The really disturbing thing about the Royals’ wretched loss to San Francisco in game one of the World Series wasn’t just that it lanced the aura of invincibility and inevitability that had come with their 8-0 romp through the playoffs.
That run was a marvel while it lasted. It also was as unsustainable as it was unexplainable.
The lurking issue was far more essential. Game two on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium technically wasn’t an elimination game, but for most practical purposes it was.
As it happened, that just meant that the relentlessly resilient Royals had the Giants racked up precisely where they wanted them.
Because for all the other fascinating flourishes that make up this team, in the end it’s defined by one trait more than anything else:
Count them out at your own silly peril.
And that explains the fury and the glory of the Royals’ sixth-inning eruption, an inning that didn’t just stem the Giants’ advantage but redirected the trajectory of the series with a 7-2 clobbering.
Where does it come from? How does it keep happening?
“That’s all heart. That all falls into the category of intangibles,” said Raul Ibañez, the Royals’ reserve designated hitter who has morphed into one of their emotional pillars. “That’s just something that you can’t … explain.
“And you can’t measure what’s inside of a guy, or a group of guys.”
But the intangibles became resoundingly tangible in the epic sixth.
Appropriately enough, it started with San Francisco’s Jake Peavy seemingly in command after retiring 10 straight Royals in a 2-2 game that had done little to shake the sense the Royals were fizzling.
It ended with an avalanche of five Royals runs, starting with Lorenzo Cain’s single, nudged along with Eric Hosmer’s walk and Billy Butler’s RBI single that provided the winning margin … but proved just the first trickle.
By the time the landslide ended, the last two runs were delivered on Omar Infante’s first career postseason home run.
It was punctuated by the flipping of his bat and ensuing firecrackers as words were exchanged between Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland and Salvador Perez scoring ahead of Infante.
Late Wednesday night, amid denials and downplaying, it still was hard to do enough of the forensics to trace what triggered the spat.
But it wasn’t hard to track what led to the rejuvenating inning, not when it comes to a team that has been left to decompose by the side of the road, what, a half dozen times this season?
Remember when they were smothered 21-5 at home by Houston? When they changed hitting coaches, yet again? When they lost seven of eight games sandwiched around the All-Star break?
And how they failed to negotiate a substantial move at the trade deadline … as Detroit and Oakland seemed to improve themselves dramatically?
And when Eric Hosmer aggravated an injury that very night that would keep him out a month?
Even if you’ve wiped that slate clean, who will ever forget how they felt when the Royals were behind 7-3 in the eighth inning against Oakland in the one-and-done American League Wild Card Game?
That game, that inning, changed everything, Royals manager Ned Yost has said repeatedly since then.
But the truth is that moxie was bubbling in this team all along.
Other things characterize it day in, day out, too, of course.
Like the ridiculous back end of the bullpen that gave up no hits and struck out six in 32/3 innings in relief of Yordano Ventura.
Though it was off kilter some on Wednesday, defense typically has been a wonder for the Royals too. And so has the tendency for different players to carry the team offensively for various stretches of time.
But if you look on their ID card, it’s going to say they will always keep coming at you.
Like zombies, trudging on even as limbs fall off.
They had to have that edge on Wednesday.
Lose and they would have been tumbling into an abyss, not just a jam, as the series moves on to San Francisco for the next three games.
The Royals evidently can wriggle out of about any predicament if they get even a smidgen of traction, but even their reservoir might have been drained by that notion.
Or maybe not.
But they don’t have to find out now because of an intangible that’s so evident it’s actually almost tangible.
“You’re right,” Ibañez said. “Production is always a byproduct of what’s inside of you, and results are always a byproduct of the approach and what you believe in your heart, so it’s just really a manifestation of what’s inside of you.”
He paused and added, “The heart of a lion, the will of a warrior, whatever cliché you want to use. These guys are champions inside.”