Only a fuzzy, slim line tends to distinguish the rational from the mythological in epic sports sagas.
That underscored the phenomenon that unfolded on Monday at Minute Maid Park that enabled the Royals to overtake Houston 9-6 and tie this American League Division Series.
Facing elimination and something like humiliation in a season that is World Series or bust, the Royals lagged 6-2 with two measly hits after seven innings.
You could measure the dire straits they were in by any number of means. But a fine instrument would be the official Twitter account of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which about then offered congratulations to the Astros for “advancing to the ALCS!”
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Which actually was a more tactful way of conveying what plenty of Royals fans were saying about their own team.
Especially as they retreated to the dugout after a deflating overturned call had ruled Terrance Gore out at third base in the seventh inning with a chance to tie — and as hopes were further doused by a three-run Houston seventh in which reliever Ryan Madson gave up two home runs.
When Madson got to the dugout, though, he was struck by the chirping he heard.
“‘It’s not going to end like this! Don’t worry about it! We got it!’ ”
The catalyst for that surge in spirit, if not scientifically the rousing comeback itself, was third baseman Mike Moustakas.
By the time he ran in from third base, Moustakas had a certain conviction and fury in his voice that would be the first thing many players mentioned as they tried to account for the spectacle of what came next.
“Moose was the main one for sure,” pinch runner Terrance Gore said, smiling. “Pretty aggressive.”
Moustakas, “just started yelling,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “Kind of fired up the dugout, (and then) one thing kind of let to another.”
The central message served to remind them what they are about and from where they’ve come.
So did his invocation of the recurring team theme that underscored the legendary American League Wild Card win against Oakland last year.
“Keep the line moving,” a phrase you’d hear all over the clubhouse later.
One man, one pitch, at a time, the Royals did just that to manufacture a critical-mass, five-run seventh that affirmed Moustakas’ best explanation of a scenario that defies the laws of order.
“This is what we do: never quit and never give up,” Moustakas said afterward.
As for what he said at the time, he joked that he couldn’t repeat some of it “on air.”
But his words probably mattered less than their tone and passion.
“‘We’re not losing this game!’ ” he yelled, in part. “‘We’ve worked too hard, and we’ve come too far!’ ”
Many a similar pep talk no doubt has shriveled up and gone blowing in the wind when rallies failed to ignite.
For that matter, this one hinged on so many more things.
Starting with the fact that maybe if Alex Rios doesn’t get the first of five straight singles to open the inning, none of the rest happens.
But Rios did, and as catcher Sal Perez put it, “Everybody followed.”
From Moustakas’ cue, and you can embrace or dismiss the actual impact, but it will become a foundation of this lore.
“I mean, you can yell, and sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Gordon said. “But, obviously, we care about this a lot and we want to win. And it showed there in the eighth inning with some guys stepping up and trying to lead it out of the gates.
“And it worked, so …”
That doesn’t really explain how it happened, exactly, but what can?
And maybe it’s enough that it says something about how it started and sustained itself some. And about the power of hope and belief.
“Luck,” playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote, “is believing you’re lucky.”
After so many woebegone years for the franchise, it’s represented now by a group that believes it’s good and lucky — or at least capable of concocting its own fortune.
And why shouldn’t it feel that way after the wild-card game that transformed them from hapless to the most happening team in baseball?
Whether that experience was an active frame of reference or is just hard-wired in them by now, last year’s comeback from four runs down in the eighth inning loomed over and at least in some way stoked this one.
“Oh, a lot,” said Perez, who was in the training room with his neck encased in ice. “Every second, every hit, every score. …
“Yeah, yeah, I think being in that situation before helped a lot.”
But this also was its own distinct story, one that somehow happened despite its own incalculable variables.
The simplest was this: The Royals had scored four runs in 16 innings in two games here before their 41-minute eighth inning.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Rios, Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer singled successively to cut it to 6-4 for Kendrys Morales.
Morales smacked a hard grounder up the middle, ruled an error, to tie it 6-6.
Moustakas struck out swinging, but then reserve catcher Drew Butera kept the line moving and the inning afloat by earning a 10-pitch walk.
“What an at-bat by him,” said Gordon, who then drove in the go-ahead run with a ground-out.
Hosmer, who had been in a one-for-15 funk before his single in the eighth, added a two-run homer in the ninth to add the exclamation point, with the cold-blooded Wade Davis closing it out.
The stuff that dreams are made of, again.
And like most mysteries of the universe, well, it had to start somewhere — and Moustakas’ cajoling is as good a place as any.