Welcome back, Kansas City Royals fans, to the playoffs.
Yes. The playoffs.
I know full well we have another seven weeks and 50 games before the regular season ends. But thanks to perhaps the franchise’s best 20-game stretch in over a generation, your playoffs are officially underway as of now.
Your Royals start Friday’s play 4.5 games out of a wild-card berth and 3 games out of the second at-large playoff slot. Following a 16-4 stretch right out of the All-Star Break, the Royals are one of the three hottest teams in the major leagues.
Face it. The Royals needed that particular stretch to counter an abysmal May, when they only won five games. That stretch erased a solid first month to 2013, but more importantly reinforced these Royals were the same old Royals.
You know, the ones who:
1. Haven’t been to the playoffs since the World Series year of 1985.
2. Haven’t been above .500 this late in the year for a decade.
3. Are playing their sixth series since 1990 where both the Royals and their opponents had a winning record this late in the season. Since 1990.
4. Gave us Bob Hamelin and Ken Harvey, Jeremy Affeldt and Hiram Davies, Allard Baird and the up-to-now defunct Process.
5. Provided us with quality television moments like the aforementioned Harvey getting hit by a relay throw (while playing defense)…or Chip Ambres and Terrence Long converging on a fly ball, looking at each other and jogging in to the dugout. While the ball lands between and behind them by 15 feet.
6. Offered such insightful planning as keeping Dan Reichert as a starter when he lost his gas after the first time through the batting order or bringing up unknown pitcher Eduardo Villacis to pitch his very first game in Yankee Stadium. Villacis went into witness protection afterward (and Baird into witless protection).
7. Yielded such managerial prowess as that provided by Buddy Bell, Tony Muser, Trey Hillman and (again, up until the past month) Ned Yost.
It has been brutal, watching the Royals. Witnessing other small-market teams like the Marlins get exploded, come back to challenge for the playoffs or win the World Series, get the C4 treatment again and come back again. Or the Rays, who seem to have cultivated the homegrown pitcher tree. Or the Twins, for seemingly decades the model small-market franchise. And watching the Royals spin their wheels over and over and over again, much akin to a high-centered SUV in a snowbank, trying to back up constantly without getting out to move some snow…
It has been until now.
Suddenly it’s as if the players, especially the position players, get it. Somehow, this young squad has developed a go-for-broke, almost devil-may-care attitude that exclaims, “We’re gonna do what we can. The rest will take care of itself.”
It’s a surprisingly mature attitude for such a young team, especially one which hasn’t jelled as anticipated since the ballyhooed Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were called up. Call it the influence of James Shields, Miguel Tejada — heck, George Brett, if you want — but this team has refused to let the weight of this year’s horrific May bend it. So far, it has also refused to let the weight of hopes, dreams, anticipations and expectations from nearly 30 years of failure define this season as it has every year since 1985.
Good thing, too, because the 16-4 record the past 20 games has to level out. Has to. The pitching has to break down eventually. The Royals have made managing easy during this stretch, but the specter of a tinkering FrankenYost (“It’s alive! Now how soon can it learn to bunt?”) should be enough to send shudders down any Royals fan spine. Just ask the fine folks in Milwaukee.
Which is why it’s so hard for many of us, myself included, to jump on the bandwagon and ride this thing until it crosses the finish line or all four wheels fall off. These are the Royals, right? They will find a way to let us down in the most painful, soul-searching, allegiance-trying method possible, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Welcome back to the playoffs, Royals fans. Yes, this is the extended version. Four-and-a-half games back, 50 to go. Which just means more gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat, leaning-forward-into-every-pitch, I-don’t-care-if-I-spilled-my-beer-because-holy-cow-did-you-see-that moments than other teams get to enjoy.
Anyone else here forget what that felt like?