R’s: Legendary

I used to keep a large composition notebook with me while I watched TV. When something would amuse, enrage, or otherwise interest me, I would jot down a few lines about it. Especially in the earliest days of this site, back when it was hosted on Blogger, those notebooks provided the basis for an awful lot of posts.

I find myself wishing I had not gotten out of that habit. Because I know I had a million thoughts worth sharing over the past week as the World Series ran its five-game course that are lost forever between their sheer number, the lack of sleep, the alcohol, and my mid–40s brain just not retaining information as well as it once did.

And then I think about that and realize I can probably come up with a couple thousand words about the World Series without any notes to jog my memory. So grab a drink and a snack and prepare yourself for some serious ramblings.

As I begin this Tuesday morning, I’m still in a state of disbelief. Even after last October, even after the Royals were the best team in the American League over the course of a six-month season, it still seems impossible that the Kansas City Royals are World Series champions. Our modest little team filled with excellent but not great players[1] wasn’t supposed to be good enough to do this. And yet, here we are. A lot of my Kansas City friends are going to a parade today. I’m refreshing multiple webpages waiting for the perfect championship shirt to become available. And despite going to bed around 8:30 last night, I’m still shaking off the effects of staying up until 3:00 AM the previous night and getting very little sleep before the alarm went off at 6:30.

Amazing times.

First, a confession. I missed the comeback in game four Saturday. It was Halloween, and as is our tradition in the neighborhood, we had a few drinks before heading out, then took a growler of fine local ale with us as the kids made their rounds. A friend had a keg and a bonfire going in his driveway, so we stopped off there. When the kids went home, the dads stayed, and eventually moved to the basement. More beer was poured, along with a couple shots of good Irish whiskey.

My plan was to avoid the score all night and start watching from the opening pitch once I got home. My host derailed that plan by putting the game on when we hit his basement. So I half-watched, half-socialized. When I left, it was 3–2 Mets in the 7th. No reason not to have faith in another comeback, right?

Only problem was my alcohol consumption was catching up with me. The girls were all asleep and S. was watching a show. I sat by her on the couch and stared at my phone as the Royals batted in the 7th. I began to drift off. I got the bright idea I would go lay down in bed and listen to the game.

Not sure why I thought that would work.

Next thing I knew I heard Denny Matthews saying, “Wade Davis on to pitch the 8th, the Royals now lead 5–3.”


Yep. I slept through Daniel Murphy’s error that opened the door to yet another rally.

To my (semi) credit, I raced downstairs and watched the last nine outs of the game and then the coverage from back in KC. I tried going to bed around 12:30, but between that 20-minute nap and the extra shot of adrenaline, I couldn’t sleep. So it was back downstairs to watch the 8th inning in full.

To sum up: I drank too much, missed an epic rally, then had recharged my body enough that I was awake through the extra hour of sleep November 1 offered this year. Brilliant.[2]

Last year was amazing because it was all so unexpected. The Royals were floundering at the trade deadline. They got red hot for six weeks, but cooled off late in September. The Wild Card game seemed like a crapshoot, followed by a date with the best team in baseball. None of that was supposed to happen. Then craziness ensued.

I didn’t think there was any way this postseason could top that. Even if the Royals won it all, there was far too much drama crammed into those games of 2014. The end would be more joyous if the Royals won out, but the process would not match the previous one.

I was way wrong there.

Last year’s run had plenty of late-game heroics. But the Royals took that to a whole other level this year. The comeback in game four of the ALDS, when they had six outs to erase a four-run deficit. Which, naturally, they did before recording a single out. They trailed in their other two wins in the series as well.

They trailed in three of their four wins over Toronto, with both games two and six being crazy enough to stand out as all-timers for just about any franchise. Except these are the Royals and those games are simply footnotes to other games played over a 13-month period.

In the World Series there was Alex Gordon’s massive, game-tying homer in the ninth inning of game one that may have turned the entire series. Just for fun, the Royals and Mets played five innings after his shot before the game ended on a ho-hum sacrifice fly. Then came game four, when the Royals pounced on Murphy’s error to turn another deficit into a win. And finally game five, which because it clinched the title, likely goes right up next to the Wild Card game as greatest in franchise history.

Other than Gordon’s home run, none of these comebacks were built around the long ball. Each time it was single-single-single, or walk-walk-double that turned the game. Steals, errors, and fielder’s choices also factored in. It was death by a thousand paper cuts each time.

