Wednesday, October 15, 2014
How the Royals Won the Pennant
I can't believe I'm writing this. The Royals have won the pennant. They are American League champs. Kansas City is hosting the World Series.
Nobody's been able to say that in 29 years. Not since 1985 have the Royals appeared in the Fall Classic (which they won, by the way, in seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals). The intervening three decades have not been kind to the team or its fans. As Joe Posnanski loves to remind us, they were filled with numerous boneheaded plays, poor personnel decisions, inadequate spending, questionable managing, and of course, many, many losses.
That generally terrible performance finally came to an end last year, when Kansas City won 86 games and stayed in contention for much of the season. They were a young team on the rise, loaded with talented position players, a shut-down bullpen, and just enough veteran pitching to hold it all together. Some, myself included, picked the Royals to make the playoffs, albeit as one of the two wild card teams.
Sure enough, that's what happened. KC wasn't good enough to prevent the Tigers from capturing their fourth straight division title, but as one of the five best teams in the American League they earned a postseason berth. Honestly, I didn't expect them to make it past the wild card playoff, much less all the way to the World Series.
But here we are, in the middle of October, and that's the situation we find ourselves in. The Kansas City Royals are the last team standing in the American League.
First they had to get by the Oakland A's, a superior team in every regard. They had to go through Jon Lester, one of the American League's best pitchers this year and an awesome postseason pitcher. They trailed 7-3 entering the bottom of the eighth inning. Somehow, they found a way to win in extra innings.
Then Kansas City was paired up with the star-studded Los Angeles Angels, the best team in baseball at 98-64. The Royals, an 89-win team, appeared to have little chance, especially after expending their ace, James Shields, in the play-in game. Somehow, they swept the Halos, winning the first two games in extra innings before routing Mike Trout and co. in Game 3.
In the ALCS the Royals were pitted against the Baltimore Orioles, winners of 96 games and the AL East. Baltimore boasted a fearsome lineup, one that led all of baseball in home runs. Except Baltimore's booming bats fell silent against the Royals, managing just two big flies (courtesy of Adam Jones and Ryan Flaherty) as they were swept in four games, all of which were decided by two runs or less.
Now the red-hot Royals, winners of their last eight, can catch their breath. They have nearly a week to rest uo as the NLCS is decided between San Francisco and St. Louis. Then, on October 21st, they will take the field at Kauffman Stadium as they get back to the business of bringing Kansas City its first World Series championship in three decades.