KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Take the crown. Seize the crown. Keep the crown. Call it what you want.
But as the night darkened and the rain fell and manager Ned Yost stepped into another October moment that left second-guessers howling at the moon, one thing was crystal clear:
There was absolutely no way the Kansas City Royals were going to surrender their American League crown.
“They find ways to get it done, man,” Yost said, standing on the first-base line moments after his team clinched its second consecutive World Series berth with a thrilling 4-3 Game 6 sprint over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Man, do they ever.
So crown them.
As he spoke, his players were strewn all over the infield with their families and friends, and 40,494 adoring fans were on their feet at Kauffman Stadium, hollering themselves hoarse.
Take a look around. What these Royals built has lasted. And it is the model.
All month long, we’ve been talking about the sensational group of young Cubs talent blossoming in Chicago. We’ve been wowed by Carlos Correa and the Houston Astros’ youth.
Our eyes have popped right along with the radar gun readings of the great young pitchers employed by the New York Mets, who will be on a plane soon enough for Game 1 of the World Series here Tuesday night.
And yet, all the while, these Royals were operating in plain sight.
And they are exactly what every one of these recently rebuilding clubs is aspiring to become.
“The core group has grown up together in the minor leagues, and they’ve wanted to do something special here in Kansas City for a long time,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “They’re motivated, they’re focused and they’re determined to win.”
Take a look around. Five players in Kansas City’s Game 6 lineup Friday night are homegrown: Eric Hosmer was a first-round pick in 2008. Mike Moustakas was a first-round pick in 2007. Alex Gordon was a first-round pick in 2005. And the Royals signed catcher Salvador Perez as an amateur free agent in 2006 and starting pitcher Yordano Ventura as an amateur free agent in 2008.
Keep looking: Two other players in the lineup, shortstop and leadoff man Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, were acquired in the same trade in December 2010 from Milwaukee for Zack Greinke. And being that Greinke was the Royals’ first-round pick in 2002, you can almost say Escobar and Cain are homegrown as well. At least, they are here because of other Royals homegrown players.
Escobar was named as the ALCS MVP, hitting .478 with two doubles, a triple, five RBI and six runs scored. And he Hoovered everything in sight at shortstop.
“Alcides is a special talent,” Moore said. “In my opinion, he could be one of the better players in the game. He’s got such a great skill set and I believe he’s going to continue to get better.”
Cain? Not only did he hit .300 with a .423 on-base percentage during the ALCS, but it was his textbook plate appearance in the eighth, followed by a wild and woolly dash home on Hosmer’s single, that punched Kansas City’s World Series ticket.
But first, the latest from Yost.
Kansas City led 3-1 into the eighth when the Royals skipper summoned Ryan Madson to relieve Kelvin Herrera. Madson has had a terrific comeback year in 2015 following an arm injury, but in the regular season the Blue Jays had played him like the jazz greats once played their horns around these parts: Madson had surrendered nine hits in 16 plate appearances to Blue Jays hitters, who scorched him to the tune of a .600/.625/.867 slash line.
Yet, here he came. And Ben Revere immediately banged a leadoff single, and after Madson struck out Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista launched a game-tying home run that was last seen headed toward Colorado. After Madson walked Edwin Encarnacion, Yost hooked him for closer Wade Davis.
Bringing up the question: Why in the name of Paul Splittorff didn’t Yost just bring in the unhittable closer to start the inning?
By the time Bautista’s ball disappeared to even the game at 3-3, half of the population here seemed apoplectic.
“We knew the rain was coming,” Yost said. “They hit it right on the head. They said it was going to come around 9:55. Our plan in the eighth inning was hope to get Madson through the eighth right there.”
Because with the rain coming, the Royals didn’t want to burn Davis by having him pitch a little, then sit through a long rain delay and be unable to pitch the ninth.
Mistake. Yost was forced to go to Davis anyway. And sure enough, immediately after Davis obtained two outs to end the inning, here came the rain. And the tarp.
The delay lasted 45 minutes.
When the game resumed, 3-3, Cain stepped in to face Toronto closer Roberto Osuna. And he battled to an eight-pitch walk.
“I was doing anything I can do to get on base,” Cain said. “Osuna is a great pitcher. I was trying to stay on his fastball and do the best I could to let the slider go.”
Next, Hosmer ripped a ball toward the right-field corner. Bautista went deep to field it, wheeled and fired to second, looking to hold Hosmer to a single.
Wrong base. He should have thrown home, because over in the third-base coaching box, Mike Jirschele was waiting for this moment. Cain steamed around the bases like a locomotive, and as soon as Bautista made his move toward second, Jirschele never hesitated: He windmilled his arm and Cain never slowed. From first to home on a single, go-ahead run, pandemonium.
“Great send by Jirsch,” Yost said. “Jirsch does his homework. When Hoz turned hard toward second, he knew Bautista would go to second.”
The play worked because Cain did not assume he would stop at third. He never slowed down. And Jirschele knew exactly what Bautista would do from the scouting reports and video.
“I was just looking for that play the whole series,” Jirschele said. “I was watching Bautista. He has a good arm. But I knew what would happen if Hoz rounded first hard, and it happened.”
He continued: “Those are the plays as a third-base coach you wait for.”
Only thing left was whether Davis would be able to come out for the ninth. And when he did, 62 minutes after he had thrown his last pitch in the eighth, Kauffman Stadium went nuts.
Davis said he would not have been able to return had he started to tighten up during the rainstorm. But that didn’t happen. He stayed loose in the weight room. With a heat wrap on his arm. By riding the exercise bicycle in the clubhouse.
Yes, take a good look around: These Royals are not returning to the World Series simply because they are talented. This is where talent meets hard work and preparation.
Jirschele knowing what Bautista was going to do. Cain refusing to give in to Osuna. Davis’ steadiness. The collective memory of losing Game 7 of last year’s World Series to the San Francisco Giants.
“A lot of motivation,” from that, Hosmer said. “This group, ever since that pop-up was caught by Pablo [Sandoval] over there [by the third-base dugout to win last year’s title for the Giants], it’s been on our minds.
“To know that we’re headed back to the World Series is an incredible feeling.”
Talk about resilient. The Royals trailed every one of the five games of their Division Series with Houston, yet they sent the Astros packing. They have not lost a postseason game in the past two Octobers in which they were leading after six innings.
And now, they become just the second AL team to earn its way into back-to-back World Series appearances since 2001. The Texas Rangers (2010 and 2011) are the other club to do it.
Moustakas and Hosmer, the center of this core group for the ages in Kansas City, have done it again.
“It’s not surprising because they compete and they love to play,” Moore said. “They love the moment and they want to be in pressure situations.
“We saw it last year, and we see it time and time again. “
The crowd stayed and roared, and the Royals headed for the champagne, bitter memories of last year’s World Series somewhere in the back of their minds and fresh hopes to change the ending in this year’s World Series just ahead of them.
“Most definitely,” Cain said. “You remember how close you got and how much it hurt not to win it.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to prevail. It’s been a great run all the way around.”
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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