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Royal Atonement: 2015 World Series Review

Then, just like that, baseball had a new reigning monarch.

With one last rally, one final deluge of hits and heart and hustle, the Kansas City Royals blew the Mets aside and secured their first World Series title in thirty years.

On a fateful night in Queens, Matt Harvey, the embattled hometown ace, dominated for eight frames in Game 5 before coughing up a ninth inning run that sparked yet another Kansas comeback. Eric Hosmer forced extra innings with a daring dash for home on a groundout to third base, then the floodgates opened as the Royals scored five times in the twelfth inning to complete their emotional quest for glory.

In many respects, this World Series was a battle of the bridesmaids, as two perennial underdogs jostled on the biggest stage, beneath the brightest lights. Together, the Mets and Royals have just 99 years of history, most of which has been spent in the cellar. Yet, on this grandest of occasions, that’s were the similarities ended. In every facet of the game, Kansas City was firmer, sharper and more confident. Indeed, the Royals were just explicitly better than the Mets, when all was said and done. They were deserving winners.

The tone of this Series was set on its very first pitch, as a drizzle besmirched Kauffman Stadium. Harvey uncorked a fastball to Alcides Escobar, who swatted the first offering deep into the left-centre field gap, where it was booted by Yoenis Cespedes. A breathing embodiment of the Royals’ aggressive ethos, Escobar surged around the bases like a prize gazelle, flying across the dish in just fifteen seconds with a stunning inside-the-park home run, a feat unseen in the World Series since 1929. The pattern was set.

Through the entire five-game series, Kansas City pushed the boundaries and asked innumerable questions of New York, which all too frequently was devoid of answers. The Royals out-hit the Mets 47-35; stole seven bases compared to the Mets’ one; and took the extra base at almost every available opportunity. The aggression of Kansas City put New York on the back foot. It made the Mets reactive rather than proactive, and reduced their existence to a mere teeth-gnashing fight for survival. A fight they eventually lost, somewhat inevitably.

One of baseball’s great truisms is that, in a long series, the team which makes the fewest mistakes will win. In this often bewildering Fall Classic, we saw that play out before our very eyes, as the Mets held a lead in all five games, but were able to win just one of them. New York made six errors; Kansas City made two. While the Royals got almost flawlessly defence from infielders like Mike Moustakas and Escobar, the Mets kicked the ball around mercilessly, with critical errors from David Wright and Daniel Murphy costing them games, and, ultimately, a legitimate shot at the championship.

In the end, the Mets were just a little too satisfied with winning a pennant; just a little too content with enjoying their moment in the sun. By contrast, the Royals were famished for conclusive success. After losing to the Giants in seven excruciating games last year, Kansas City vowed to go one better this time. The pursuit of a world championship, and the banishment of those dark memories, came to define this city and its team. After watching the masters celebrate on their own turf last year, the Royals learnt how to comport themselves, and how to pull the final trigger. This season, they were consumed by a deep determination and a ferocious force of will. Kansas City was hellbent on winning, and the Mets were but a small block in the road, mangled and tossed aside as the Royal juggernaut rolled on through.

In the postseason, Kansas City produced eight come-from-behind victories, a Major League record. The Royals beat Houston in the ALDS and trumped Toronto to capture a second successive pennant. The Astros had more swagger, the Blue Jays more power, but no team had as much singleminded resolve as the Kansas City Royals, who united as one cohesive family behind a common goal: winning the World Series, and ending so many years of hurt.

This win was for Edinson Volquez, who pitched so bravely in the wake of his father’s tragic death. This win was for Moustakas and Chris Young, who suffered similar heartache earlier in the year. And this win was for Ned Yost, who is a fitting patriarch for this team, and who finally has a crowning moment to validate forty years of blind baseball devotion.

This win was also for Salvador Perez, who couldn’t get the tying run home from third base last year, but who returned to become World Series MVP this time around. No catcher since 1914 has caught more games in consecutive seasons than Perez, who earned his moment the hard way.

In retrospect, the only surprise from this Series was the Royals dropping Game 3. The disparity between the two teams, in terms of experience, readiness and command of emotion, was vast and awkward. Wright, Murphy and Cespedes, the heart of the Mets’ lineup, went a combined 11-for-64 in the Series, while the entire offence mustered just seven extra-base hits in five games. When it really mattered, beneath the searing microscope of World Series baseball, New York just didn’t have enough. They were an imperfect team that ran out of pixie dust at the worst possible time.

Meanwhile, the Royals had all the required pieces, and Ned Yost finally finished his jigsaw before the midnight bells tolled. It’s worth taking a moment to comprehend the sheer improbability of that achievement just five or ten years ago. In the 2000s, Kansas City was a baseball wasteland, cast adrift by fan indifference and consigned to obscurity by a starkly unfair financial system. The Royals didn’t have any money, so they were essentially doomed to a life of subservience to the alpha Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers.

Between 1986 and 2013, there was no postseason baseball in Kansas City. Between 1995 and 2012, the Royals finished 25 games out of first place on average. The team lost more than 90 games in eight of the eleven seasons between 2002 and 2012, and nobody was interested in its plight. At one stage, to watch the Kansas City Royals was to submit oneself to three hours of morbid torture. They were that bad, that boring.

Yet, with such ineptitude came a slew of high draft picks, with which Dayton Moore slowly constructed a winner. Alex Gordon became a Royal that way, as did Hosmer and Moustakas. Young international talent was also acquired cheaply, with Perez and Yordano Ventura, the firebrand ace, coming aboard as teenagers. And so, while the Royals stunk at the Major League level for so many years, this new core, this new monster, was being assembled down on the farm.

This homegrown team was tutored in a relentless, almost grating brand of small ball, with emphasis on contact hitting, aggressive baserunning and altruistic sacrifice that, hundreds of games later, congealed into a World Series-winning effort on the expansive terrain of Citi Field, New York.

From the wreckage of constant despair and repeated failure, every single member of the Kansas City Royals organisation bought into one philosophy, united behind one dream. Last night, that philosophy finally delivered, and that dream finally came true. And when it was all over, and the dust of another season settled, the baseball kingdom had been turned on its head, and the most unlikely prince finally occupied the throne.

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