I’m writing this about 13 hours after the Kansas City Royals won the American League wild card game. And I still think that was the craziest, most gut-wrenching four hours and 45 minutes I have spent witnessing a sports event.
I take that back: Craziest, most gut-wrenching three hours. I followed the first four innings on my iPhone while on the way home from the KC metro.
I missed a couple of the first key points of the game, both involving Billy Butler: the single to get the Royals to within 2-1 and the dumb double steal attempt. So I basically got settled right as what everybody thought the key talking point of the Royals’ season would be: James Shields wobbling in the sixth.
Turning Point II: Ned Yost in the sixth
In the bottom of the fifth, with the Royals leading 3-2 and Shields seemingly gaining strength with the lead, I tweeted this:
Kansas City failed to score and Shields promptly got the first two guys on in the sixth. Ned Yost, in his infinite wisdom, bypassed Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie, tried-and-true Kelvin Herrera and new but proven reliever Brandon Finnegan for Yordano Ventura — the starter who threw nearly 80 pitches Sunday and didn’t get out of the fifth.
Ventura threw three pitches to Brandon Moss, the last of which towered out of Kauffman Stadium to dead center field.
Most of us, myself included, were ironclad sure the season was over.
A lot of times, the Royals had won in spite of Yost. This seemed to set up the all-time worst case scenario for this club. Team wins its way into the postseason, manager sets team up to fail as only the Kansas City Royals have failed the past 29 years.
And it got worse, not better, after Herrera came in. By the time the inning was done, it was 7-3 Oakland, Kauffman sounded like a morgue and Ventura’s psyche was in serious question…not just for the offseason but for the rest of his career.
Turning Point III: Bottom 8
A lot of people have questioned why Yost started running the A’s ragged in the eighth. Honestly, he didn’t have a choice. He had to rattle the A’s pitching staff and defense, and that wasn’t going to happen with power (Cal Ripken’s…I think…comment to the contrary about Eric Hosmer’s “power”). The Royals finally gave Yost the opportunity to get rolling and he did. Alcides Escobar stole second after singling to lead off, meaning Nori Aoki’s grounder moved him to third instead of turning into a double play and then Cain singled home Escobar. Cain then stole second and, after a Hosmer walk, Billy Butler singled in Cain and pushed Hosmer to third. 7-5 Oakland now and Kauffman has roared to life. Terence Gore replaced Butler and wasted no time taking second. A wild pitch plates Hosmer and sends Gore to third.
Turning Point III-A: Bottom 8
Alex Gordon’s walk following the wild pitch now means the Royals had first and third with one out down one and Salvador Perez coming up.
Perez struggled mightily at the plate the second half of the season, and truly we’ll never know why. It could be he was trying too hard. He could be worn down with all the catching he’s done this year. But he didn’t look good at all the last two months of the regular season. This was his chance to really right the ship.
And he struck out swinging on three benders well out of the strike zone.
After that, you just knew Omar Infante would strike out. Which he did on four pitches.
Winning run left on third.
Turning Point IV: Top 12
After the Royals plated a run in the bottom of the ninth to guarantee extra baseball — actually maximizing a scoring opportunity for once — they blew two golden chances in the 10th and 11th to win the game, leaving runners on third both innings. Meanwhile, Yost called for Finnegan to keep the game even and the kid (he pitched in the College World Series this past summer) was up to the task, slicing up the A’s in the 10th and 11th. He walked the leadoff hitter, Josh Reddick, in the 12th and saw Reddick sacrificed over. Yost then tapped Jason Frasor, another pitcher who easily could have been used in what still loomed as the fateful sixth. Facing former Royal Alberto Callaspo, Frasor threw a wild pitch and then gave up a soft liner into left field.
Callaspo had four hits in his previous 50 at-bats. Fifty.
And it was 8-7 Oakland. The former Royal was poised to wreak havoc and heartbreak on Royals fans everywhere.
Turning Point V: Bottom 12
First, A’s outfield Coco Crisp strained a hamstring or had a cramp or something and couldn’t take the field to start the inning. Johnny Gomes becomes his replacement.
It didn’t take long for that move to pay immediate dividends for the Royals. Hosmer went the other way with a bomb to left center, narrowly missing a home run as Gomes and Sam Fuld collided leaping for the ball. It’s unclear if either would have caught it if somebody would have listened, but that’s a minor quibble at this point. Christian Colon then hits what I generously tweeted out as a 60-footer (in actually it was closer to 30) up the third base line…no chance to get Colon at first or, more importantly, Hosmer at home.
Turning Point V-A: Bottom 12
With Yost going pedal to the metal on the base paths, everybody knew Colon was running. Everybody. Fans knew it. Even the TBS crew (aside from Ron Darling, not a very good game by those guys) knew it. The A’s knew it. Colon ran on a pitchout. And Derek Norris dropped the ball.
Who knows if Colon is at second if Norris is able to catch and fire? It didn’t matter. He was at second for Perez.
Turning Point V-B: Ball game
Four hours and 40-plus minutes of baseball. Twenty-nine years of waiting. And Perez was actually intent on making us wait a little longer, making contact…still swinging at pitches out of the strike zone but actually making contact this time…
The last pitch Perez swung at didn’t have the sharp downward, outward movement he saw in the eighth. It was flatter, faster, still wide of the zone. Perez reached and sent the ball sharply down the third base line. Josh Donaldson got the top of his glove on the ball but didn’t stop it. Colon pumped his fists down the same line Perez had just hit the ball. And Kansas City exploded in joy.
Honestly, I haven’t ever seen a game like that one. There are some you see that resemble the 2014 AL wild card in the regular season, but you never see that in the playoffs. Ever. You don’t see a team come back four times to win. You don’t see a squad overcome such a massive managerial blunder like Yost’s…and then register three of those four comebacks. You don’t see a game won in extra innings after seeing two guys crashing into each other about 390 feet away from home plate followed by a 30-foot (maybe) single followed by a dropped pickoff followed by a smash down the line at a time when the defense wasn’t totally guarding the line.
But you did.You saw it last night. As incredulous as that game was, it happened.
And as a Royals fan, I should have added another adjective. That was among the five sweetest wins I have seen by this franchise in my life (dispatching the Yankees finally in 1980, 1985 World Series Game 6 and 7, the Justin Maxwell homer off Joakim Soria last year). Considering the circumstances, that automatically ranks up there with the ’85 World Series games as my all-time favorites.
OK, playoff teams — Royals included. Good luck topping that.