Royals

Royals win American League Central crown

Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) were dunked with ice water after Thursday’s 10-4 victory over the Mariners to clinch the AL Central Division at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) were dunked with ice water after Thursday’s 10-4 victory over the Mariners to clinch the AL Central Division at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The clock had just struck 11 p.m. when the feet of Jarrod Dyson squelched across the Royals clubhouse amid the stream of Budweiser, Dom Perignon 2004 and Ten Bucks Sweet Spumante.

“Outside!” Dyson shouted, his voice rising above the din after the Royals clinched their first division title in 30 years and their first-ever American League Central crown. “Everybody outside!”

The group piled out the door and hustled down a staircase toward the diamond. Along the way, the stars of Thursday’s 10-4 victory over Seattle, and the stars from this season, emerged to the roars of the thousands who stayed behind in the stands to greet them.

AL Central Division champion Royals celebrate in the locker room following their clinching after 10-4 win over the Seattle Mariners. By John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star

Lorenzo Cain, who cracked the go-ahead hit in the sixth inning, scooped up his young son Cameron, who was not yet born when the Royals reached the playoffs last season. Mike Moustakas, who bashed his 21st homer of the season, hugged his wife. Eric Hosmer, who tied the game with a blast of his own, asked a team official, “Papi, have you seen my parents?” and sprinted to embrace them.

As the group celebrated, seven flags flapped above the left field stands, each one marking a playoff appearance by the Kansas City Royals. The first four signify the seasons when the team merely won the American League West; the last three denote when the team reached the World Series. The tallest flag resides at the end of the row, representing 1985, the lone championship won by this club and their last division title.

On Thursday night, the 2015 edition of the Royals guaranteed another banner will rise next spring. During the next six weeks, the team will determine how high the flag will fly. They do not have to search far for motivation.

“We definitely set a goal to come out here and win a division this year,” Cain said. “And we accomplished that. But our next goal is to get back to the World Series and hopefully win. We definitely have a lot of unfinished business.”

Thanks to a loss by the Twins, the Royals (89-63) secured control of a division where they spent nearly two decades in the basement. A new day dawned for Kansas City baseball last October, and this current group carried the mantle into this season. Unlike last year, when the Royals squeezed into the Wild Card Game on the season’s final weekend, in 2015 they became the first American League team to clinch a playoff spot.

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On Oct. 8, almost certainly at this ballpark, the Royals will play their first playoff game since Salvador Perez’s pop-up landed in the glove of Pablo Sandoval in the seventh game of last year’s World Series. Their opponent has not been determined. Kansas City holds a two-game lead over Toronto for home-field advantage, in which they would play the winner of the Wild Card Game.

“We expected this from the first day of the season,” manager Ned Yost said. “It was like ‘OK, this is what’s supposed to happen.’ Whereas last year, we were going tooth and nail every game. I just had a real confidence in this group from the middle of spring training on that we were going to win this division and get back to the playoffs.”

The clinch became official at 10:34 p.m. Installed as the closer earlier this week, Wade Davis induced a grounder off the bat of third baseman Kyle Seager. Hosmer flipped the ball to Davis for the final out. As they did when Kansas City secured a spot in the World Series last October, Hosmer and Moustakas leapt into each others’ arms.

The rest of the group soon joined them. The Royals smashed a series of records this season, for attendance, for payroll, for the number of All-Stars. Now they stamped commemorative hats on their heads and slipped into T-shirts that read “We Own The Central.”

Major League Baseball realigned its divisions in 1994 and shifted Kansas City into the Central. The shuffling coincided with the darkest stretch of baseball in franchise history. During their first 17 seasons in the division that weren’t interrupted by strike, the Royals averaged 93 losses per year. The team finished in second place just once, in 1995.

The tide started to turn in 2013, the year James Shields and Wade Davis joined the club, when Kansas City won 86 games. The team added three more victories to their total in 2014, enough to host the Wild Card Game, but still one fewer than the Tigers.

Detroit abdicated its throne this summer, undone by injuries across its decaying roster and the fetid stink of its bullpen. The Royals filled that vacuum with ease, hurtling a series of obstacles along the way. The team jawed and brawled in April. They lost Alex Gordon, their longest-tenured player, for six weeks in July. Last month they experienced an outbreak of chickenpox.

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Yet through it all, the Royals steamrolled the competition. Because of their sizable advantage over Minnesota, this ticket to October lacked the spiritual uplift from last fall. There was little suspense. This team has spent the past 108 days in first place. The lead bloated all the way to 14 ½ games on Aug. 19 and 14 games on Aug. 29. The coronation on Thursday night felt inevitable.

The stadium’s playlist matched the occasion. The team heard snippets of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” before the speakers went silent. The crowd filled the void with a “Let’s Go Royals” chant.

Inside the clubhouse, team officials had covered the lockers and carpets with plastic. Perez rushed to a cooler and began loosening corks. Yordano Ventura slugged a red bottle of Budweiser. In the background, members of the front office prepared for the deluge.

Amid the tumult, Jeremy Guthrie managed to call the room to attention. He ran through the team’s usual post-game celebration. Guthrie took over this role last season when Shields demurred. He has carried the tradition into 2015.

“I’ve got something to say!” Guthrie shouted.

“Say it!” the chorus responded.

“Your 1738 players of the game . . . are yourselves, the Royals!”

Liquid filled the air and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen filled their ears.

In the center of the room stood Johnny Cueto, the ace the club acquired in July only to watch collapse in August and September. Cueto looked combustible for five consecutive starts before asking catcher Salvador Perez to adjust his positioning behind the plate. The dividends continued to arrive on Thursday, when Cueto logged seven innings of one-run baseball.

