Here's to you, Royals fans -- you've had quite a year, too
KANSAS CITY, Mo. --Five observations on current state of the Royals.
SALUTE TO FANS
Don't be fooled by the final Royals attendance figures that showed, on average, about 100 fewer people attended games this season than in 2012, when the team wasn't even close to a playoff chase.
There has been way more interest in the Royals this season, and all you have to do is look at the Royals' television ratings on FOX Sports Kansas City, which have shown a near 70 percent increase over last year (through August).
In fact, the Royals broke numerous television records throughout the year. The running joke for much of July and August was, "Ho-hum, another day, another new TV ratings record."
Keep in mind, too, that the attendance figures were a bit skewed last year by the All-Star Game. To guarantee a ticket to that game, fans had to buy a season-ticket package. That boosted season-ticket sales last year by about 2,100 a game.
There were no such built-in attendance boosters this year, other than pure interest in a team that fans clearly fell in love with.
One must look no further than the last week of the season to confirm that. Almost 5,000 fans purchased day-of-the-game tickets to see Yordano Ventura make his major league debut Tuesday, and the 21,685 fans on hand treated the game like a World Series tilt.
Ventura got a standing ovation after each of the first and second innings, then received another one when he left the game in the sixth.
That same passion carried over into the weekend, when more than 36,000 fans showed up for Saturday night's game, and almost 28,000 attended Sunday's home finale. The Sunday crowd was treated to one of the great thrills of the season -- Justin Maxwell's walk-off grand slam off former Royals closer Joakim Soria.
Royals fans deserved that treat.
THE MAXWELL ADDITION
On the subject of Maxwell, let's give some credit to general manager Dayton Moore and the front office for finding the outfielder in a rather low-key trade deadline deal. Maxwell has hit .303 with the Royals and has won two extra-inning games with homers, including the 4-3, 12-inning win over the Mets on Aug. 3, and, of course, Sunday's win over Texas.
"That is the coolest thing I've seen since I've been here," Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said after Sunday's win.
Remember that at the time, some bloggers and fans hated the Maxwell trade because the Royals gave up low-level pitching prospect Kyle Smith to acquire him.
As one Royals official said of the fan grumbling at the time, "We'll probably take 20 to 25 pitchers again in next year's draft and I'm guessing we'll be able to replace Kyle Smith, don't you think?"
SHIELDS WORTH IT
I've mentioned it often before, but the James Shields trade was worth giving up super prospect Wil Myers because Shields has helped change the losing culture inside the clubhouse.
Shields has more than lived up to his image as a "Big Game" pitcher, too. In August and September, when the Royals needed him to be a stopper, he went 7-2. And in the 12 games he started in the last two months, the Royals won nine.
In his last three outings, Shields has given up just three earned runs in 22 innings.
You have to love what Rangers starter Matt Garza said of Eric Hosmer after Hoz smoked a low outside fastball Saturday night into the left-field bullpen for an opposite-field homer.
"Man, that is one strong kid to hit that pitch the other way," Garza said, shaking his head in wonder.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
I do wonder how many more games the Royals could have won in September if the Royals' best hitter in recent years, Billy Butler, had showed up to the party.
Butler hasn't homered since Aug. 27 and has just two extra-base hits the entire month of September. He also hasn't had a multi-RBI game since Aug. 28.
When he's hot, Butler can carry the Royals on a winning streak. And unfortunately, that hasn't happened this month.
Now, it's not like Butler has been mired in a huge slump. In fact, he is hitting .307 for the month. We're just longing for the "Billy Bomb."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.