BY MIKE URSERY
The game on Sept. 28 between the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers featured a heart-rending moment in the fifth inning.
Danny Duffy made the start, and was taken out by Ned Yost with one out in the inning. Before leaving, Duffy gave a hug to first baseman Eric Hosmer.
That embrace between Duffy and Hosmer represents what Royals fans are probably prepared for, but don’t want to see – the team’s stars testing free agency.
Another moving moment happened during Game 162 at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 1. Ned Yost gave some of his players the chance to leave to a standing ovation in the fifth inning. It was a final curtain call for a team that made improbably runs in 2014 and 2015.
When this season ends, Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar will be free agents. Four players who played a major part in the Royals’ run to the World Series run in 2014, and winning the Fall Classic in 2015, are likely moving on.
Any baseball fan should be able to appreciate what this team did in 2014 and 2015. These guys made baseball fun to watch in Kansas City again.
From the time the Royals won their first World Series in 1985 until 2014, they had never made the postseason.
The team they beat in 1985, the state-rival St. Louis Cardinals, made it into the playoffs 13 times. They went to the World Series five times, winning twice. (Kansas City won 92 games in 1989. Had the division alignment been arranged under the current format in 1989, they would have won the American League Central. They finished seven games behind the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.)
When Dayton Moore was hired as general manager in 2006, he inherited a mess. The team had lost 100 games three times in four years.
Fast-forward 11 years later, and the franchise is closing the book on one of the most exciting chapters in the history of baseball. The team bid farewell to the guys who made baseball in Kansas City fun again.
From 1995-2012, the team finished far below .500 in every year but 2003. Kansas City was 84-78 that season.
Moore began what he called a “process” after he was hired. He was tasked with fixing a franchise that was competing for the cellar of Major League Baseball.
When Moore was hired, the Royals’ farm system was ranked No. 23. Their top prospects were a couple of young guys named Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. Gordon was selected No. 2 overall in the 2005 MLB First Year Player Draft.
What he called a process took a while to come full circle. He drafted Mike Moustakas with the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. In 2008, he used the No. 3 overall pick to draft Eric Hosmer. The Royals signed a 16-year-old catcher from Venezuela named Salvador Perez in 2006, who started his career in the minors in 2007.
In 2010, Moore traded Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for four players: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. The Royals went from having a lower-tier farm system in 2006 to the top farm system in 2011.
Moore and the Royals created a culture that was unique around Major League Baseball.
Moore hired Ned Yost as the Royals’ manager. Before the 2014 season had ended, Royals fans seemed ready to move on from Yost. That changed before the season ended, however.
The Royals are a small-market team, and don’t have the resources to acquire and retain the most talented players, like some of their big-market competitors.
Moore was aware of this when he took the job. He instead sought to put together a team of guys who could play well together.
Moore once said during an interview: “We’re never going to out-talent anybody here.”
This comment came after the Royals signed Jeff Francoeur, a journeyman in his own right. He had already played for three different teams over six seasons before making his way to Kansas City.
Moore said that for the team to be successful, they had to have synergy. A group of guys who needed to play together and believe in each other.
That certainly showed during the American League Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics in 2014.
Kansas City fell behind 7-3 during that game, and had to come from behind three times in the 12-inning affair.
Salvador Perez hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th ining, which was the beginning of eight straight wins for the Royals in the postseason.
Kansas City swept the heavily-favored Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Division Series, then swept Baltimore in the ALCS.
That run ended with a Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Giants. Madison Bumgarner halted the dream of a World Series in Kansas City, but that dream wasn’t dead.
The Royals returned in 2015 without James Shields, who chose to test free agency rather than staying in Kansas City.
The rotation featured ace Yordano Ventura. After Ventura, the Royals had Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. Moore later acquired Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds.
Kansas City finished with the best record in the American League. However, they still found themselves playing from behind.
The Houston Astros won the 2015 American League Wild Card Game, and were matched up with Kansas City in the ALDS.
Houston took a 2-1 series lead, and seemed to be in control in Game 4, looking to put the series away.
The Royals were behind 6-2 in the eighth inning, but that quickly changed. Five straight singles led to two runs for Kansas City.
This team was on the road inside Minute Maid Park, a place that can be intimidating with the loud noise inside an enclosed stadium.
Kansas City didn’t seem to be phased, and instead it was Houston who was on their heels before that inning ended.
Kendrys Morales hit a ball up the middle that Carlos Correa just couldn’t seem to stop.
Perhaps it was destiny. Perhaps it was luck. Either way, that comeback led the way to the Royals’ first World Series in 30 years.
This small-market team proved to be better against the New York Mets, the National League team from the nation’s biggest television market.
Despite having pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jake DeGrom, the Royals were still better in every phase.
They had the better offense, and their rotation was much better against the Mets’ hitters.
Hosmer running towards home on a weak groundout to tie Game 5 in the ninth inning will stay in the memories of Royals fans. That play was a testament to how this team played.
Everyone did their part, and guys did whatever they had to get the team a win.
Now, Moore will have to put another team together. These iconic players, iconic in Kansas City, anyway, are moving on to other teams. They are opting to test free agency, rather than staying for a lower price.
As Duffy put it after a game, thesee guys have worked their butts off and deserve to test free agency.
This is just the nature of Major League Baseball. It’s a business. Players will go for the highest salary, a business decision most players not named Tony Gwynn have made, and will continue to make.
Every baseball fan should appreciate what this team did while they were together. We don’t get to see this ver often.
Thank you, Kansas City Royals.
BY MIKE URSERY