NEW YORK — There was the first baseman, his shirt soaked with champagne, cradling the trophy as he emerged out of the dugout and stepped into the New York night. “We Kansas City, bay-beeeeeee!” Eric Hosmer screamed as he lifted his arms and faced the crowd, and the assembled clan behind the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field went wild. The players emerged, one after another, to the beautiful ball-park sound of roaring eruptions: Hoz, Salvy, Esky, Moose, Gordy, Lo-Cain, the players that now will live on, the core of a championship team unlike one we’ve seen before.
On the field, in the middle of the bedlam, a man in a blue sweater was already ready to settle the debate, so don’t even bother with it.
“They are better than we were—I will say that,” said George Brett, who was a 32-year-old third baseman on that last Royals team that partied like this in 1985. “Better depth in the lineup. Better on the bases. And that bullpen…. Yes, they are better. A complete team.”
It was half-past 1 a.m. at Citi Field, after the 7–2, 12-inning, four-hour win that embodied this team, its exhilarating October and its championship season. All of the Royals had imagined what this moment would feel like, and after three decades without a title in Kansas City, after all those miserable years, those 100-loss seasons in the early 2000s, those years of waiting for the prospects from The Best Farm System Ever to arrive, those interminable months that followed the 2014 miracle run that left them 90 feet short, the moment at last arrived at 12:30 a.m. in New York on Nov. 2nd, with a 95-mph strike from Wade Davis into the glove of Drew Butera to end Game 5 of the World Series.
In the days, weeks and years to come, there will be paeans to general manager Dayton Moore’s process. There will be deep dives into how this team was painstakingly constructed, one block at a time. There will be oral histories of the great games, of the countless unforgettable comebacks, books and DVDs, tellings and retellings of the amazing postseason tales of Esky Magic, the superhuman feats of the cyborg closer, Lorenzo Cain’s mad first-to-third dash, Hosmer’s sprint home.
But let’s linger briefly on the moment that won Game 5, the play—before Jarrod Dyson’s stolen base in the 12th, before Christian Colon’s go-ahead RBI single, before Wade Davis’s 20-pitch save to seal the win—that stole the game from the Mets. To the top of the ninth: The Royals trailing 2–0, and the Citi Field crowd readying for a rollicking send-off for their team, the series heading back to Kansas City. There is Cain starting the inning off with a walk off Matt Harvey. There is Hosmer driving him in with a double. There is Salvador Perez hitting a grounder to David Wright, who throws the ball to first as Hosmer—audaciously, insanely, brilliantly—breaks for home, and Mets first baseman Lucas Duda's throw home going wide as Hosmer scores the tying run.
“It was realizing that at that point of the game, you have to take a chance,” Hosmer explained after the game. “You have to be aggressive. That’s how we’ve been all year. We don’t play the normal style of baseball, according to most people.”
He was right. The play, as crazy and ill-advised as it might have been, perfectly exemplified what this resilient and relentless team has been about all along since the beginning of its 2014 run: complete fearlessness.
Years ago, Hosmer was one of the hyped K.C. kids, a prospect who was going to set the world on fire. His journey—from Next Big Thing to disappointment to beloved Royals hero—mirrors that of so many on this team. It is a team with no single superstar—“Keep the line moving” is the mantra of the offense—and on this night, the contributions also came from the most unexpected players. They came from Kelvin Herrera, with his three-inning, 33-pitch shutout relief effort, to pinch-runner Dyson, with his steal of second in the 12th, to Colon, the 26-year-old shortstop who’d gone 28 days without an at-bat and singled to left to score Dyson for the go-ahead run. In the postgame press conference, a reporter raised his hand and asked Ned Yost a totally legitimate question: “Quite simply, who is Christian Colon?”
All of it was possible because of the start from Edinson Volquez, the pitcher who buried his father, Daniel, just four days before stepping onto the mound Sunday night. He spent three days with his family in the Dominican Republic and played catch there to keep his arm loose. When he arrived in Queens on Saturday, he threw in the batting cage before the game.
“Unreal,” Volquez said of the reception and the support he received. “Hosmer and Moustakas and Chris Young, Rios, the whole team, they came out to see me. Dyson and all those guys were like, ‘Hey, man, we're excited to see you back on the team.’ I never thought I would get so much love from a lot of people, even outside of the clubhouse and out of baseball. And I was like, ‘Wow, I've got a lot of people that really care about what happened to me.’ And it’s a great feeling.”
Fighting through unimaginable emotions, Volquez made one mistake to start the game. Facing Curtis Granderson, Volquez floated a changeup, and Granderson crushed it over the centerfield wall. After that, he matched Harvey’s dominance with a run of four scoreless innings before allowing an unearned run in the sixth. For the night, he allowed one earned run and struck out five over six innings. In the clubhouse, a towel draped over his left shoulder, he spoke about his start, his team and his father.
“I felt him there with me,” Volquez said.
It’s easy to forget, but just three weeks ago this team was six outs from being eliminated. In Game 4 of the ALDS, trailing the Astros 6–2 in the eighth, Kansas City looked dead in the water, another postseason without a parade. Then it rattled off five runs against Houston that inning, and you can pinpoint that as the moment the magic began.
Seven times this postseason the Royals came back from two runs or more down and won. No team in baseball history had done that. Three times in the World Series, this team came back after trailing in the eighth inning or later. No team had done that, either. From the seventh inning on this postseason, the Royals outscored teams 51–11. There is no question: We’ve never seen a team like this before.
No, there’s never been a team quite like these Royals, and in a quiet corner of the dugout, the architect of the organization, Moore, spoke softly about this team, carefully choosing his words about each of his players like an old scout.
“Christian Colon—he’s a great teammate that worked hard to be ready for a moment like this,” Moore said. “That’s what we’re been about: building around players who are great teammates, a collection of guys who add up to a great team.”
Fans were ready to run him out of town not long ago, but now of course Moore, too, will live on, a hero forever in Kansas City. When they turned the ballpark lights off, the night still felt young, the partying had just begun. It was official now, even if through the haze of the champagne, the exhilaration of another surreal comeback and the darkness of New York, it hadn’t quite sunk in:
The Kansas City Royals are world champions.