Back in May, in an email discussion about the Royals hot start, I said that they play the game without any fear of being behind. “They just know they’re going to get enough baserunners late to come back every single night,” I wrote. Confidence may be the biggest factor in sports success. The Royals played with something beyond confidence late in games. They played with certainty that they would turn things around every night. And when the rallies began with the flare to right, or a take on the close 3–2 pitch, you could feel the energy begin to drain from their opponents.

As a fan, it’s hard to find that same level of certainty. I was never so convinced of victory that I could relax when their odds of winning were well below 20%. But they’ve done it so often during the past two years that as soon as that first baserunner reached, even I knew that the line was beginning to move and in 20 minutes they would have completed another completely demoralizing, small-market rally.

Something else I came to terms with late this season was the Royals’ impatience at the plate. I, like many, have advocated a more patient approach at the plate. You look at a few pitches early. You foul off close pitches late. You run up the starter’s pitch count so you get them out of the game in the 5th or 6th inning.[3]

So it drove me crazy when the Royals would go up hacking at the first pitch seemingly every at-bat. While the Royals starter was racking up 15–20 pitches per frame, they had way too many 10-pitch innings at the plate.

But late in the season, I finally began to get comfortable with their strategy. I realized those early hacks were actually causing stress for the pitcher. They knew how each pitch could turn into the hit that started the rally. And when the rally did start, suddenly the 70–80 pitches the starter had thrown felt more like 100. And while the Royals starter may be sitting around 80 pitches in the fifth, he knew that A) he had the best bullpen in baseball behind him and B) the rally was coming soon when his teammates batted.

In the playoffs, I learned not to care about pitch counts. Weird.

Words about the front office.

One reason that so many of us were so sad this time last year was because we thought that 2014 run was a fluke, and the team would never be in that position again. We knew that the Royals would go after some mid-level free agents, but no one that was a game changer. The Royals might be good again in 2015, but could they be great? Probably not.

Boy were we wrong.

First off, it’s because most of the regulars who returned were better this year than last. Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar both struggled at the plate in the regular season. But they made up for that by being red hot in the playoffs. And they were always excellent with their gloves.

Bigger, though, was that every single move Dayton Moore made in the offseason paid off.

Kendrys Morales was a brilliant signing, bringing a great hitter with power, something to prove, and a tremendous clubhouse presence to the team.

Edinson Volquez filled in just fine for James Shields, and was better than Shields in the postseason.

Alex Rios struggled all season. In September I hoped he would be left off the post-season roster. So of course he played his best ball of the year in October, with a few huge hits that either started or continued rallies.

Chris Young and Ryan Madson were strokes of genius. Even Joe Blanton, who was eventually released and ended the year in Pittsburgh, threw some important innings early in the year when the AL Central race was still close and the Royals were just establishing that they were the best team in the league.

And then the two deadline deals.

Johnny Cueto caused more angst than any player on the roster in his three months with the team. He was very good in his first three starts as a Royal. Then terrible for a month. Then wildly erratic to close the season. Each of us lived in fear about him pitching an important game in the playoffs. He was decent, if not great, in his first start against Houston. Then fantastic in the clinching game of the ALDS. He was terrible in Toronto. Then historic again in game two of the World Series. He was brought to KC to help win a World Series. He did exactly that, even if there were some rough patches along the way. Unless Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed ALL turn into All-Stars for Cincinnati, the trade was absolutely worth it. And even then, who knows if any of those guys could have made a difference this October for the Royals. No matter where Johnny ends up next year, Royals fans will always love him for his contributions this year. And we’ll never forget this.

There are zero doubts about Ben Zobrist’s contributions. He was the Royals player of the month his first month on the team. He was steady when the rest of the lineup struggled in September. And then he was, arguably, the most consistent hitter through the playoffs. All the while he played solid second base in the absence of Omar Infante. He was the perfect fit at the perfect time.

Oh, and I can’t talk about Moore’s moves without once again retracting my fierce criticism of the trade he made back in December 2012, sending Wil Myers, among others, to Tampa for James Shields and Wade Davis. That turned out to be a really good freaking trade.

He also did ok when he sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee and got Lorenzo Cain and Escobar in return.

And no one can say with a straight face that it was better to draft Christian Colon than either Matt Harvey or Chris Sale back in 2010. But Colon has had two pretty massive postseason hits in his career. I hope he gets a chance to be an everyday player for the Royals at some point. But I’ll always be thankful for his two playoff hits.

