NEW YORK — Not more than 20 minutes or so from Kauffman Stadium, barely a fungo from the heart of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, stands the American Jazz Museum. It is a monument to one of the great American art forms, a style of music characterized by improvisation and rhythm, much like the style of baseball played by the newly crowned World Series champions themselves.
Call it the Kansas City Shuffle.
As the Royals closed in on their first world championship in 30 years, another late-inning comeback beckoning, another crack at history calling, Eric Hosmer danced off third base. It was the ninth inning of Game 5, and the New York Mets were two outs away from sending things back to Kansas City for Game 6.
Instead, Salvador Perez grounded toward shortstop, Hosmer broke for home when third baseman David Wright picked the ball up and threw to first, and Hosmer slid home headfirst, safely, as first baseman Lucas Duda's throw home sailed wide of the plate.
It was a winning play by a winning player, and it tied the score at 2-2, sending the game into extra innings and the 44,859 filling Citi Field into a state of resignation.
No matter how long this took—12 innings, to be precise—the ending was going to be inevitable. And it was: Royals 7, Mets 2.
For the first time since 1985, the Royals took the crown.
For the first time since the days of George Brett, Frank White and Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni, the center of the baseball world is Kansas City.
From their advance scouting reports, the Royals knew that Wright's arm wasn't what it once was and that Duda's throws often are not true.
From their upbringing in an organization that has drafted and developed as well as any other club over the past decade, they've been trained to be aggressive and opportunistic.
With a core group of players led by Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon, who are every bit as indigenous to Kansas City as Count Basie and Charlie Parker, another comeback beckoned and another late-inning rally flirted.
"Hos shuffled off, shuffled off, shuffled off…and as soon as Wright dropped his arm to throw, he just took off," Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele said of the 90-foot sprint that aficionados in Kansas City will be describing 30 years from now when Hosmer is playing the elder statesman World Series champion role that Hall of Famer George Brett has played so well over the years.
It was all Hosmer, Jirschele said. The third base coach claimed all he said was "You're OK, you're OK" as Hosmer shuffled off the bag and then, boom, Wright's throw to first became the starter's pistol that fired the Royals to their latest, greatest comeback.
The Kansas City Shuffle.
"You've got to take a chance right there," Hosmer said. "Our team lives and dies by being aggressive."
These Royals were three outs from defeat in Game 5 on Sunday. They were five outs from defeat in Game 4 on Saturday. They were two outs from losing Game 1 last week.
The Mets could not silence them.
Nor could the nearly three decades of losing that permeated the franchise when Hosmer, the first-round draft pick in 2008, and Moustakas, the first-round pick in 2007, made their Royals debuts in 2011.
To outfielder Alex Gordon, first-round pick in 2005 who debuted in 2007 to six consecutive losing seasons, the arrivals of Moustakas and Hosmer must have been as thrilling as vintage bebop in its heyday.
"Moustakas' teams won every year they played, every [minor] league," Brett was saying before Sunday's game. "And Hosmer's teams won every league. So when they got to the major leagues, they're used to winning, they know what a winning culture is.
"And Gordo, bless his heart, he was a great player, still is a great player, but he didn't have the pieces around him. And it was like, let's hope we can get some pieces around Gordon to become a good team.
"Those two guys were big pieces of the puzzle. When they started playing well, we started winning.
"Because they know what it's like to win."
"I think all of their success is tied together," Dayton Moore, the Royals general manager since June 2006, said of this exquisite core group of champions. "I think they feed off of each other.
"The truth of the matter is that Alex Gordon and [closer] Greg Holland have been the pillars of this group since we came here. They were here from the very beginning, and then the young group came up: Hos, Moose and Salvador Perez as well. And then Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar came in the trade [for Zack Greinke]."
But it was with the arrival and emergence of Hosmer and Moustakas when the losing fog of nearly three decades began to lift.
"When your good players care the most, work the hardest, compete the best, you always have a chance to win," Moore said. "Those are the ingredients that those players share."
