The Kansas City Royals made history even with their Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
The Royals’ spectacular postseason ended 90 feet short, with the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series, but it won’t be soon forgotten. Nor should it be. For one thing, no team that lost the World Series ever had a better postseason than the one Kansas City just went through. That’s not a matter of opinion. Sure, the narrative holds up, as this young, tools-laden Royals team snapped a 29-year playoff drought, dodged elimination in the bottom of the ninth and 12th innings of the Wild-Card Game, won their first three postseason games in extra innings, swept their way to the pennant and pushed the now-dynastic Giants to the absolute limit in Game 7 of the World Series.
Set all of that aside for a moment and focus just on this: Kansas City went 11-4 in the postseason. That’s a .733 winning percentage against the best teams in baseball in the highest-stakes games of season. No team has ever played that well in the postseason and failed to bring home a championship.
Obviously, prior to the advent of the Division Series, it was impossible for a team to lose the World Series with a record better than 7-4. That would occur if a team swept the League Championship Series, 4-0, then lost the World Series in seven games, but no team ever did. In fact, this year’s Royals are the first team in major league history to pull that particular feat. In the Wild-Card Era, one team did manage to go 7-4 in the postseason and lose the World Series, that being the 2007 Rockies, though they did it a different way, sweeping the Division Series (3-0) and the NLCS (4-0), then getting swept by the Red Sox in the World Series (0-4). Colorado's .636 postseason winning percentage had not been surpassed by any other team to lose the World Series until this year, when Kansas City obliterated it with its .733 mark.
You might think, “big deal, so the Royals won more than any other loser.” That’s only part of the reason they made history. Including this year’s Giants, there have been 20 World Series winners in the Wild-Card Era. Kansas City had a higher postseason winning percentage than 13 of them, including each of the last six. That’s right, despite losing the World Series to them, the Royals had a better record this postseason than the Giants, going 11-4 (.733) to San Francisco’s 12-5 (.706). That is only the second time in World Series history that the losing team finished the postseason with a better record than the victor. The other time came in 2011, when the Rangers, who twice came within one strike of their franchise's first championship in Game 6 but lost the Series in seven, went 10-6 (.625) to the Cardinals’ 11-7 (.611).
The Royals also came as close to tying a Game 7 in the bottom of the ninth as any losing team ever has. Only twice before, in 1946 and 1962, had a team lost a Game 7 with the tying run at third base. In '46, the Red Sox actually had a man, pinch-runner Paul Campbell, at third base with one out but couldn't get him in to tie the game against the Cardinals. In '62, the Giants had runners at second and third with two outs for future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, whose screaming line drive was snared by Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson for the final out.
There have been five walkoff wins in World Series Games 7, three of them coming in extra innings. In 1926 Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base for the Yankees while representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Cardinals. And in 1972, the Reds' Pete Rose made the final out in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run on first base against the A's. Gordon got to third with two outs on Wednesday when his single was misplayed into a two-base error by Giants centerfielder Gregor Blanco, but Gordon was stranded when Salvador Perez fouled out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Given all of the above, it can be stated factually -- and rather easily -- that no team has ever had a better postseason without winning the World Series than the 2014 Kansas City Royals.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of teams to lose the World Series in Game 7 with the tying run on third base.