Up to the plate stepped Alcides Escobar. The Royals had one on with two outs in the bottom of the ninth trailing the Cleveland Indians 2-1 in Sunday’s season finale.
Fans in Kauffman Stadium rose to cheer the moment and player. A big hit here would extend the game or end the season happily and be provided by a veteran whose future is unknown.
The hero’s moment passed. Escobar tapped a grounder back to the pitcher for an easy out.
Was Sunday his final appearance in a Royals’ uniform?
“I don’t know, man,” Escobar said. “I can yes, I can say no. I’ll keep working. Maybe I’ll come back.”
The Royals and Escobar were at the same juncture a year ago. He was headed into free agency along with Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. In the home finale last year, they left the game together and tipped their caps to the fans.
But Escobar, 31, returned for his eighth season with the Royals after signing a one-year contract in January for $2.5 million, a $4 million reduction from the previous year.
The idea was for Escobar to continue to man shortstop while Adalberto Mondesi developed.
But bringing Mondesi along slowly hit a snag — he was terrific. Mondesi joined the team in June and in 75 games hit .276 with a .804 OPS and added 14 home runs and 32 stolen bases.
With Mondesi getting comfortable at shortstop, the Royals moved Escobar around the diamond, playing him at third base and center field. Escobar’s club-record consecutive games played streak ended at 421 in July.
“Mondy has come on,” Escobar said. “I understand the situation. Mondy is ready to play every day. Ned (Yost) told me I’d play third, outfield. No matter what, I just wanted to play.”
If there is a future with the Royals, it would seem to be as a utility player, but the organization is well along in a youth movement.
This season, Escobar appeared in 140 games, hitting a career low .231 with a .539 OPS.
He not only has been the team’s most durable player during his tenure, Escobar provided several big moments, especially during the postseason runs of 2014 and 2015. His inside-the-park home run got the 2015 World Series off to a rousing start, and he was chosen MVP of the ALCS that year. He hit leadoff and “Esky Magic” was a real thing. His .311 career postseason batting average is second best in club history.
“A lot of great memories, a lot of great memories in here,” Escobar said.