Royals earn praise from '85 champions
NEW YORK -- Thirty years ago, it took the Kansas City Royals the full seven games to claim a World Series championship, and in the process, they had to overcome 3-1 deficits in both the American League Championship Series against the Blue Jays and in the World Series against the Cardinals.
The current version of the Royals ended the franchise's 30-year championship drought on Sunday night against the Mets, and while the ledger will show they did it in five games, what was apparent to Kansas City players of the past is that this year's club also showed an amazing resiliency.
The Royals didn't face six elimination games en route to winning their championship, but in the World Series alone, they had to rally to overcome deficits in the ninth inning of Game 1 and Game 5, as well as in the eighth inning of Game 4.
"I think this team is more talented than , but it is similar in its refusal to give up, its belief in each other and ability to handle the challenges," former Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza said. "They could have easily been behind 3-games-to-2, but instead they are celebrating."
The Royals earned it. A preseason pick to finish fourth and an underdog throughout the postseason despite winning an AL-best 95 games in the regular season, Kansas City disposed of Houston in the AL Division Series, and then Toronto in the ALCS before taking on New York in the World Series.
Unlike those 1985 Royals, who lost back-to-back home games to the Cardinals to open the World Series, and then split the first two games in St. Louis before running off three consecutive victories, these Royals faced elimination in only the ALDS before rallying for back-to-back victories in the best-of-five series.
Kansas City won the first two games against Toronto, and then the first two against New York.
But the Royals showed a refusal to quit, becoming the first team to come from behind for eight victories in a postseason. And in three of their four World Series victories, they rallied against Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who blew a World Series-record three saves.
"A lot of it comes from having a tight-knit bunch, and that's what was similar between us and the current Royals," said Bret Saberhagen, the 1985 World Series MVP, when he pitched two complete-game victories, including Game 7. "It's not 25 guys in 25 cabs. It's guys who like each other. The core came up together through the system.
"And what matters is what we do, not what I do."
It was the Royals' bench erupting as one when Christian Colon, in his only at-bat of the postseason, delivered the go-ahead single as a pinch-hitter in the 12th, sparking a five-run rally that lifted Kansas City to a 7-2 victory.
"I think it's a chemistry that exists in the clubhouse now, like it did with us," said John Wathan, a catcher on the 1985 team who later managed the Royals and is now a special assistant go general manager Dayton Moore. "There's no real superstar on this team, but there are a lot of very good baseball players."
And now the baseball world is well aware of these Royals, who despite taking the Giants to seven games in the World Series a year ago, were projected by some to miss the postseason altogether. They were never a favorite to win any postseason game they played.
However, the Royals won 11 of the 16 games they did play, much like the team that was never favored to win a game in the 1985 postseason knocked off both Blue Jays and Cardinals despite having to win three elimination games against both.
"We were the least likely team to win anything on paper," admitted former catcher Jim Sundberg, "but our pitching staff hit a high gear the second week of September, and it never slowed down.
"I can remember the feeling before the fifth game of [the 1985] World Series. It was very quiet in the clubhouse. There was a sense of focus. I thought, 'So this is what it feels like to be on the brink of elimination.'"
This year's Royals never came close to the brink of elimination against the Mets. But they faced their late-game challenges, and they met them without flinching.
Now they can enjoy the reward for their efforts, and the adulation of a dynamic fan base in Kansas City.
"It was cool to see," said Gubicza. "After a while, you start to forget little things, but watching this team brought back so many memories. The '85 team is one the Kansas City fans embraced for a long time. Now we can hand it over to the new team. They earned it."
And they did it the hard way, much like the '85 Royals, battling from behind to come out on top.