds and came within one base hit of possibly stealing a World Series from the team of destiny. They should be taken seriously in 2015 right?
… yyyyeahh, not so much.
In April of 2015, 15 ESPN experts made their predictions for the seasons winners, and all of two picked the Royals to win the AL Central, and one had them getting a Wild Card spot. No one picked them to win any postseason series. This is a team that was 1 out away from winning the World Series, and really kept the same core players from that year (as a matter of fact, even made some interesting offseason acquisitions, including Edison Volquez and Kendry Morales, really losing only Nori Aoiki and James Shields in the process). It was clear that many in the industry were quick to write off the Royals as a fluke. Enough balls bounced their way that they made it as far as they did, it was a great story, but it’s a new season, and it’s back to reality for the scrappy boys in blue.
…. yyyeahhh not so much.
The Royals won 95 games, winning the NL Central by a healthy 12 game margin. They accomplished this the same way they did the year before, playing a “small ball” style, constantly putting the ball in play (finished 3rd in batting average) and using speed (5th in stolen bases) to put constant pressure on opposing defenses. The experts were forced to acknowledge that what many called “Yost Ball” (named for manager Ned Yost) was working.
And they were just getting started…
The Royals would first face the up and coming Houston Astros, a team that was coming out of a brutal rebuilding phase, and boasted a roster that was loaded with young talent like Jose Altuve, George Springer, and shortstop Carlos Correa. They defeated the Yankees and seemed to have momentum on their side, as they took a 2-1 series lead to the fourth game. The nails began to hit the coffin when Houston piled up a 6-2 lead going to the 8th inning, and the Royals just looked like a team ready to accept their fate. Alex Rios came to the plate, and then..
- Single (Run scores)
- Single (Run scores)
The Astros were feeling it. The Royals were a hit away from tying the game, or worse! Thankfully, Tony Sipp got Kendrys Morales to hit a ground ball up the middle. It glanced off Sipp’s glove, right to sure handed fielder Carlos Correa, who stabbed at the ball to begin the routine double play…. but the ball wasn’t there. Instead, it trickled into center field, and Minute Maid Park watched helplessly as Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain scampered home, and the lead had evaporated. The Royals rejoiced, the Astros began to crack.
Eric Hosmer sent the finishing touch over the right field wall in the 9th inning, and so went he Astros fate. The crippling comeback had Houston reeling, and they couldn’t recover in game 5. The Royals took them down 7-2, and were moving on to the ALCS.
The Toronto Blue Jays had just wrapped up their own dramatic series with the Texas Rangers, and traveled to Kansas City to meet the Royals. These games would not bring the same level of excitement as the divisional series, with the first 5 games all being decided by three runs or more, including a 14-2 pounding that Kansas City put on Toronto in Game 4. Toronto would recover to force a game 6, where the Royals got some redemption from the base running gods, thanks to Lorenzo Cain’s speed and instincts. Play was interrupted by a 45 minute rain delay, but resumed in the 8th inning with the score tied. The Jays had just put up two runs in the top of the 8th, so the Royals were looking to reclaim some momentum. Cain worked a walk, and Eric Hosmer hit a looping single to Right Field. What happened next, was magical…
Shortly after that, the Royals would advance to the World Series.
Royal Blue would again sweep into late October, a chance for redemption for a team that finished just 90 feet from a world title a year ago. Their opponent was the New York Mets, a team whos title drought was only one year longer than the Royals, and hadn’t even sniffed the World Series in 15 years. Matt Harvey took the mound at Kauffman Stadium, and stared down Alcedis Escobar. His first pitch, was a memorable one.
…. aaaand we’re off! Game 1 would eventually go down in history, as the longest World Series Game 1 in history (up to that point), extending all the way to the 14th inning before the Royals finally took home the victory.
Games two, three, and four were fairly decisive contests, culminating in Game 5 in New York. The Mets sent out their ace, Matt Harvey, and the Royals countered with Edinson Volquez, who lost his father just moments before taking the mound in Game 1, and had returned from his funeral just in time to pitch Game 5.
The game seemed in hand for the Mets, with Harvey cruising towards a shutout through 8 innings. Manager Terry Collins had initially decided to bring closer Jeurys Familia into the game to finish off the Royals, and extend the series to 6 games, but was confronted by Harvey, and was convinced to leave him in the game. Lorenzo Cain would lead off the inning with a walk, steal second, and score on an Eric Hosmer single.
Mike Moustakas would ground out to first base and advance Hosmer to third. A seemingly innocuous play, but one that would ultimately set up one of the most fascinating events in recent World Series memory….
It would happen a few pitches later, when Salvador Perez hit a broken bat bouncer to third baseman David Wright. The left handed Wright fielded the ball cleanly, and glanced at Hosmer at third before making the traditional “baseball” play and throwing to first for the easy out (Perez was no speedster). Wright was left handed, though, and so that forced him to turn his back to the crafty Hosmer, and that was all he needed. The “Mad Dash” was on.
Hosmer sprinted towards the plate, catching everyone totally off guard. First baseman Lucas Duda (not known for his defensive prowess) hurled the ball towards the plate, but wide. Hosmer had tested the Mets, and passed.
an on-target throw ends the game. Instead, it led to the Mets downfall.
The Royals would uncork 5 runs in the top of the 12th inning, eventually leading to this moment:
From “Almost” there, to “Always” Champions, in just one year.
Who says you can’t get romantic about baseball?
Writers note: Brad Henson Productions did a great video chronicling this journey called “30 Years in the Making“. I recommend anyone check it out.