Royals’ long road back continues as corks pop for fourth time in three weeks

It has been a remarkable journey for Salvador Perez (center) and the AL champion Royals.

Peter Aiken/Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This was the team that couldn’t hit home runs. This was the team that refused to take walks. This was the team that supposedly couldn’t hold up to pressure, and certainly was bound to wilt in the spotlight of playoff pressure.

And this was the team that had no chance past the wild-card round, after being down by four runs in the eighth inning against Oakland.

And yet here they are, these Kansas City Royals, perhaps America’s new team, crowned as the American League champions after a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series.

After yet another tense and thrilling 2-1 win Wednesday, the Royals are back in the World Series for the first time since 1985.

A crazed Kauffman Stadium crowd of 40,468 — so hungry for just a taste of the playoffs for decades — stuck around in full after the game to watch the Royals accept the William Harridge Trophy as AL champs in a ceremony behind second base.

Owner David Glass, for years the much-maligned owner in this town, proudly held up the trophy and told the cheering crowd, "We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, but it was worth the wait. … I can’t be prouder of this team."

Club president Dan Glass was next to the microphone and "dedicated the trophy to the fans."

General manager Dayton Moore, also under scrutiny for so many years since he came aboard in 2006, thanked everyone in the organization.

"A lot of people had a great vision for this to happen," Moore said to more roars from the crowd.

And then manager Ned Yost, the subject of almost constant ridicule by the media and on Twitter all season and also the target of boos by the fans just two weeks ago, stood up on the stage and received the loudest ovation of all.

"This is for you!" Yost shouted to a deafening roar.

Then, as champagne poured throughout the Royals’ clubhouse, it was the players’ turn to reflect on what a remarkable journey this has been.

With champagne bottles popping for the fourth time in nearly three weeks, Billy Butler, the longest-tenured Royal, grinned like a schoolboy.

"It’s just such a great feeling and such a relief at the same time," Butler said. "You know, you get to this point, it’s so exciting. You hang on every pitch. Every single pitch. Sometimes you don’t even breathe.

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"I’m just so happy for everyone. I’m happy for the city, the fans. I know there have been so many tough times. I was here for them. Alex (Gordon) was here for them. But it was worth it.

"I know fans could get impatient through ‘the process.’ But they hung in there and here we are."

Gordon, too, tried desperately to put his emotions into words.

"It has been a long journey," he said. "So much work for everyone and we got there. We knew it was possible someday to get here, but I don’t think we really realized it could happen until the (James) Shields trade.

"You know, that was the trade that turned us around and made us believers. We had been rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding and then that trade made it all real. We knew that day it was time to win now."

Moore, as is his custom, shrugged off any praise.

"It’s the players and the coaching staff," Moore said. "Ned has been a tremendous leader throughout all this."

Yost has consistently tried to be immune from all the fan and media criticism about his excessive bunting and pitching maneuvers, calling it nothing more than "water off a duck’s back."

"I’m not happy for me," Yost said. "I’m happy for these guys. I’ve been to six World Series with the Braves. This will be my seventh. This is for these guys.

"But I’m most happy for the fans, and the city. They’ve suffered long enough. Just to see all the energy in the stadium and in the city, that’s enough for me. The fans have been just great."

And Yost praised his players, and especially Moore for constructing a team seemingly built for the postseason, when games are often low-scoring and tightly contested. It is a team that runs, steals bases, plays brilliant defense and has a shutdown bullpen.

"I think it’s a team that America is falling in love with," Yost said. "I believe that. The way we play ball is the way teams used to play ball — we hit and we run, and we’re very athletic and we play great defense and we know how to pitch.

"It’s an exciting brand of baseball to watch, and I’m glad America has a chance to see it."

America also got introduced to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, a Gold Glove candidate, who has made one breathtaking catch after another in the playoffs.

Not surprisingly, Cain captured the ALCS Most Valuable Player award.

"It wasn’t just me," Cain said. "It was everybody on this team stepping up. Everybody did their part. That’s how we got this far."

And, according to David Glass, the journey isn’t over yet.

"I can’t wait to get to the World Series," he said, "and win four more games."

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.