The date may not register with most Royals fans, because it doesn’t with players and team officials.
But refer to the Royals’ 4-2 victory over the Cardinals on May 30, 2013 as the “rain delay game in St. Louis,” and there is instant recognition, if for no other reason than it didn’t end until after 3 a.m.
There was much more to the game, which proved to be a turning point in a season that had gone sour.
In 2013, the Royals’ young core was expected to turn the page on nearly two decades of history of bad baseball and become a contender. The Royals made a huge trade during the offseason, acquiring pitcher James Shields in the hopes he would give the team the veteran leadership it needed to win.
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Instead, the Royals entered that game in St. Louis having lost 12 of 13 games, including six straight at home, and their record had crashed to 21-29. In 10 of those games, the Royals scored three or fewer runs. After starting the month of May in first place in the American League Central, the Royals plummeted to last as they headed into the finale of a four-game home-and-home series with the Cardinals in St. Louis.
The pitching matchup that night featured Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha, who was making his big-league debut less than a year after being drafted out of Texas A&M.
Rain was in the forecast and there was some question about whether the game would be played. But before first pitch, there was a thunderbolt of news.
Sixty-year-old Hall of Famer George Brett was returning to active duty as one of two Royals hitting coaches. Pedro Grifol joined Brett as interim replacements for Jack Maloof and Andre David, who were reassigned to roles in the minor-league organization.
That was just part of what would be a memorable evening. Here is how it is remembered by those who were there.
George Brett’s return to the Royals
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer: “Any time you’re part of the offense and the hitting coach gets fired, you’re not feeling too good about yourself. We were disappointed about that. But at the same time, I think there was a lot of excitement that was brewing up, because George was taking over. I think we realized that had his interest in helping us and we were pumped by that.”
Former Kansas City Star reporter Bob Dutton: “It was all sorts of a mess. You knew they were going to do something. It was a team that had expectations, but they certainly weren’t hitting and they were under-performing. I can remember being in the lunch room where they held a news conference to say George was taking over. George was very careful in saying it was an open-ended thing. He would see how far it would go. He sort of had to be talked into it. There was a panicked feel around the team at that time. This was a team that wasn’t working. And, heck, how much longer were those guys in the front office going to get? If this group didn’t click, they weren’t going to get the chance to rebuild again.”
Former Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie: “It was a surprise to me, I don’t know about the hitters. I had seen George around and just never considered or thought about him being in the dugout and being a coach. As well as he got along with everybody, it made perfect sense when it was announced. All of a sudden to have the likes of George on the team and in the clubhouse and working with the players daily instead of in the more general, advisory role was exciting.”
Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre: “I’d only been around George as a Royals ambassador and helping out in spring training, but I just remember thinking, boy he looks great at podium in that press conference and just answered the questions perfectly and with charisma. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is a great idea. This is a great fit.’ … I thought for a group of young guys who are kind of struggling to find their way at the big-league level, this might be a perfect guy for them.”
The game starts
There was a one-hour rain delay before the game started at 8:15 p.m. The Cardinals got a leadoff double in the first inning, and three straight two-out singles staked them to 2-0 lead. Wacha retired the first 13 Royals batters he faced before Lorenzo Cain doubled and scored on a single by Elliot Johnson.
Lefebvre: “I think Michael Wacha was making his major-league debut and I want to say that he pitched better against the Royals that night than he did against KU the year before.”
It remained a 2-1 advantage for the Cardinals, and the big question was whether the rain, which radar showed was descending on Busch Stadium, would arrive before the final out.
Dutton: “You could see it was coming. Up until the ninth inning, well, you thought they are going to lose. It was 2-1, and you could see it was coming.”
But in the ninth inning, Jeff Francoeur pinch hit for Tim Collins and lined an 0-1 pitch from Mitchell Boggs into the left-field stands. Alex Gordon drew a walk and Victor Marte entered the game. Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch, and David Lough’s bunt was mishandled for an error, loading the bases.
Hosmer then hit a two-run double that gave the Royals a 4-2 lead.
Hosmer: “We had a couple of big hits late and then a long delay.”
Yost: “You kept looking at the radar. We had taken the lead but because St. Louis hadn’t hit, if the game was going to be rained out, we were going to lose, and we were really struggling at that point.”
After an intentional walk to Chris Getz, the rain hit, and the game was delayed for 4 hours and 32 minutes.
