KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Royals took their dream season to the limit, falling just short of their first World Series title since 1985.
After qualifying for the post-season for the first time in 29 years, and taking an entire baseball-starved city on a magical ride to the World Series, the Royals ran into the Madison Bumgarner buzz-saw once again in Game 7. The San Francisco ace shut them down in five innings of relief, and the Giants held on for a 3-2 victory and their third championship in five years.
It didn’t come without a little bit of drama.
The Royals were 90 feet away from forcing extra innings when Alex Gordon ripped a two-out single in the ninth, and centre fielder Gregor Blanco misplayed the ball for an error that put Gordon on third base. But one more time, Bumgarner proved his mettle.
He threw a 93-mph fastball that Salvador Perez popped foul along the third-base line, and Pablo Sandoval made the catch before falling to his back in jubilation.
Gordon walked slowly past him on the way back to the dugout.
Kansas City made a big push over the second half just to reach the playoffs, and then rallied from four runs down against Oakland in the wild-card game to win in 12 innings.
That was only the start of their incredible October run.
They went to extra innings twice in sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in the divisional round, and then went to extras again in sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Championship Series. Along the way, their hardscrabble nature and effervescent personalities endeared the Royals to baseball fans across the country, many who knew nothing about them.
They showed their resilience once more in the World Series.
After splitting the first two games at home, they lost two of three in San Francisco, returning to Kansas City needing a victory just to force a deciding Game 7.
They got it in a 10-0 rout behind flamethrower Yordano Ventura, who dedicated the win to the late Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, who died in a car crash over the weekend.
Kansas City rallied once more in the finale, falling behind 2-0 in the second inning when the Giants managed back-to-back sacrifice flies against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie.
In the bottom half, Billy Butler laced a single up the middle, and Gordon drove in a run with a double. He later took third base on a fly out by Mike Moustakas, and then hustled home for the tying run when Omar Infante sent another flyball to centre field.
The Giants regained the lead in the fourth when Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence opened the inning with singles, and Michael Morse’s base hit drove in a run. But hard-throwing relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera escaped the jam without allowing another run.
Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the other two pieces of their brilliant bullpen trio, kept San Francisco off the board the rest of the way. But an offence that had rolled the previous night was shut down one more time by Bumgarner, the beguiling lefty who pitched the Giants to victory in Game 1 and then tossed a shutout in Game 5.
Now, the question is whether it will take another 29 years for the Royals to return.
They are likely to lose staff ace James Shields in free agency, and some hard decisions await with players such as Butler. But young cornerstones in Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Perez should provide the foundation for the next few years.
So as the final chants of “Let’s Go Royals” drifted into the chilly night air, and fans streamed for the exits, one thing had become clear: After decades spent toiling in the shadows the Royals had finally returned to baseball’s spotlight.
Even if it was extinguished just short of a championship.