After years of laying groundwork, Royals' dream season materializing
BALTIMORE -- It was always supposed to be like this. That’s the thing about this thrilling, preposterous, impossible October in Kansas City, this unexplainable postseason that is becoming the best story in sports. Years ago, when the K.C. minor league system was being hailed as The Best Farm System Ever, it was easy to dream about October days like this Saturday in Baltimore, a lineup anchored by Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas and a pitching staff of dazzling power arms leading the Royals to another playoff win on an unstoppable, borderline-ridiculous October rampage.
Moustakas bludgeoning baseballs in the postseason? Hosmer coolly coming through in the clutch in the face of 40,000 screaming, towel-waving fans? The Royals dominating teams with their breathtaking speed on the bases and with Cirque du Soleil catches in the outfield? Yes, there was a time, back when the kids were still just kids, when it was supposed to be like this. But back then it was a dream. Now it is the improbable reality: it’s October, and the Kansas City Royals — the Kansas City Royals— can’t lose.
Of course, no one saw this coming: the Royals, who scraped and clawed their way to a postseason berth and needed a miracle to advance past the AL wild-card round, have now ripped off six straight wins this postseason. The Royals, a franchise cursed since end of the Reagan Administration, have been winning with swinging bunt singles and bloops and tape-measure home runs and broken bats and stolen bases and sacrifices and every other way possible, as if a downtown parade is their destiny. The Royals, who had not tasted the postseason in 29 years, are in control of the ALCS, just two wins from the World Series.
“Everyone’s firing on all cylinders right now,” Hosmer, surrounded by cameras and tape recorders, said in the crammed Royals clubhouse moments after their 6-4 win, as 50 Cent blared on the speakers and the first innings of NLCS Game 1 played on the clubhouse TVs overhead. As players spoke at their lockers, clubhouse attendants were scrambling to pack. The Royals are headed home after taking two on the road in the series. Can Kansas City be stopped? It's only the fourth club in major league history to start the postseason 6-0. (The others: the 2007 Rockies, 1976 Reds and 1970 Orioles). For all the close games the Royals have played, they’ve still yet to trail in a game this October.
“They’re playing the best baseball of the year right now, and it’s sure the best time to play it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said after the game.
On Saturday afternoon in Camden Yards, a day after the 10-inning, four-and-a-half hour epic, the Orioles and Royals clashed in another strange white-knuckle thriller in Game 2. A new day, another set of heroes. There was Hosmer in the top of the first, continuing his star-making postseason, with a bloop single to put the Royals up 2-0.
“I’m just seeing the ball well right now,” said Hosmer — who has seven hits, including two home runs and a double, over the last four games — as if there was never any doubt that he had a run like this in him.
There was Billy Butler, ripping a double to right field to drive in the Royals’ third run. There was Moustakas, after fouling off two two-strike pitches, belting his fourth home run of the postseason (and his third in three games) in the fourth inning, a shot over the wall in right field that landed just short of Eutaw Street.
“Fortunately I got a good pitch up in the zone, and I didn’t miss it,” he said.
There was Yordano Ventura, the baby-faced 23-year-old Dominican with the 100 MPH heater, struggling with his command all day but still keeping his cool with the game on the line, allowing four runs over his 5 2/3 innings. There was Lorenzo Cain, with four hits on the day and a spectacular catch in the outfield on a J.J. Hardy line drive in a 4-4 game that will most certainly make the Royals' 2014 DVD. Cain, who became a father just days ago, is making these playoffs his personal highlight reel.
“[Cain's] playing at the top of his game right now,” said Hosmer. “Right now he’s playing the best we’ve ever seen him play.”
Said Yost, of Cain’s catch: “Came out of nowhere and caught it. I thought for sure that ball was going to drop when it first left the bat, and then all of a sudden here he comes and makes the play. The country is seeing a very exciting player.”
And then there was Alcides Escobar with the biggest hit of the night, a double down the right field line to drive Jarrod Dyson home and break a 4-4 tie, the hit that sucked the air out of rollicking Camden Yards.
“Always trying to hit it to right centerfield in that situation,” Escobar explained.
Cain and Escobar arrived in Kansas City in the same 2010 trade from Milwaukee, when the Royals parted ways with their longtime ace Zack Greinke. The story of the 2014 Royals is the story of a group of once-hyped prospects who this October are blooming into the stars we always thought they’d be. But it’s also been about the validation of the moves of GM Dayton Moore. There was the James Shields trade two years ago, but Moore’s bold move to acquire Cain and Escobar three years ago also set the path to this postseason run.
“It was the start of our championship team,” Yost said of the trade after Saturday's game. “That was the start of putting together a championship-caliber baseball team, to get two guys as athletic as they are … That’s where it started.”
Yes, it is all coming to fruition for the Royals. Yes, it was always supposed to be like this. There was a time when it was easy to dream, and then there was the heartbreak and disappointment. Now? The Royals are headed home two wins away from the World Series, and for the faithful, it’s okay to start dreaming. It’s okay to start believing. It’s October, and the Kansas City Royals can’t lose.