Hosmer: “About an hour and a half into the rain delay we found out that if we didn’t continue with the game, we were going to lose because it was going to revert back to the previous inning. At that point, there was a lot of talk in the locker room: ‘We’ve got to find a way to finish this game’ (and) ‘There’s no way they can do that.’ ”
The crew chief that night was Joe West, whose nickname is “Country Joe” because he has has dabbled in music. That includes his album “Blue Cowboy.”
Yost: “What was funny was Joe would come in the locker room and guys were scrambling, trying to find the Joe West CD to put on, trying to buy it on iTunes so that they could be blaring it in the locker room every time Joe came in. But nobody could find it.”
Guthrie: “I remember going through the scenarios with the coaches and Ned and Dave Eiland as to what was going to happen if the game it was called. I felt like there either was some sort of pushing or prodding from the Cardinals side toward Joe West telling him to call it and then it was almost like Joe became an ally of ours.”
Yost: “The grounds-crew guy was really dragging his feet trying to do everything he could to make sure that we couldn’t get back on the field. He told Joe West, ‘Look it’s not going to stop raining.’ Joe came in my office and said, ‘Look, I’m going to have to call this, it’s not going to stop raining.’ Joe didn’t know that I’m a phenomenal meteorologist and I got on the computer and said, ‘Look, that guy is lying. It’s fixing to stop in five minutes.’ Joe looked at that radar and went back out and said, ‘We’re staying here, I don’t care how long.’ ”
Royals vice president of communications and broadcasting Mike Swanson: “I was in Ned’s office and Joe saw what Ned saw and said, ‘We’re playing baseball. Let’s go.’ ”
Getting the field ready
The rain finally relented, but with that much weather, meant the grounds grew had its work cut out. Not that they were in a hurry to get the field ready. Guthrie, Francoeur and Alex Gordon grabbed bags of Turface and brought them to the diamond to dry the infield dirt.
Dutton: “It’s so hard to describe how slow the Cardinals were moving to get the field ready. Enough so that Joe West recognized it. … He said if you don’t get this field ready, we’re going to forfeit this game to the Royals. That’s what goosed those guys to get them going.”
Lefebvre: “The grounds crew worked so slow as if they expected this game to eventually just be called, and the longer that they would wait, the better chance the game would be called. So you’ve got our guys hauling the drying compound out there, they become members of the grounds crew.”
Swanson: “Our guys were carrying Turface out to the field, Gordo (Alex Gordon) and Guthrie, they were carrying bags of Turface to make sure the field had dirt on.”
Hosmer: “Francoeur, because he had a home run, he wanted to make sure it counted, that’s for sure.”
Guthrie: “I know Frenchy and I were in a very selfish way were rooting for the game to continue and certainly we were wanting to finish the game.”
The game resumes
Hosmer: “I remember we went out there at 2:30 or 2:45 and there were fans right there, so we just started throwing them baseballs and gum, because it was a pretty cool move for them to stick around. It felt like one of those high school tournaments and you’re playing in a stadium and you can hear all the echos.”
Swanson: “The other thing that was funny was Moose and Hos were throwing all the sunflower seed packages in the dugout up to our fans who stayed because they thought they had to be starved.”
The game started up at 3:04 a.m., and Miguel Tejada hit into a double play that ended the top of the ninth. Royals closer Greg Holland retired the Cardinals in order, and the Royals got the 4-2 win at 3:14 a.m.
Dutton: “I was staying at the Union Station Marriott, or whatever it is called, and I had been riding the light rail back and forth to the stadium. It had shut down for the night, but by the time I got out of there, it had started up again.”
Hosmer: “Joe West and his crew had a day game in Chicago the next day, so it was a pretty pro move to let us finish the game.”
Swanson: “Joe and those guys, they were supposed to fly to Chicago after the game. They ended up having a limo take them up and they were there for the day game the next day.”
Guthrie: “There was a lot of push for that from the players and the coaches and we needed the win. We felt like it was a chance to get a be a big comeback win and George’s first game, so a lot of factors. It was just one of 162, but I think in a lot of ways, you had a lot of guys pulling for this victory as much as any we’d had up to that point in the season.”
The Royals traveled to Arlington, Texas, after the game and players got to their hotel around 8 a.m. They lost that night’s game, but split the next two in the series. After that, the Royals won their next four series and didn’t have a losing month the rest of the year.
There was a seven-game skid later in the season, but the Royals ended up winning 86 games in 2013, their most in 24 years, and were in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season. The following year saw the Royals win the American League pennant, and they were World Series champions in 2015.
Lefebvre: “At that point, if you compared that season to other Royals season, you could have said, this season is over, they’re not going anywhere. But maybe we got a glimpse of how badly they want to win.”