NEW YORK – Of all the ways for the Kansas City Royals to win their first championship in 30 years, this was the most fitting for the team that put the never in never say die: coming back again, aggressive as ever, relentlessly punishing the New York Mets for one final, merciful time.
The final was 7-2 Royals, the World Series theirs after five games, and they jumped and hugged and did the standard celebrating a champion does on the mound at Citi Field. This was different, though, not just because the Royals fell 90 feet short last season but because this team, if not for its seven epic comebacks, would've found itself similarly beaten.
Instead, a five-run explosion in the 12th inning blew open a game that the Royals had tied in the ninth, and the party that will last all fall and winter long in Kansas City was just starting. Pinch hitter Christian Colon provided the first blow, knocking in Jarrod Dyson to break the tie. Four more runs followed, and Wade Davis, baseball's best reliever, secured the last three outs to start the on-field dog pile.
In it was Lorenzo Cain, whose bases-clearing double accounted for the last three runs, and Eric Hosmer, whose daring run home in the ninth inning with two outs tied the score and let the Royals use their bullpen mastery. Manager Ned Yost, so often maligned in Kansas City, stood amid the chaos, admiring the plucky, aggressive, talented team he'd nurtured from perennial losers to postseason juggernaut.
The Royals' eight come-from-behind victories – seven by at least two runs – epitomized a group that prided itself on contact hitting that proved more and more vital as the postseason went on.
As the clock passed midnight and Sunday turned into Monday, the game grew even more odd. Already the questionable decision of Mets manager Terry Collins to leave in starter Matt Harvey for a shutout attempt in the ninth inning came back to bite him. After mustering four hits against Harvey over the first eight innings, Lorenzo Cain walked to lead off the ninth and stole second base. Hosmer, who had only two hits all series, smoked a double over left fielder Michael Conforto's head to score Cain and halve the lead.
Following a Mike Moustakas groundout that advanced Hosmer to third, Jeurys Familia broke Salvador Perez's bat on a looping bouncer toward third base. David Wright fielded it, checked that Hosmer wasn't running and tossed the ball to first baseman Lucas Duda, the crispness of his throw inhibited by a nagging shoulder injury.
As Wright released the ball, Hosmer took off toward home, challenging Duda to record the final out of the game on a play at home plate. Royals scouts told players to challenge the arms of Wright and Duda, and the scenario was drawn up perfectly. A great throw certainly would've nabbed Hosmer. A good throw might've. Duda's throw was a disaster, yanked to catcher Travis d'Arnuad's arm side and past him, allowing Hosmer to slide in for the tying run.
The teams traded outs in the 10th and 11th innings before Kansas City touched up reliever Addison Reed in the 12th. For all the heartache and agita, the swaying legs and fidgety hands, the full gamut of emotions that strangled Citi Field as the Mets blew another World Series lead, never did they imagine it would get this ugly.
Perez singled, and Dyson ran for him and stole second off d'Arnaud. He moved to third on a groundout and came home on a single from Colon, who hadn't logged a single postseason at-bat.
The Royals kept the line moving, their motto, and down went the Mets, Familia with his third blown save of the series, Reed with the loss and the Royals left to celebrate. They'd spent the spring and summer capturing the pulse of their city and making it race in October.
And as Perez picked someone to dunk with his customary Gatorade bath, he chose Yost, a champion manager chosen by Dayton Moore, a champion general manager, all of it surreal because to associate champion with the Kansas City Royals seems far-fetched.
It wasn't. And it's undeniable: 30 years after 1985, one year after they lost Game 7, the Royals are the World Series champions again.