The Kansas City Royals were one base short of forcing the most entertaining World Series in recent memory to extra innings last night.
Alex Gordon ended the game stranded at third base, as Pablo Sandoval squeezed the final out in his massive glove. The San Francisco Giants took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner made it stand up.
However, there’s no reason for the Royals to feel down after their loss last night.
History burns the Royals again
Since the Royals were formedin 1969, the team has had some brushes with greatness, interspersed by periods of futility. Led by George Brett, Willie Wilson and others, the Royals won the AL West three straight years starting in 1976.
All three times, the mighty New York Yankees defeated them in the ALCS. The Royals finally got over the hump against the Pinstripes in 1980, only to fall in their first World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies who won their first world title in their 97th season.
The Royals returned to the playoffs in 1981, but lost the divisional series to the Athletics after the strike forced the divisional crown split and the teams who won each portion of the season to play in the first round of the post-season.
After winning the west in 1984 and falling to Detroit, the Royals got the breaks in 1985. Facing Toronto in the ALCS, KC came back from a 3-1 deficit in the first best of seven championship series to win the pennant.
An all-Missouri World Series ensued, and the St. Louis Cardinals were one out away from defeating the Royals in game six at Kauffman Field. However, Don Denkinger infamously called Jorge Orta safe to start the ninth inning, the Royals would win the game and Bret Saberhagen shutout the Cards in game seven.
The 2014 post-season was the first for the Royals since that 1985 World Series. They blew through the American League playoffs, rattling off eight wins in a row.
In their way from a world title stood a two-time World Series champion in San Francisco and their unreal starter Madison Bumgarner who set multiple post-season records in his MVP efforts.
The Giants showed no panic after dropping game six, 10-0. Their win of game seven as a road team was the first in 35 years of World Series play.
Revival of a franchise
They say no one remembers who finished second in sports. Yeah, don’t mention that around the folks who decide what games will be on national television.
Whenever a franchise that has struggled for a while makes a big leap, whether itwins the crown or not, itimmediately gains more visibility via national coverage and games on broadcast and cable television.
I would expect at least a dozen Royals games will be on ESPN’s baseball weekly broadcasts, in addition to more games on FOX and MLB Network.
George Brett and his cohorts in the KC front office will also see gains in the team’s efforts to sustain the success. The Royals, mostly unknown before the fall, looked like a loose group enjoying every moment of the ride.
This is a young team, and for a team used to losing talent to other teams (like Johnny Damon) that could become a free agent destination. Look for Brett to add pieces to the team as opposed to a big star.
A great credit to baseball
This year’s World Series was a fitting end to the Bud Selig tenure in baseball. The turbulent era included the ’94 strike,the steroid era, playoff expansion and the overall decline of the sport to take a backseat to the NFL.
Instead of power cities like New York or Los Angeles, the series concluded in a midsize market in the Heartland with great fans. Two great teams, mostly not household names, played the game with small ball, pitching and superb defense, went the distance and gave us all thrills.
Last night was a sign the game is coming back to its roots. The team that plays base-to-base and relies on smart play over brute strength has taken back the power and prominence. Kauffman Stadium was full of enthusiastic fans who stayed for prolonged cheering after their team was vanquished.
It felt more like the 80s with speed and power pitchers, when the game was hallowed and the fans believed it the last bastion of American values.
The Royals should be the model franchise as baseball changes leadership, a team built on homegrown talent that plays the game the right way and enthralls fans in a smaller market without spending trillions.
Hats off to Ned Yost and his team for their excellent display of skill and maintaining their cool demeanor under the bright lights.
All Photos Courtesy: Instagram
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