They shared them two years ago, when the Royals produced only their second winning season in the past 19 and were actually in the wild-card race. Shared them again in 2014 in winning that stunning Wild Card Game over Oakland and zooming all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before running into San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner.
Shared them in the American League Division Series last month, when they trailed Houston in all five games before eliminating the Astros. And hoisted them up on full display in this World Series, trailing in all five games before winning four.
"I'll tell you, when Cain walked to start the ninth inning, I said, 'Oh God, I've seen this movie before,'" Brett said afterward, standing in front of the Citi Field visitors' dugout surrounded by champagne-soaked players, family and organization employees. "I've seen this movie before.
"Sure enough, Hos, who wasn't swinging good all night, hit that double to left…"
This was against Mets ace Matt Harvey, who was starting the ninth bidding for a complete-game shutout that would send this series back to Kansas City. Hosmer had struck out in two of three at-bats against Harvey, but his double scored Cain, who had stolen second base, slicing the Mets' lead to 2-1.
That chased Harvey. On came beleaguered Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who blew three save opportunities in this World Series. Moustakas greeted him by pulling a ground ball to first baseman Duda for the out, but it moved Hosmer to third.
Moustakas and Hosmer, again fitting together just like 18th St. and Vine, the heart of the old Kansas City jazz scene.
Then, Perez's ground ball, Wright's throw to first and Hosmer reading it perfectly.
"I think a good throw gets him," Brett said. "But it was a surprise play that you don't see very often. And a lot of first basemen are not very accurate in their throws.
"It was all Hosmer. He's a great baseball player. He's got great baseball instincts. In baseball, if you have to think before you react, you're out. If you think before you react, and you're right, you're going to be safe. And that's what he did. He's a special ballplayer."
And this is a special team. Right-hander Chris Young, a veteran of 11 seasons and five organizations, calls this the "best baseball experience I've ever had" and says "Kansas City is unlike any baseball environment I've ever played in." He was speaking of both the record-setting attendance this summer and the chemistry among a special group that was not going to settle for anything less than a World Series title after being crushed by Game 7 last year.
"The way we ended last year, everything that happened, it was such a magical run," Hosmer said. "You knew it couldn't end like that this year.
"The end of that story had to be different."
This, this is different. This is different than last year's ending, different than any ending to any season in Kansas City since 1985.
Different, in fact, than the ending of every single one of this franchise's previous 46 years of existence except '85.
Hosmer's dash evened the score at 2-2, and Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis threw six shutdown innings in relief of brilliant starter Edinson Volquez.
And of course, the Royals popped for five runs in the 12th inning, while pinch-hitter Christian Colon socked the tie-breaking hit to open the gates in his first at-bat of the entire postseason.
"Last year was such a hard defeat for us in Game 7," manager Ned Yost said. "And everybody came to spring training, I mean, as determined of a group that I've ever seen.
"They were going to get back, and they were going to finish the deal this time. So from day one, there was no doubt in my mind that they wouldn't accomplish it. There was no doubt in their mind that they wouldn't accomplish it.
"And the cool thing about this team is that everything they set out to accomplish, they did."
Now, Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez and Gordon will be frozen in time in Kansas City, just like Brett and White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry. They will be toasted forever, having produced memories that will last just as long.
"The players have no idea what it means," Brett said. "When you live in this town like I have, lots of these guys come in in April, and they leave in October, and then they go to California, they go to Florida, they go to Nebraska, wherever they live. And the Royals want them to come back for a caravan or something, they might come back for two or three days and everybody's pumped up because it's five degrees and there's snow on the ground.
"And we get everybody pumped up for baseball, and then they go to Florida, and then they come back and start playing baseball, and then they're home for a week, gone for a week, home for a week, gone for a week.
"But if you live there for 42 years like I have, not being from there, they have no clue the impact that this has on our city. Everybody's going to go to work tomorrow, and every office in Kansas City is going to be celebrating.
"And it's going to last for a while."
A-one, a-two, a-three, shuffle…shuffle…shuffle.
The Kansas City Shuffle.
"A dream come true," said Brett, the rhythm of Hosmer, Moustakas and an incredibly improvisational summer sure to keep beating on through the generations.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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