Lying on his back on the left-field warning track, Alex Gordon raised his glove to show the umpires he’d snagged Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy’s leadoff blast to the wall in the top of the fifth inning.
Roughly 300 feet away, Royals pitcher Jason Vargas patiently waited for Gordon to get to his feet before doffing his cap toward the outfield — a common sight from the club’s pitching staff during the 2014 postseason.
“It was one of these games where I felt like defense was going to play a large role, and I was going to do everything I could to make the catches,” Gordon said. “Everybody else was having their fun the last couple games, so I figured I’d join the party and try to make a play.”
Gordon stayed on his back for a moment, perhaps gathering his wits after a full-speed collision with the chain-link fencing that protects a ribbon board in the wall.
“He’s a pretty tough guy, but that’s a pretty strong fence as well,” Vargas said. “We’re glad he came up with it and he was all right.”
This is the same guy who took a 94 mph Andrew Miller fastball to the head in the first game of the series then delivered a go-ahead extra-inning bomb two innings later.
Of course, Gordon was fine — and his potentially game-saving catch will go down as a signature moment in the pennant-clinching win.
It’s fitting, because Gordon also is the beating heart of this self-sacrificing Royals team, which set a record with eight straight wins to open the 2014 postseason.
“He’s the one that created this whole attitude for that team,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “He’s banging into walls; he’s diving all over the place out there. When you see your leader do that, you have no choice but to do that.”
Gordon was born in Lincoln, Neb., roughly 20 months before the Royals’ last World Series appearance in 1985.
He has a younger brother, Brett, who was named in honor of legendary Royals Hall of Famer George Brett.
He also was the first to buy into general manager Dayton Moore’s process by signing a four-year contract extension before the 2012 season rather than test free agency.
It was an unusual move for one of the franchise’s homegrown stars.
Historically, the Royals have been forced to trade rising stars — like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran — before the prime of their career started with free agency and big paydays looming.
Gordon was the exception and, by sticking with the Royals, helped set the foundation for the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 29 years.
“It was just Dayton Moore really,” Gordon said. “He dealt with me for a while — the ups and downs — and I felt like I should give him something back.”
Now, Gordon is happy to repay the faith the organization showed in him.
“We really didn’t know when Alex was growing up that this would ever happen here in Kansas City, where he kind of grew up in the stands,” Gordon’s mother, Leslie, said. “It’s been a wonderful journey.
“They’ve endured some of those years where they were watching all of this from their homes, so to be a part of this finally they’ve worked hard and I know it means everything to him.”