Not a drop of Champagne dotted the salt-and-pepper hair or clean-shaven face of Dayton Moore as he sat along the bench inside the visitors’ dugout at Citi Field, the home these last three nights for the greatest Royals team in a generation.
Up above him, hundreds of Royals fans serenaded the players with a rendition of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Hidden from sight, away from the spotlight, Moore still looked dazed.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Moore said. “This is pretty cool.”
Nine years ago, when owner David Glass chose Moore to resurrect this franchise, Moore dreamed about a parade threading through the streets of Kansas City. The final step of his vision — which restored his organization’s credibility within the game, revived the sport in his community and delivered night after night of indelible memories — will happen on Tuesday along Grand Boulevard. Because at 34 minutes after midnight in New York, the Royals captured their first world championship since 1985 with a 7-2 victory in 12 innings in Game 5 over the Mets.
The win followed a blueprint authored by this club all postseason. The Royals collected their eighth comeback victory, and their sixth with a multiple-run deficit. Silent for eight innings, the team conquered Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia to tie the game in the ninth. Three innings later, Christian Colon cracked the go-ahead single and opened the floodgates for a five-run flourish.
After the last 95-mph fastball from closer Wade Davis whistled into the glove of backup catcher Drew Butera, this cherished group assembled for one last time as a team in the center of Citi Field, the last mountain they ascended en route to the sport’s apex. Thousands of miles away, fireworks popped in Kansas City and fans clambered through the streets. As the champagne flowed in New York, the Royals erased the bitterness of last October and established themselves as a team incapable of cardiac arrest.
“Never give up,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Never give up. Came through again. We’re the comeback kids, if you want to call us.”
Along the way, the Royals personified the blueprint Moore brought when he took over the team’s baseball operations department in 2006. The team displayed athleticism in the field and on the bases. They refused to roll over in the face of adversity. They leaned upon one another and relished one another’s company. On a team stocked with All-Stars, there was no one singular star.
Salvador Perez hoists MVP trophy in a team effort
Salvador Perez received the Most Valuable Player trophy, but the honor could be shared by so many on his team. Eric Hosmer drove in the run that ejected Harvey from the game and bested the infield arms of the Mets for a daring, game-tying score. Only a few days removed from his father’s funeral, Edinson Volquez turned in six innings of two-run ball. Davis did not yield a run all October.
And in his first at-bat of the entire postseason, Colon found a moment to pair with his game-tying infield single from the American League Wild Card game in 2014. That night, so many months ago, solidified the ethos of this team. Pushed to the brink, the Royals do not break. Instead, it is their opponents who buckle.
“This is too good of a group, too good of a team, not to be remembered as world champions,” Hosmer said.
During the regular season, the Royals resembled a freight train, barreling past their foes. In the playoffs, they transformed into Ali in Zaire, luring opponents into a false sense of comfort, only to strike in the highest-leverage spots. The Royals possessed the chin of a champion. After the way the 2014 season finished, no singular shot could shake them.
“We never quit,” Perez said. “We never put our heads down. We never think about, ‘OK, the game is over.’ No. We always compete to the last out.”
When their season ended last October, with the tying run stranded at third base in Game 7 of the World Series, the Royals felt the sort of heartbreak that lingers through the winter. The players mourned the loss and sought to convert the pain into fuel for 2015.
Kansas City became the best team in the American League. They won their first division title in 30 years. Their players shined at the All-Star Game. Their coffers filled with a franchise-record for attendance at Kauffman Stadium. The renaissance emerged in full bloom.
Except all of this would have been coated with bile, rendered meaningless, if the Royals had been unable to defy incredible odds in the first round. The journey from the brink of the abyss to postseason bliss lasted 21 days. It may be difficult to recall now, in the wake of popped bottles and kept promises, but the Royals looked on the verge of a collapse in Houston.