Turns out maybe Moore knew exactly what he was doing when a lot of us were killing him for every move he made for years.

It’s always easy to judge sports outcomes with hindsight. “Oh, team X was a great matchup because of A, B, and C.” With that in mind, looking back on the Royals run, they always played the team I feared most. I thought Houston was the perfect mix of great starting pitching, a great lineup, and a decent bullpen. Also they were young, hungry, and reminded me a lot of last year’s Royals. Toronto had frightened me since they made their big deals in July. A fearsome lineup. A rotation that was fantastic at the top and seemingly perfect to foil the Royals in the back half. And then the Mets’ starting rotation had me worried the Royals would get swept.

Funny how things work out.

Fox broadcasting team: Verducci, great. Buck, overly criticized. He’s not my favorite, but he’s not as bad as so many people say. Reynolds, train wreck. I think he had five different opinions about the first pitch of game three by the fifth inning. I enjoy his enthusiasm. And he does share some good tidbits from his days as a player. But he was just so consistently inconsistent. Half the fun of following Twitter during games was waiting for people to point out how things he said were patently wrong.

I’m 44 years old. I have a family I love, and consider myself to be a fairly well adjusted human. My life isn’t perfect – no one’s is – but I believe it is filled with mostly happy things. That said, I’ll easily admit I had many tears of joy in the wee hours of Monday morning. Over a baseball team. Granted, I had a lot of Boulevard beer in my system. Still, as I watched the celebration in New York, the post-game show from Kansas City with the crowds at the Power & Light district, exchanged emails, texts, and Facebook messages with friends, and scrolled through the joyfest on Twitter, I couldn’t help myself. This team brought so much happiness to so many this year. Even when your life is pretty good, those three hours when your favorite team is playing[4] can become magical. And when they string together seven months of magic, it’s hard not to be affected a little.

I realized this during the series. I’ve lived in Indianapolis 12 years now. In that time, KU has played for the National Championship twice. They won once. The Colts have played in the Super Bowl twice. They won once. The Royals have now played in the World Series twice. The outcome was set before the series even began!

A few weeks ago, when the playoffs began, I said this was the best summer of baseball for me since probably 1980. I, like a lot of people, was worried that the Royals’ September swoon meant their success from the regular season would not carry over to the playoffs. That they would be this year’s version of last year’s Anaheim Angels. They came dangerously close to making those fears come true. But they came back time and again, and along the way turned into the best Royals team ever. This team may not have a George Brett or Bret Saberhagen. But they did have a roster full of guys who fought every single night until the final out.

There’s no “Right Way” to play baseball. The goal, especially in the Majors, is to score one more run than your opponent. Style is not important. But there’s no doubt, though, the Royals played beautiful baseball. There were some well-timed home runs along the way. But for the most part they relied on just putting the ball in play and making smart decisions with their speed. Like a good football or basketball team, they forced their opponents into situations where they would screw up. And then the Royals always took advantage.

Jose Bautista hitting the ball into the third deck is an amazing sight. But it is also something that is fairly common. But Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single to clinch the pennant? Eric Hosmer scoring from third on a mad dash with two outs in the ninth, down a run? That stuff is unique. And legendary.

Some championship runs spark breathless words in their moment, but are quickly lost to history to all but the winners’ fans. It is the rare team that stands out in history. These Royals will stand out in history because of plays like those. In two years, or 20, when you mention the 2015 Royals, anyone who paid attention to the playoffs will say, “Oh yeah. That’s the team that had all those late-game rallies and scored with guys flying around the bases.”

I know I’ll never forget them.

  1. Wade Davis is obviously the exception. He’s three steps beyond great.  ↩
  2. Other things I missed during the playoffs: the Royals rally to tie/take the lead in game two of the ALDS because I was driving to a football game. All of game three of the ALDS because we don’t have the right network on our cable package. Most of game four of the ALCS because I was at L’s soccer practice. And the rally in game two of the ALCS because I was at a party. Thank goodness for the At Bat app and satellite radio. I was able to listen to all those bits I missed.  ↩
  3. That’s how we get four-plus hour Yankees-Red Sox games in May.  ↩
  4. Or four or five hours if needed.  ↩

1 Comment

  1. Stace

    Well done. One of the best recaps you’ve ever written, and some of those ER emails were epic!

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