“Johnny Cueto, Johnny Cueto, Johnny Cueto,” Moustakas said. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”

Moustakas drenched Cueto’s flowing mane with champagne.

“He’s going to have to wash his dreads tonight,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said.

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Holding a bottle in his hands, Perez spotted a familiar face. He unleashed a torrent toward owner David Glass, who afforded general manager Dayton Moore the opportunity to resurrect this franchise. Glass dealt with slings and arrows throughout the early years of his tenure, when the Royals represented the dregs of baseball.

Those days are over. Glass can see that every day, in the dollars the team spends on players, in the ratings the team produces on television, in the amount of bodies packing his ballpark each night.

“Everybody, all year long, knew that we were the team to beat,” Glass said. “But I’ll tell you, we’ve got a great bunch of kids, who play together. They want to win. It’s not about them. It’s about the team.

“But the other part that’s fantastic is the fans. I’ve been to most of the other parks. No one has fans like we do. So it’s about as good as it gets.”

As the players doused each other, first-base coach Rusty Kuntz recorded the action with his camera phone. He has said he wants this to be his final season as big-league coach. He also said the same thing last year.

“You’re gonna stick around,” hitting coach Dale Sveum told Kuntz.

Kuntz moved through the room and spotted a 12-year veteran who has never tasted playoff baseball. “I’m so happy for Alex Rios,” Kuntz said.

Rios smashed an RBI triple in the eighth, as the Royals crushed the relievers of the Mariners and removed any tension from the contest. Like the rest, he departed the room when Dyson ushered the team outside.

“Boy, we going on top of the dugout, boy,” Dyson cried as he headed down the stairs, and, eventually, he did just that.

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With their place in October guaranteed, the Royals must decide how to proceed during the next 10 games. Should they reshuffle their rotation to prepare for the playoffs? Or should they press forward, trying to hold off Toronto?

Either way, the team earned a night to celebrate. The organization’s renaissance reached another milestone on Thursday. Sights that once seemed impossible now have grown common: When Yost joined the on-field throng, the crowd chanted his name.

The celebration lacked the delirium of last October. Kansas City has grown accustomed to champagne celebrations in front of their adoring fans. They expect to experience a few more in the coming weeks.

“We understand we need to go out here and get home-field advantage,” Cain said. “And get back to where we want to be. And that’s the World Series.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

Royals 10, Mariners 4

Seattle

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

K.Marte ss

4

0

1

0

1

1

.297

K.Seager 3b

4

0

0

0

1

1

.273

N.Cruz dh

4

0

0

0

0

1

.308

Cano 2b

4

1

1

0

0

1

.282

S.Smith lf

3

1

2

0

1

1

.249

Trumbo rf

4

1

2

2

0

0

.261

Morrison 1b

4

1

1

1

0

0

.225

B.Miller cf

3

0

1

1

1

0

.255

Sucre c

3

0

0

0

0

1

.132

b-O’Malley ph

1

0

0

0

0

1

.333

Totals

34

4

8

4

4

7

 

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Gordon lf

4

1

1

0

1

2

.274

Zobrist 2b

5

3

2

0

0

1

.285

L.Cain cf

5

1

2

2

0

1

.307

Hosmer 1b

4

2

2

1

0

0

.304

K.Morales dh

3

0

0

0

1

1

.291

a-J.Gomes ph-dh

1

0

0

0

0

0

.167

Moustakas 3b

3

3

3

3

2

0

.282

Rios rf

5

0

3

2

0

1

.269

S.Perez c

4

0

1

0

1

1

.258

A.Escobar ss

4

0

1

1

0

2

.256

Totals

38

10

15

9

5

9

 

Seattle

010

200

001

4

8

2

Kansas City

110

012

23x

10

15

0

b-struck out for Sucre in the 9th.

E: Sucre (1), K.Marte (6). LOB: Seattle 7, Kansas City 10. 2B: S.Smith (31), Trumbo (12), B.Miller (22), Zobrist 2 (35), Hosmer (31), Moustakas (30). 3B: Rios (2). HR: Morrison (17), off W.Davis; Moustakas (21), off Paxton; Hosmer (16), off Rasmussen. RBIs: Trumbo 2 (39), Morrison (51), B.Miller (44), L.Cain 2 (71), Hosmer (87), Moustakas 3 (76), Rios 2 (30), A.Escobar (46).

Runners left in scoring position: Seattle 4 (Cano, Sucre 2, B.Miller); Kansas City 7 (K.Morales, L.Cain 2, S.Perez 2, Rios, A.Gordon). RISP: Seattle 1 for 8; Kansas City 5 for 16. Runners moved up: N.Cruz, Morrison, B.Miller, J.Gomes. GIDP: Cano. DP: Kansas City 1 (A.Escobar, Hosmer).

Seattle

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Paxton

1.1

5

2

2

0

1

3.90

J.Ramirez

1

1

0

0

2

0

1.69

Guaipe

2

1

0

0

0

4

5.48

Rasmussen

0.1

2

1

1

0

1

10.93

Kensing L, 1-1

1

0

1

1

1

2

5.25

Beimel

0.1

2

1

1

0

0

4.33

Jo.Ramirez

2

4

5

2

2

1

12.91

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Cueto W, 3-6

7

7

3

3

2

5

4.99

Madson

1

0

0

0

1

0

2.28

W.Davis

1

1

1

1

1

2

0.99

Inherited runners-scored: J.Ramirez 2-0, Guaipe 2-0, Kensing 1-0, Beimel 1-1. IW: off Jo.Ramirez (S.Perez). HBP: by Jo.Ramirez (Hosmer).

Umpires: Home, Pat Hoberg; First, Adrian Johnson; Second, Bill Miller; Third, Rob Drake. Time: 3:23. Att: 32,244.

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