Across 162 games during the season, the Royals played like the best team in the American League. During the first 34 innings of the American League Division Series with the Houston Astros, the Royals played like the second-best team on the field. October allows scant time for second chances, for extended slumps, for platitudes like “We’ll get them tomorrow.” Tomorrows do exist in the postseason, but they disappear with expediency when you lose.
At 3 p.m. on Oct. 12, Kansas City trailed Houston by four runs. Six outs remained in their season. Their bats never found life, and Yost was preparing for a concession speech.
“I was thinking about how I was going to congratulate the Houston Astros in my press conference,” Yost said. “I mean, I really was.”
Then Alex Rios hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Will Harris into left field. Alcides Escobar fished for a curveball and found a hit. Ben Zobrist cracked a line drive into center field, where outfielder Carlos Gomez declined to dive.
By know, of course, the rest of the story has been written into Kansas City legend, standing alongside the Wild Card Game as the exemplars of this club’s fortitude. The club earned a chance to rewrite the chapter they could not get right last year.
When the ninth inning on Sunday began, the Royals found themselves in the predicament that has become so familiar. They were down two runs with three outs to play. They had overcome so much this postseason, yet with Harvey on the mound, this task looked so tall.
Harvey does not deal in deception. He piles power upon power. His fastball approaches triple digits. His slider clocks at 90 mph. His changeup resides only a few ticks lower.
In the fourth, Harvey displayed the depth and breadth of his arsenal. With the count at 3-1, Cain chased a high fastball. Harvey finished him off with a changeup, down and in. Hosmer flailed at a curveball for a second strikeout.
“Harvey was nasty tonight,” Hosmer said. “He was dirty.”
The last victim was Moustakas. Harvey flipped a pair of curveballs for strikes. Then he blazed a 98-mph fastball past Moustakas to strike out the side. Harvey pumped his fist as he headed for his dugout.
The celebration looked premature. The Royals, after all, do their most devastating damage in the later innings. Harvey would receive a reminder in the ninth. At that point, he had struck out nine. He had not allowed a runner to reach third base. The game belonged to him, and Mets manager Terry Collins refused to take it away.
As the bottom of the eighth inning wound down, the fans shouted for another inning from Harvey. Inside the dugout, he argued with Collins, insisting on staying in the game. Harvey wanted the ninth. He wanted the Royals. Perhaps history will forgive him for his impudence. Because the Royals did not.
Down two strikes, Cain battled his way back for a walk. The crowd stirred. There was life. The future felt recognizable to George Brett, the Hall of Famer from the 1985 Royals.
“As soon as Harvey walked that guy in the ninth,” Brett said, “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re winning this game.’ ”
With Familia ready, Collins let Harvey stay in the game. Harvey tried to drive a 94-mph fastball past Hosmer’s knees. Hosmer did not let the baseball pass. He thumped an opposite-field, RBI double. The hit halved the score and petrified the park.
Collins fetched Harvey and handed the baseball over to Familia. Before this series, the presence of Familia almost guaranteed a Mets victory. Yet in the first four games here, he had already blown two saves. A third would soon follow.
Guile ruled the day. After Moustakas advanced Hosmer to third base, Perez stepped to the plate. He tapped a grounder toward third baseman David Wright. Wright looked at Hosmer before he threw, but Hosmer did not return to the bag. He prepared to sprint home. He knew Wright lacked superior arm strength and he knew the first baseman, Lucas Duda, is a mediocre fielder.
“Bless his heart, Duda,” first-base coach Rusty Kuntz said. “He’s a good bat.”
The Kansas City scouting report on Duda mentioned his sidearm throwing motion. His volleys often tail away from the intended target. And so catcher Travis d’Arnaud reached in vain as the ball skittered away. Hosmer slid across the plate to tie the game. Joy coursed through the Royals dugout, and the knowledge that now the game would come down to bullpens. No team possessed a deeper relief corps than Kansas City.
