I was nine years old when the Royals made their first World Series. We had moved to Kansas City less than three months earlier. Just three weeks earlier my parents interrupted me listening to a Royals-Mariners game to tell me that they were getting a divorce. I was dealing with a lot of shit, as Kevin Costner might say.
When Willie Wilson struck out to end the World Series in game six, I burst into tears.
Make fun of me if you want, but I can not deny that I shed some tears late last night when the Royals fell to the San Francisco Giants 3–2 in game seven of the World Series.
Despite all the joy they had brought to us over the last month, I was a bit overwhelmed that the season had ended. Of course, I had been drinking, which may have had something to do with my emotional state. But there was also the realization of how close they came to pulling this off. A freaking infield single by an overweight man that has no speed ended up accounting for the winning run. He scored on an 0–2 pitch that broke Michael Morse’s bat. The Royals, who made every play through the first three rounds of the playoffs, were the victims of some fantastic plays by the Giants Wednesday. And, of course, Madison Bumgarner came in and threw five innings of two-hit ball to close out the game.
So god damn close. What if Bumgarner had not benefitted from a very favorable strike zone? What if the Royals batters had been able to lay off his high pitches after he got ahead in the count? What if Eric Hosmer doesn’t dive into first and beats the throw in the fourth inning? What if Joe Panik doesn’t make an incredible play on Hosmer’s grounder up the middle that kicks off the 4–6–3 double play? And the biggest what if, what if Alex Gordon keeps running with two outs in the ninth and forces the Giants to make two perfect throws to cut him down at the plate?
We’ll never know, which is both the beauty and the bitch of sports.
There were a lot of late nights over the last month. Until last night, they were always happy late nights. I’d tip-toe into bed at 1:00 or 1:30 or 1:45 and then lay there and stare at the ceiling for another hour (or two), still buzzing off a Royals win. Last night was the only sad one, which on balance seems like a pretty good thing.
This team made an amazing run. They shook off nearly three decades of history. They brought a city, and its ex-pats, together. They made it cool to be a Royals fan again. They made me proud to be a Royals fan again.
Will it happen again anytime soon? That’s where the pain comes from. Not from the loss itself, but from knowing how rare this opportunity was.
When KU losses in the NCAA tournament each year, I’m always bummed. If it happens early, and to a team they are more talented than, the loss is embarrassing and disappointing. I’m always in a funk for a day or two after. But the thing with KU basketball is there is always next year. I’ve been insanely lucky that, every year since I started college, KU has entered the season with realistic hopes of making the Final Four. Six times in those 25 years they’ve delivered.
The Royals? They might be really good next year. Or the year after. But that may not be good enough. They could win 93 games next year but still come up short in both the division and the Wild Card race. Or they could be on the wrong end of a dramatic comeback in the Wild Card game next time. These opportunities are rare. To come up one run short, because of a fucking infield single, and not knowing what the future holds….well, it just plain hurts.
More about game seven, and the last month of baseball, later.