On Sunday, the Kansas City Royals pushed past the New York Mets in 12 innings to win their first World Series crown since 1985. After rallying in the ninth inning, down 2-0, the Royals reeled off seven unanswered runs before finishing off their counterparts from Queens. Having come within one run of tying Game 7 in last year’s Fall Classic, the Royals came into spring training with one goal in mind: win one more game.
But, how did Kansas City find its way to the top of the baseball mountain? I can remember back when I was younger how the Royals were the team that you bought tickets to see your team play against because they were so bad and, as a result, the tickets were so cheap.
After their 1985 title, the Royals failed to qualify for the postseason for the next 29 years. Only finishing above .500 eight times between its two playoff appearances, Kansas City baseball was mediocre at best. In fact, the Royals’ period in the bottom of the baseball barrel was highlighted by a stretch from 2004 to 2006 when they lost a combined 310 games, winning just 176. However, as the Missouri franchise repeatedly lost at an alarming rate, they began stockpiling a king’s ransom of top baseball prospects. After amassing blue chip draft picks, Kansas City finally began to trend upward.
Then, in 2014, the Royals emerged as the pinnacle franchise in not only in their division, but in the entire American League. Led by then-No. 1 starter James Shields and one of the best bullpens in the MLB, Kansas City earned a wildcard playoff spot, defeated the Oakland Athletics and followed that comeback victory with sweeps of both the Los Angeles Angels and the Baltimore Orioles. They then pushed the eventual-champions, San Francisco Giants, to the brink of elimination.
After the departure of “Big Game James” and the addition of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers, many in the baseball community thought the Royals would fall out of contention in the AL Central. Instead, Kansas City went out and found a stud pitcher of its own, this time in the form of ex-Cincinnati Reds star Johnny Cueto. Rallying around the underdog mantra that characterized the 2014 squad and battling through long-term injuries to key players like Alex Gordon, the Royals went on to win 95 games, a division title and a date with the Houston Astros.
In the ALDS vs. the Jose Altuve-led Astros, Kansas City battled back after being six outs away from elimination. Rallying in Game 4 and then throttling a young Houston team in Game 5, the Royals once again proved that they would not be ignored. In the following series vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, the Royals relied heavily on their high-powered offense. In a series in which they outscored the lethal Blue Jays 38-26, KC looked to its big guns of Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer to lead the offensive charge. Alongside the heavy Royals’ hitters was Alcides Escobar, who registered at least one hit in every postseason game this year.
Kansas City’s stout offense, combined with the lights-out arms of Cueto, Edinson Volquez and closer Wade Davis, propelled the Royals to their second consecutive American League pennant and World Series berth.
Opposing Kansas City stood the National League champions, the New York Mets. The Metropolitans were fresh off a sweep of the upstart Chicago Cubs and were looking to win their first title since 1986. In Game 1, it appeared as if the Matt Harvey-led Mets would take the series opener in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, even though Escobar opened up the game with an inside-the-park home run.
However, in the bottom of the ninth, Gordon crushed a home run to center field, sending the game into extras. Five innings later, in the bottom of the 14th, Hosmer hit a sacrifice fly to right field that was deep enough to score the winning run. After a two-hitter from Cueto in Game 2, the Royals looked poised to finish off the series in New York City.
Three innings after tying Game 5, the Royals would tack on five runs in the top of the twelfth. In the bottom of the frame, Davis struck out Duda and d’Arnaud before sneaking a fastball on the hands of Wilmer Flores. While the Royals poured onto the field to celebrate their new crown, George Brett, the man who led Kansas City to their 1985 title, looked on, seeing his team complete the long odyssey from baseball irrelevancy to a World Series championship.