The Mets fans at Citi Field knew. Anyone who’s watched Kansas City Royals baseball these past two years knew. The Royals themselves surely knew.
Once the Royals—so feeble against New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey through the first eight innings of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night—scored their first run in the top of the ninth to cut Harvey’s lead to 2-1, and had that tying run on second with no one out, that run was crossing home plate. It mattered not that Harvey got the hook and New York’s closer, Jeurys Famlia, was now in the game. Familia has already blown two save opportunities during the World Series. What’s another? Sure, Harvey had struck out nine Royals—through the first six innings. No Kansas City player had struck out since.
The Royals were playing their game. Put the bat on the ball, zip along the base paths and see what happens. “I never had any doubt,” said Kansas City manager Ned Yost. “I don’t want to seem cocky, or arrogant,” said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. “But you could just feel it coming.”
Familia needed a strikeout in the worst way. The Royals wouldn’t give it to him. A Mike Moustakas groundout to first moved Hosmer, who had doubled home Lorenzo Cain, over to third. So with one out, catcher Salvador Perez smacked a ground ball to third. Mets third baseman David Wright caught it, peeked over at Hosmer—who shuffled a few feet off the bag, but not far enough for Wright to run over to him—and let the ball fly towards first. Hosmer took off for home, daring the Mets to deny the Royals their first World Series in three decades.
“That’s the way we’ve played all year, being aggressive,” said Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele, who didn’t send Hosmer. The Kansas City first baseman went on his own. “Put pressure on the defense.”
“When I saw Wright turn and get ready to release, and then Eric broke, I was like oh my God!” said Kansas City first base coach Rusty Kuntz. “These guys are learning. All right. They’re getting better. Oh my God!”
“He did it because he had the freedom to play the game,” Yost said. “He wasn’t afraid of making the last out at home plate. All these years, I’ve preached to these guys play fearlessly. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Hos let it all out.”
“When he went,” said Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who was on deck. “I was like, ‘Oh crap.’”
“When I first took the step, I didn’t think it was a good situation for us,” said Hosmer. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever felt. I don’t know if it’s the fastest I’ve ever ran, but it was the fastest I’ve ever felt.”
“No doubt, no doubt, that was the fastest I’ve seen him run,” Kuntz said. “I had to do a double-take. Oh my God, did we pinch run for him or what?”
“I had to close my eyes a bit,” said Hosmer’s mother, Illeana.
The Royals are the wiffle ball pests who tag up on a pop fly to first. “He probably pulled that off in Little League,” Kuntz said of Hosmer’s gamble. “But not in the World Series.” They’re the kids playing touch football in the backyard, who go for it on fourth down from their own one-foot line. It’s the baseball equivalent of a full court press. Cause a little chaos. Force the other team to panic.
“The pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure,” Kuntz said. “I don’t care if you make the last or first out at third base, make players make plays. That’s kind of the slogan we’ve been using the whole year. Don’t wait for a safety net. Cause it’s not going to be there. Any situation we can, we’re going to go, go, go, go, go. Until they crack.”
Just like Lucas Duda did. The Mets first baseman received Wright’s throw for the second out, and whipped the ball to home plate, to try to complete a most unusual game-ending double play, the kind of finish that would have quaked Citi Field and possibly propelled the Mets to a comeback title. “Poor Duda,” says Kuntz. “He just had to get rid of it as fast as he could.” Duda’s throw went wide left, to the backstop. The Royals scouting report was clear: run on Duda, run on Wright. Hosmer slid in with that tying run.
Three innings innings later, with the score still tied 2-2, the Royals again pin-pricked the Mets, this time right out of the World Series. Perez, the World Series MVP, leads off with a single to right. A pinch runner, Jerrod Dyson, swipes second. A groundout moves Dyson to third. Pinch hitter Christian Colon stepped up to the plate. “He last played in what, June?” Kuntz asked, jokingly, afterwards. No, the backup infielder did bat in a regular season game on Oct. 4. But this was his first appearance of the playoffs. And all he did drive in the go-ahead run in a World Series-clinching game, with a single. Another Daniel Murphy error and two doubles later, the Royals have blown the game open, 7-2. “Let’s get the f–k out of here,” one Met fan said to another as they headed to the exits.
Now that’s how the Kansas City Royals finish off a championship.
For anyone with even a passing interest in baseball the past 20 years, it’s still hard to believe: The Kansas City Royals are World Series champs. Baseball’s exploding economics, and rampant team mismanagement, had long left this small-market franchise behind. Before last season, the team hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985, the last year the Royals won the Series. “You laugh your ass off,” said Royals Hall of Famer George Brett, a team VP, remembering some of the team’s comically inept moments on the field. “But after awhile you’re going, Man, what are we doing? This is embarrassing.”
And yet the Royals stormed into New York, baseball’s biggest market, and bounced the Mets. Kansas City and its leadership team—general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost—stuck with their plan to develop young talent like Hosmer and Gordon and Moustakas, while weathering the growing pains. Brett remembers when shortstop Alcidies Escobar first struggled in Kansas City after arriving in a December 2010 trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. “People are booing Ned and questioning him and criticizing him in the paper, for never pinch hitting Escobar in the seventh or eighth or ninth inning with the game on the line and you’re 20 games out of first place,” Brett recalled. “And I remember Ned telling me one time, he said, How is he ever going to be a good every day shortstop on a championship team if we pinch hit for him now? He’s gotta learn from these situations. And now look, he was the MVP of the American League Championship Series. Why? Because Ned had the courage and conviction to say, Look, we’re building a team. We’re not winning it this year, but we’re building for the future. Little things like that, you know, have really helped put this team together.”
“Both Dayton and I believe in what we were doing,” Yost said. “And we weren’t going to be swayed by anyone’s opinions. We knew we had to have patience with these guys, and allow them to develop. We felt like, early on, we had a special group of guys. That somewhere down the road, they could win a world championship.”
In the bottom of the 12th inning, dozens of Royals fans stood under section 120 at Citi Field, to watch KC close out the series. A few obnoxious Met fans left bitter. “Get out of the way, a–hole,” one said to a man in a Royals cap. “Have a nice trip to flyover country.” Others offered good wishes. “Congratulations,” said one Mets fan to Garrett Meyer, who grabbed a $400 ticket and flew in from Kansas City for Game 5. “You kicked our asses.” A jubilant Meyer, 23, was shaking. “I remember going to Kauffman Stadium when there would be less than 10,000 people in the stands,” Meyer said. “This erases all of that.”
“I’ve waited my whole life for this!” shouted one woman.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen!” said another.
With two outs and two strikes to Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores, dozens of cell phones rose. Royals deliver Wade Davis delivered, and struck Flores out looking.
The Royals, World Champs.