You know this is how it would happen in the movie, too, right?
In the movie, the Royals are down to their last out. Fans are cussing them. Guys in the press box, too. Maybe there is even a little doubt in the dugout, because how could there not be?
Then the music starts, and Mike Moustakas, whose demotion in May symbolized this team’s early struggles, hits a double and yells back to the dugout with passion. Jarrod Dyson comes in to pinch run, and of course he tries to steal third base, and of course the pitch gets past the catcher and he ends up scoring the tying run. Dyson is in the big leagues because of his speed, but he’s never scored a run like that.
Then Nori Aoki comes to the plate. He’s a slap hitter, himself a symbol of some Royals struggles, but in this spot doubles down the same left field line as Moustakas. Terrance Gore, who looks like he could fit in Dyson’s pocket, comes in to pinch run. And instead of a home run, this critical game — it darn sure felt critical, didn’t it? — is won on a chopper over the mound.
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The dugout empties, with Jeremy Guthrie grabbing the jug of Gatorade and dumping it on a euphoric combination of dogpile and mosh pit. A cameraman, trailing the joy, nearly falls over the orange barrel.
A few levels above the field, George Brett bursts out of a suite and tells anyone who’s listening: “I’ve never seen a game like that in my whole life!”
The Royals have a 4-3 win, their fourth walk-off, a come-from-behind victory that stands as perhaps their most relieving, if not improbable. Hopes to catch the Tigers in the division live on. Same with a lead over the Mariners in the safety net wild card.
The most exciting, important, and at times infuriating Royals season in a generation has its latest plot twist. A day after losing a game in which the manager misused the bullpen, the Royals appeared mostly lifeless for six innings, and then for the last three innings like the team that just might end the longest playoff drought in North American sports.
You could say something very similar about their entire season, right?
This group has been through so much, even by the standards of a major-league baseball season. They’ve been effectively out of the race, and then in first place, sometimes in the same month.
This is a team of friends. There are cliques like any other large group, but a genuine feeling of togetherness. They hang out with each other in their spare time, many of their inside jokes and memories going all the way back to the minor leagues. They celebrate every win, and hard, with a fog machine and loud music and at home a neon sign of a deer. There is no way to know for sure, of course, but it’s quite possible they haven’t celebrated any win as hard as they celebrated this one.
“I wish you guys could’ve seen it,” Cain said, shaving cream still on his head from the party.
Teams that do what the Royals are trying to do win games like this. Games they probably shouldn’t win. Games that would sting particularly bad if they went the other way, but of course, nobody has to think about any of that now.
Momentum is a vastly overstated thing in baseball, and the Royals have proven that time and time again this season, in both good and bad ways. Liam Hendriks will be their starting pitcher on Tuesday, and the last time he started he lasted just 2 1/3 innings.
But this is one of those rare games that you will remember after the season, even among 161 others, regardless of how the season ends. This thing could’ve gone ugly with the other result. The Royals have been showing signs of a team tightening up in a pennant race, of being good enough to almost get there but not sure enough to finish.
Maybe that started to change on Monday. Maybe a team that looked to be fading just took back control of its season.
They have an opportunity here that most cities can’t offer. They can be remembered, celebrated, and loved for putting a franchise used to jokes back into the playoffs for the first time since many of them were born.
The light of the day will show the Royals still have important work to do, like every other team good enough to be in the playoff race. But a marathon is now a sprint, the Royals with a dozen full games to make this the franchise’s best season since 1985. All of that will show itself in the next two weeks. It’s all possible, still, and there is no telling what a win like this might do.
But for at least one night, the Royals changed the trajectory of the final kick of a pennant race with the kind of win that Brett and the thousands of others who watched it with him have never seen in their lives.