They watched the Royals on their magical postseason path last season having worn the uniforms of other teams.
Alex Rios, who spent last year with the Rangers, arrived in December as a free agent signee, an $11 million upgrade in right field.
Kendrys Morales finished last season with the Mariners and signed a two-year $17 million deal a few day later.
Johnny Cueto from the Reds and Ben Zobrist from the A’s were acquired within two days of each other before the trade deadline. The Royals surrendered plenty of pitching prospects for their service.
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But general manager Dayton Moore made it clear with every move. The Royals looked to elevate their status and become the American League’s best team and made another deep run in the postseason.
Their value to the Royals was never greater than it was on Wednesday, when the Royals defeated the Houston Astros 7-2 to capture the American League Division Series.
Each of them contributed in a major way, and Cueto and Rios delivered their best moments in Royals’ uniforms.
In another Kauffman Stadium Champagne shower, the most satisfied person in the clubhouse had to be Moore, who smiled broadly while reviewing the performances of his newcomers. “(Morales has) been having clutch hits all year. … (Cueto) stayed on the attack and put the pressure on them. … (Zobrist) his professionalism, his at-bats, really I think have leaked over to everybody else too.”
But Moore deserved a salute of his own.
“Dayton makes the decision, and we support him,” Royals owner David Glass said. “And it works.”
Cueto’s work on the mound was electric. He stayed away from the shoulder shimmy and pitched with focus and concentration, retiring the final 19 batters he faced, striking out eight. This from a pitcher who rarely found his groove with the Royals during the regular season.
“We have been waiting for that kind of pitching performance,” Morales said.
Rios, whose season got off to a rough start with a hit by pitch that broke a bone in his left hand and missed more than six weeks, never heated up offensively, finishing the season with a .255 batting average, 22 points below his career number, and four home runs.
But his fifth inning double down the third base line proved to be the game’s biggest swing. He turned on curve ball reliever Mike Fiers, facing his first batter after Alex Gordon’s ground rule double chased starter Collin McHugh.
The ball hugged the third base line, scooting past Luis Valbuena. Salvador Perez, who led off the inning getting hit by a pitch, and Gordon scored to give the Royals a 3-2 lead.
“Alex Rios has worked so hard and has been through so much this year,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. For him to give the lead was huge.”
Rios also was a Game 4 hero, igniting the eighth inning rally with a single. He scored the first of five runs in the frame that turned a four-run deficit into a one-run lead on the way to a 9-6 victory.
After Alcides Escboar’s perfectly executed sacrifice bunt moved Rios to third, Zobrist stepped in from the left side and lofted a fly ball tracked down by right fielder George Springer, too deep for a play at the plate. Rios scored and the Royals led 4-2.
To cap his day, Zobrist made a leaping grab of Carlos Correa’s soft liner in short right field.
Then it was Morales’ turn. In the eighth, he stood in against lefty Dallas Keuchel, who may win the American League Cy Young Award.
With two runners on, Morales ended any doubt about the outcome. His home run to left field was his third of the series and the exclamation point on the triumph that sends the Royals to the American League Championship Series that starts Friday at Kauffman Stadium.
A large cast contributed to the division series triumph, but the decisive final day belonged largely to the acquisitions, who helped make the Royals a stronger team than the one that won the American League championship as a Wild Card entry last year.