Royals mastered little details on way to biggest prize
NEW YORK -- No one thing defines them -- no one play, no one player, no one game. With the Royals, it's always about the collective, the organization-wide pursuit of excellence, the tiniest of details producing the biggest of results.
Thirty years between World Series titles is a near eternity. But for Royals fans, the wait for a team like this must seem almost worthwhile.
Seven times in the postseason, the Royals won games after falling behind by multiple runs. Three times in the World Series, they rallied from behind in the eighth inning or later to prevail.
They played hard. They played smart. They defeated the Mets, four games to one, clinching their triumph Sunday night by winning Game 5, 7-2, in 12 innings.
No one thing defines them. No one story can do the Royals justice. Here are a number of smaller stories, champagne-soaked vignettes from one more glorious night:
You could call it a defining play, but the Royals came up with one of these every few days during the postseason, figuring out clever and daring new ways to punctuate their comebacks.
First-base coach Rusty Kuntz started Eric Hosmer to stay out of a double play in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, even though Blue Jays left-hander David Price had not allowed a stolen base all season.
Third-base coach Mike Jirschele waved Lorenzo Cain home from first with the go-ahead run in Game 6 of the ALCS, knowing Jays outfielder Jose Bautista would throw to second base rather than to the nearest cutoff man.
Now here was Hosmer again Sunday night, standing on third with the Royals trailing 2-1 with one out in the ninth inning.
Salvador Perez hit a bouncer between third and short. Mets third baseman David Wright cut across to field the ball, checked Hosmer and threw to first. Routine, right?
Not with the Royals. Never with the Royals.
"I said if David shuffled a couple of times, I was going to shuffle with him, just try and take a chance," Hosmer told me in his postgame interview on FOX.
Hosmer raced home the moment Wright threw the ball. First baseman Lucas Duda made a wild throw to the plate, and Hosmer slid in safely to tie the score.
"I give Hos all the credit," Jirschele said. "I didn't say anything but, 'You're OK.' When Wright went over to field the ball, Hos just shuffled off, shuffled off, shuffled off. As soon as (Wright) dropped his arm to throw, he just took off."
In Kuntz's view, the pivotal aspect of the play was that Hosmer stopped when Wright checked him rather than return to third, which by then was uncovered. The Royals' scouting report had suggested that their players challenge the arms of both Duda and Wright. But Hosmer's play was more instinctive than anything, and Wright told reporters afterward that the first baseman would admit himself that he was "reckless" going home.
One man's definition of reckless is another man's definition of championship baseball.
"Some guys were saying, 'If (Duda) throws it right on the bag, he's out,' " Kuntz said. "We'll take that chance. This is the World Series.
"We don't go, 'What if?' We just go."
A few minutes later, Kuntz opened his hand in the Royals' clubhouse, revealing smudges of blue ink to reporters.
"Here's Harvey. Here's Niese. Here's Reed," Kuntz explained, pointing to names and numbers on his hand that were virtually indecipherable.
What did the numbers represent?
Counts on which the Royals could run on each pitcher -- "hot counts," Kuntz said.
The Royals ran the Mets off the field in Game 5, much as they did to the Athletics in last year's AL Wild Card Game.
Stolen bases led to the tying run in the ninth and the go-ahead run in the 12th. The Royals were 4 for 4 in stolen-base attempts on the night, 7 for 7 in the Series.
As SI's Tom Verducci reported, scouting helped the Royals determine in the ALCS when Price would throw a changeup or make a pickoff throw. The Royals also picked up an important clue for their running game in the World Series, according to sources -- Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud bent his right knee downward on breaking balls, giving the Royals a better chance to run.
Other research also helped -- scouting, analytics, just plain digging. The Royals, Kuntz said, knew that Mets left-hander Jon Niese was quick to the plate and good at holding runners. They knew he attempted pickoff throws when the count was 0-0, but never two in a row. And they knew that on 1-2 counts, he almost always throws a slider.
Sure enough, Hosmer pulled off a successful delayed steal on that count with two outs in the 11th -- delayed steals are useful against left-handed pitchers who otherwise can read a runner's first move and produce 1-3-6 pickoffs, Kuntz said.
Hosmer didn't score, but the Royals were at it again in the 12th after Perez hit a single and was replaced by pinch runner Jarrod Dyson.
Kuntz told Dyson that Mets righty Addison Reed was quick to the plate but did a "little shimmy with his hip," slowing down on two-ball counts. Kuntz said he noticed the difference thanks to video director Mark Topping, who provided him with 20 moves to the plate and 20 pickoff attempts to first for every pitcher.
Sure enough, Dyson stole on 2-0 and advanced to third on a grounder by Alex Gordon, bringing up a pinch hitter who had yet to bat in the postseason.
The top of the 2010 draft included Bryce Harper at No. 1, Manny Machado at No. 3 and Matt Harvey at No. 7.
Colon actually was in the middle of that mix, at No. 4.
He isn't a star like the others; quite the contrary, he's just a backup infielder. But he singled in the tying run and scored the winning run in last year's wild-card game, and manager Ned Yost describes him as "a clutch-type player, a winner" -- albeit one who spent nearly two months in the minors earlier this season.
Yost rarely uses his bench, but pinch hitters are more frequent under NL rules. Colon said he took frequent swings in the batting cage and credited Jonny Gomes with helping him stay ready in a postgame interview with FOX's Erin Andrews. Gomes, mind you, was not even on the Royals' World Series roster. But his veteran presence apparently knows no bounds.
Here's the truly crazy part: Colon had a premonition about the situation in which he would hit.
"In the cage, I was telling Dyson -- and this is no joke -- I have a feeling that I'm going to hit with you on third," Colon said. "A few minutes later, I'm hitting with him on third. I kind of knew. I've seen this. I've prepared for this."
Colon took a fastball for strike one -- he wasn't thinking about timing, he just wanted to see a pitch. He then was unable to hold a check swing on a slider, putting him down 0-2.
"I'm like OK, you're a good hitter with two strikes," Colon said. "I never counted myself out."
He took a pitch, fouled off another -- and then, ahem, lined a slider into left to score Dyson with the go-ahead run.
"I can't describe it. I was pumped up. I was so crazy looking into the dugout," Colon said. "I found Jonny right away, Jonny Gomes.
"It was almost like you want to tear up. But you can't. The game is still going on. It was an incredible moment."
One more incredible moment in a season of incredible moments.
Congrats to the Royals, a fun team to watch, a fun to cover, as worthy a champion as you will ever see.