Kansas City Royals fans had to wait 29 agonizing years to see their team in the postseason again, but Tuesday night’s dramatic win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game just may have been worth the wait.
Appearing in the playoffs for the first time since winning the franchise’s lone World Series title in 1985, when Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” topped the charts and “Back to the Future” reigned supreme at the box office, the Royals were aided by a raucous crowd of 40,502 that packed Kauffman Stadium. Behind that sea of blue, Kansas City showed incredible resiliency on its way to winning a game that will surely live forever in MLB postseason lore.
Heading into the game, the stage appeared set for an epic pitchers’ duel. The Royals sent James Shields to the mound in this winner-take-all affair. Though his career postseason numbers weren’t exactly great (he came into the game with a 4.98 ERA), he has earned the nickname “Big Game James” for his reputation to seemingly perform well when the stakes are at their highest, plus he was one of the few Kansas City players that had been to the playoffs before.
Meanwhile, the A’s gave the ball to Jon Lester, who boasts impressive career numbers against the Royals. In 13 career regular-season starts against Kansas City, Lester has gone 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA (his best against any AL team), including a no-hitter back in 2008.
In addition to that, neither offense has been particularly good at producing many runs, as the Royals hit the fewest home runs in the majors and Oakland’s offense struggled mightily during the second half of the season. Despite the game having all the makings of one in which runs would be at a premium, it turned out to be a fairly high-scoring affair.
A’s first baseman Brandon Moss, who hit just .162 over the last two months of the regular season while dealing with a hip injury, was the team’s MVP of the game. Despite hitting just two home runs from July 25 to the end of the regular season, Moss went yard twice in his first three at-bats for five RBIs.
The Royals had battled back from Moss’ two-run blast in the first to take a 3-2 lead, but his home run in the sixth inning looked like it might be a back-breaker for Kansas City. With two men on and nobody out, Royals manager Ned Yost made the most Ned Yost move of all time by pulling Shields, who had thrown just 88 pitches, and replacing him with rookie Yordano Ventura, who made of 30 of his 31 appearances during the regular season as a starter.
Somewhat predictably, Moss promptly drilled a three-run homer, and Oakland added two more runs to take a 7-3 lead. Kansas City’s postseason dreams seemed dashed.
But the Royals refused to go down quietly, scoring three runs in the eighth to pull within one. But even that rally seemed like it wasn’t as good as it could have been, with Salvador Pérez and Omar Infante both striking out to end the inning with the tying run just 90 feet away.
Yet, Kansas City continued to battle. Josh Willingham singled to lead off the ninth and was replaced by pinch runner Jarrod Dyson. Yost moved him to second in his favorite way possible, the sacrifice bunt, and made the gutsy call to have him steal third. The gamble paid off in a big way, as Norichika Aoki bringing him home on a sacrifice fly to force extra innings.
After the Royals failed to bring the winning run home from third in the 10th and 11th, the A’s took the lead in the 12th inning on an Alberto Callaspo RBI single. With its back against the wall again, Kansas City delivered once more.
Eric Hosmer hit a deep, one-out triple and was brought home on a chopper to third by Christian Colón. After Colón advanced to second on a failed pitchout with two outs, the stage was set for Salvador Pérez to earn redemption.
Peréz had struck out wildly in the eighth with a chance to tie the game or even give the Royals the lead, but he now had a chance to deliver a playoff victory to Kansas City for the first time since 1985. This time, he didn’t waste the opportunity, sending a hot shot just centimeters past the outstretched glove of Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson to end the game.
As Kauffman Stadium erupted in a celebration 29 years in the making, the camera briefly panned to Kansas City legend George Brett, who perfectly summed up the feelings of Royals fans everywhere.
It was a victory that perfectly reflected the identity of this Royals team. Kansas City tied a postseason record by stealing seven bases during the game, which isn’t too shocking considering that they led baseball in stolen bases in 2014 with 153.
The win was also a total team effort, with contributions coming from the most unexpected of places. Brandon Finnegan, a 21-year old pitcher who was the Royals’ No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and appeared in just seven regular-season games, seemed unfazed by the big stage, allowing just one run in 2.1 innings of relief.
The Royals’ never-say-die attitude was also on full display as they rallied time and time again. They overcame a stellar performance by Brandon Moss, multiple mystifying moves by Ned Yost and several Oakland leads. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the first team in MLB postseason history to come back from at least four runs down in the eighth inning or later in a winner-take-all game.
The game itself was an instant classic loaded with drama that kept everyone watching on the edge of their seats. It was the kind of game that reminds baseball fans why we love this game to begin with. And above all else, we got to see a franchise that has been a perennial doormat for 29 years finally give its fans a thrilling postseason win.
Of course, this victory did only get the Royals into the ALDS, where they’ll face a Los Angeles Angels team that finished the regular season with an MLB-best 98-64 record. The task may seem daunting for Kansas City, but it’s impossible to count them out after watching what they accomplished at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.