I think it was two years ago when the Kansas City Royals had just finished a 72-90 season, their ninth straight losing campaign which included a streak of three straight 100-loss seasons and four in a five-year stretch where it was baseball’s most bumbling-and-stumbling franchise.
I was sitting around asking somebody, the person escapes me at this point, that “I wonder if the Royals will ever make the World Series again in my lifetime?” It kind of goes hand-in-hand with “I wonder if the Kansas City Chiefs will ever make the Super Bowl again in my lifetime?”
But I digress. Back to the Royals.
At the time I was 55 years old, so there was some cushion there. After all, since I’ve only missed two days of work in 36 years, I like my chances of a long-and-full life.
The Royals finally broke through with a winning record in 2013 by going 86-76, but this still looked like a team that was far removed from the World Series.
This year didn’t start much better as they were meandering around the .500 mark for 100 games. In fact, they WERE 50-50 at the century mark and in no way evoking any memories of George Brett and Company from 1985.
But Game 110, the Royals defeated the Oakland A’s and set sail on an eight-game winning streak. Most expected a streak of similar length in the opposite direction shortly, given the Royals’ up-and-down ways.
However, the Royals would eventually peel off 24 wins in 30 games, proving they meant business. The constants were pitching and defense, as well as a sporadic offense that sometimes lost track of the strike zone.
But they finished with a kick, got into the playoffs, shocked Oakland in the wild-card play-in game and we all know the rest.
So I am experiencing another Royals World Series in my lifetime. I was 28 when they last made it, against MY St. Louis Cardinals. The greatest achievement in Royals history came at the expense of the team I worshipped growing up and the fashion in which it happened is part of baseball lore, the Denkinger call in Game 6 and the Cardinals’ total embarrassing emotional meltdown in Game 7.
But looking back, the Cardinals should have put this series away earlier. They won three of the first four. The Royals, who had homefield advantage, scored just three runs in the first two games before winning Game 3 6-1 behind Bret Saberhagen. After John Tudor blanked the Royals 3-0 in Game 4, Danny Jackson saved the Royals in Game 5, in St. Louis no less.
What people may not remember about the infamous Game 6 is that it was 1-0 Cardinals going into the ninth. And the “Denkinger play” actually led off the inning, so all the Cardinals had to do was settle down and get three outs. The call, though, affected their mental state, and the Royals finished off the two-run rally. The Royals then beat Tudor in Game 7, who was the Jon Lester of his time. The game, though, will be remembered most for colorful Cardinal pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who lost his mind when he came in to pitch during a six-run Royals fifth inning. He and Denkinger got into it and Andujar was tossed. Rumors persisted that Andujar was sent into the game by manager Whitey Herzog just to go after Denkinger, which Herzog, of course, denied.
It doesn’t look like we’ll have a repeat of the I-70 Series. The Cardinals are down 3-1 to a a San Francisco team they have struggled with in year’s past. The Giants are the National League’s version of the Royals, a team without stars and plays with the enthusiasm of a high school team. Like Kansas City, it’s all about pitching, defense and clutch hitting.
They’re also two teams that believe they can’t lose. But somebody is going to. I have a feeling the way it plays out will be much like Kansas City and Baltimore, in that every game will be a white-knuckler and keep the fans on the edge of their seats.