Here we are. One hundred and fifty-nine games through the season, the Royals are one win away.
This is the tenth season I’ve been blogging about this team. This is the first time I can remember where I’m at a loss for words. For those of you who stop by (and thank you for that) you come here for the words. I think I’m going to fail you today.
It’s one of those moments where I have so many thoughts running through my mind. So many things I’d like to say. But I’m going to hold back. At least for now. We are Royals fans, after all. We’ve been through entirely too much to start celebrating early. We need to be quiet. Respectful. Lest we wake the ghosts of Yuni, Neifi and Tony Muser.
But after action on Thursday, the Royals Magic Number has been reduced to one. One more win and the Royals are in. Or one more loss from Seattle, and they’re in. I know which I’d prefer. But again… These are still the Royals. I’ll take what I can get.
How are you going to function on Friday? Myself, I’ll be a baseball zombie, staring at my TPS Reports or whatever, failing to comprehend my nine to five existence and counting the hours, minutes and seconds to first pitch. Maybe I’ll call in sick. Although it would be just as crazy to be at home. I’ll just wear a path in the carpet from pacing twelve hours. Why not wear out the carpet at my office? Stick it to The Man. That’s what Ned Yost would do.
This is so weird.
I’ve followed this team since 1976. I know we have readers who have been around since the genesis of this club. We also have plenty of readers who have seen just two winning seasons in their lifetime. Such an odd spectrum. Yet we’re united in the faith, the hope, the belief, that Friday will be the night. Winning doesn’t wash away the stumbles and the sins of the last 29 years. Those are burned deep into our collective psyche. One successful season doesn’t repair that kind of damage. But as Trey Hillman once said, we live in a microwave society. We want everything and we want everything now. The Royals are one win away from giving us everything.
I picked this team to win 84 games. And I thought I was full of shit. I’ll admit I gave into the groupthink and went slightly above .500. Realistically, I thought this was a 78 win team. Maybe 80. The 84 was what Baseball Prospectus would term a 100 percent PECOTA projection, meaning if everything – and I mean everything – went right, 84 wins was the maximum this team could achieve. Sue me. I was wrong.
There’s going to be plenty of time after this ride is over to look back at how the Royals got to this point. The short version is pitching and defense and parity. Along with some timely hits. Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer combine for seven hits and three runs on Thursday. Alex Gordon and Sal Perez each pick up a pair. The bats are feeling a little warm. The pitching remains exceptional. And the defense, after wobbling a week ago, seems to have stabilized. How’s that for timing?
I feel like there’s so much to write about this team. There’s so much to analyze, to dissect, to discuss. But there are still three games to play. And some more after that.
It’s strange that while I’ve followed this team for a lifetime, I only remember one clinching moment. That would be Willie Wilson’s walk off in 1985. If I recall (and my memory may not be entirely accurate here) the game was the only home game of the year on TV. Fan appreciation day on the penultimate day of the season. The Royals fell into a 4-0 hole and dug themselves out to win 5-4 in 10 innings.
Maybe I don’t remember the clinchers because the Royals were in the old AL West and that meant either playing in Oakland, Seattle or Anaheim or waiting for their results to come in.
I have a copy of a book that was written by Steve Cameron for the 25th anniversary of the franchise called Moments, Memories and Miracles. He writes about 1976, gathering in an empty press box and waiting for news from the west coast:
Royals radio broadcaster Fred White somehow got on the phone with the Angels’ play-by-play crew out in Oakland and convinced them to keep the line open. Inning by inning, as the A’s and California remained scoreless, White would relay what was happening back to the gang at Royals Stadium. It seemed surreal – listening third-hand to an apparently endless game being played a half-continent away. All while staring out at a darkened field.
The A’s marathon when on through a scary ninth inning, then into the 10th, the 11th, the 12th. Our ragged crew in Kansas City began to question whether the whole exercise had been worth the trouble. Most sane people had gone home to bed, figuring they’d find out in the morning if the Royals were champs or still just hopeful champs-to-be.
And then suddenly, almost like a bolt from the autumn sky, we heard stunning news from Oakland. The Angels Rusty Torres, a marginal offensive threat with a .212 career batting average and popcorn power, somehow socked a home run in the top of the 12th. California grabbed a 2-0 lead so – in a heartbeat – the Royals had moved within a half-inning of a division championship – even if most of them were still asleep. Nobody was dozing at the stadium, though, because Torres’ shot had revved things to a fever state.
The game moved to the bottom of the 12th.
Now we wanted the news pitch by pitch, and the crowd around Fred kept pressing into a tighter and tighter knot. “What’s the count?” somebody would holler. “One out or two? I thought the A’s had someone on base?” In short, the place was turning into chaos and poor Fred, our only link to the momentous events in Oakland, was straining to hear the play-by-play calls. He was talking to us, we were shouting at him, the Angels broadcasters were trying to keep Fred up to date. Looking back, I doubt anyone real had a clue what was going on.
I do know, though, exactly where I was standing at how my mouth dropped open when, at 1:31 a.m., Fred nonchalantly cupped his hand over the receiver and announced: “It’s over.” He looked at Charlie Lau and Steve Busby and said, “How’s it feel to be Western Division champions?”
Cameron sums everything up:
So October 1, 1976 – and the wee hours of October 2 – meant everything to the Royals and their fans. This was vindication at last, not only a pennant but a pennant captured at the direct expense of Charley O., his jackass and his team. How could success taste any sweeter? I remember watching Lau and Herzog with their stupid smiles, hearing all the hubbub throughout the house and thinking no matter how many titles the Royals ultimately might win, whatever glories and glamorous triumphs might follow, this was the first and somehow, it would always be the best.
“The first would always be the best.” Seems fitting now we are two generations removed from that moment. There are plenty of Royals fans who have never experienced anything like what was described above. I’m trying really hard here to not take anything for granted. So let’s enjoy the weekend. And hope the 2014 Royals give us a moment like that.