A 2015 baseball season so full of promise was crashing to a disheartening end, and many blue-to-the-core fans were resigned to that fact. Even the germ of this editorial began with that fate in mind on Monday afternoon. And yet ...
After being left for dead when they trailed the Houston Astros late in that day’s game at Minute Maid Park, the resurgent Kansas City Royals will host the American League Championship Series starting Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Impossible? Not for these Royals.
Behind the lights-out pitching of Johnny Cueto and the timely hitting of Alex Gordon, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales, the team defeated the Astros 7-2 Wednesday night before a raucous, sold-out crowd at Kauffman to win the American League Division Series three games to two.
That enthralling victory came just a couple of days after the Royals shocked the Astros — and the baseball gods — by scoring seven runs in the 8th and 9th innings to win the fourth game in Houston.
After taking the division series, the Royals celebrated with their fans late into Wednesday night, well aware that the next challenge on the field likely will be even tougher.
The hard-hitting Toronto Blue Jays will swagger into Kansas City fresh off their own comeback — a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers after losing the first two contests at home.
Throughout the Kansas City area, hundreds of thousands of Royals fans are enjoying a postseason ride they hope won’t end until the team wins the World Series a few weeks from now.
This is also the perfect time to celebrate how baseball is bringing this region together again, just as it did in 2014.
At least as long as this magical run continues, forget Kansas vs. Missouri. And Kansas City vs. the suburbs. And the Jayhawks vs. the Tigers. This is one metropolitan area right now, with one common team for sports fans to root for in their daily lives.
It’s also tempting to contemplate how these Royals represent the never-say-die spirit of many people in this community. Many fans will see themselves in the Royals, as they battle different kinds of odds every day — a health problem, trouble at work, a family crisis — and try to persevere through them.
Of course, we’ve been here before. Just last year, in fact.
The surprising 2014 postseason run began with a wild wild-card victory, three straight more wins in the division series, followed by a four-game sweep in the league championships and the eventual seventh game loss in the World Series to the San Francisco Giants.
How could 2015 compare to that?
Actually, it’s stacking up pretty well so far. The Royals trailed by two runs or more in all five games against the Astros, yet still won three of them.
The Royals — in that fantastic comeback game on Monday — overcame a late four-run deficit just as they had last year in the wild-card victory against the Oakland Athletics.
The 2015 season is becoming extra special for one more reason: Too many people didn’t expect it.
Oh, we’re not talking about Royals fans. But as Eric Hosmer wrote for The Players’ Tribune in a recent piece titled “No Fluke,” the club’s players saw many doubters around the nation before the year started.
“For us, we feel like we aren’t just playing for this year,” he wrote. “We’re playing for last year as well. We’re playing to win the pennant. But we’re also playing to prove that last year’s pennant was real. We’re playing to prove that the ‘heartbreaking ending’ to our season was only one of those things. That yeah, it was heartbreaking. But it wasn’t an ending at all.”
When the Royals opened the season last April with a 10-1 thumping of the Chicago White Sox, it gave the city a sense that, yes, this team was real.
The Royals spent the rest of the year in first place in their division. They played through pain. They survived several key injuries. The survived the chicken pox. They defied all the professional, and not so professional, naysayers who had no respect for the blue crew from a small-market town in the heart of America.
The team went on to fill the stands night after night through 81 home games. The team went on to lead the league in a variety of ways. The team went on to mint some unlikely and very welcome heroes. They included Morales and Ben Zobrist, along with the unshakeable Wade Davis and the surprising Brazilian speedster Paolo Orlando. The quiet overlord of this realm of young and talented ball players remained Ned Yost.
Then came Monday’s thrilling, season-extending climax, just as it seemed the Royals would be eliminated by the young, talented Houstonites.
After the Royals won the final game of the division series, it meant that the club will play in even more meaningful postseason games in coming days. Just as Hosmer and his teammates wanted. And just as Royals fans always believed would happen.