Kelvin Herrera returned for the ninth inning, his third scoreless inning. Luke Hochevar turned in a pair of spotless innings. In the top of the 12th, Perez smacked a single off reliever Addison Reed. Jarrod Dyson replaced Perez at first base. Dyson proceeded to utilize his finest skill, the speed that convinced the Royals to stick with him as a 50th round draft pick in 2006, as he stole second base.
Two batters later, Colon picked up a bat for the first time this postseason. Reed refused to throw him a fastball. Colon waited until a fifth slider crossed the plate. Then he punched the go-ahead single into left field and thumped his chest at first. He spent each day this October waiting for an opportunity like this.
“I lived it,” Colon said. “You know what I’m saying? I went to bed almost every night, thinking about this moment. And being ready for my team and for my family and everybody.”
In the aftermath, the Mets bullpen combusted. The Royals notched four more runs, the last three on a bases-clearing double by Cain. The rally turned the bottom of the 12th into a fait accompli. As he did so many times this season, Davis insured the outcome was never in doubt.
In the aftermath of their summit, madness descended onto the Royals clubhouse. The players jostled with camera operators inside the cramped confines. They strapped Oakley goggles over beanies that read “2015 World Series champions.” Corks flew from the bottles of Nicolas Francois champagne. Red bottles of Budweiser operated like helicopters, unleashed torrents of hops around the room.
Alex Gordon, the team’s longest-tenured player, slipped through the throng. He has given 10 years of his life to this organization, and Sunday could have been his final night as a Royal. His ankles were still wrapped. He wore shower slides and sipped from a paper cup.
“Gordo’s hammered,” someone shouted.
“Shocker,” Gordon replied, though his eyes appeared clear and lucid.
Moore stayed away from the party, but other executives ringed the room’s periphery. Drenched across his chest, Gene Watson, the team’s director of pro scouting, engulfed advance scout Alec Zumwalt in a bear hug. It was Zumwalt, along with scouts Mike Pazik and Mike Toomey, who filed the advance reports that helped doom the Mets.
The reports called for the team to pitch inside to Daniel Murphy, the MVP of the National League Championship Series, and back him off the plate. Murphy hit .150 in this series. They also mentioned Murphy’s propensity for fielding mishaps. His error in Game 4 aided another comeback. And the reports nothed the vulnerability of both Wright’s arm and Duda’s arm. The Royals capitalized on that in Sunday’s ninth inning.
“You’re a world champion!” Watson shouted as he grabbed Zumwalt. He said the same to Mike Groopman, the team’s director of analytics.
Nearby, Dyson spotted his closest confidante in the organization. Kuntz has said he intends to retire from the big-league staff after this season. When Dyson found him, his idyllic blonde mane was still in place.
“Where you going?” Dyson asked. “You’re dry.”
Dyson dumped a beer on Kuntz’s head. “Yeah, player!” reliever Greg Holland said.
Someone handed Dyson the Commissioner’s Trophy. He carried it from the clubhouse, through a dugout muddied with Gatorade cups, sunflower seeds and Dubble Bubble wrappers, and onto the field.
“This is what you play for,” Dyson shouted toward the crowd. “This is what you play for, baby, right here.”
The Royals gathered with their families and friends for pictures and interviews. Yost spotted his kids. “You guys want to be on TV?” he said before sauntering toward an MLB Network interview.
Inside the dugout, Moore wrapped up a conversation with a small throng of reporters. He laughed about a Sports Illustrated story that predicted his club would win a championship in 2015. On this night, it was yet another vision fulfilled.
As ushers shooed the fans out of the park, Moore’s wife and his two children found him in the dugout. Moore hugged his son. His daughter wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Dad,” she said, “we won the World Series.”
Moore dashed a tear from his eye. He would fly back to Kansas City on Monday morning. Meetings about the 2016 season would begin on Wednesday. In between, there will be a parade, the one he envisioned nearly a decade ago.