After near miss, KC on mission to win it all
Royals happy to return to World Series, but won't be satisfied without title
KANSAS CITY -- Amid the postgame celebration that erupted after the Royals claimed their second straight American League pennant with a dramatic Game 6 win on Friday night against the Blue Jays, there appeared a visible reminder that this team's mission is far from accomplished.
A fan among the sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium held a sign -- "WE'RE BACK WITH UNFINISHED BUSINESS" -- for all to see while the Royals players, families and staff soaked up the moment on the field in the minutes after closer Wade Davis induced an AL Championship Series-ending ground ball to third base from Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Yes, Kansas City compiled the AL's best regular-season record. Yes, the Royals withstood an AL Division Series challenge from the dynamic young Astros, who took them to the full five games before going home for the offseason. And yes, they pulled out a 4-3 victory against the Blue Jays on Friday night to clinch the AL pennant.
No, they are not satisfied.
Excited? Yes. Happy? Yes. Satisfied? Not a chance.
Kansas City spent last offseason reliving that seven-game loss to San Francisco in the World Series, which ended with the potential tying run at third base, leaving the Royals 90 feet short of one of the great Cinderella stories in Major League history.
When the Royals showed up for Spring Training in Surprise, Ariz., in February, however, they weren't looking back anymore. Their focus was on claiming a title for the second time in franchise history, the first time in 30 years.
"Let's go finish what we didn't finish last year," owner David Glass said as he accepted the AL championship trophy from Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the honorary AL president, igniting a loud roar from the fans who refused to leave.
The Royals will have three days to regroup before the Mets come to town, and the first World Series featuring two teams from the expansion era opens Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET airtime on FOX, with game time slated for 8 p.m.).
It will be a stretch in which the players can catch their breath and relax, as much as they can allow themselves to relax given their eight-month mission.
"We are a better team this year than last," said shortstop Alcides Escobar, the ALCS MVP after hitting .478 with six runs scored and five RBIs.
How much better?
Are they so much better that they can knock off the strong-armed National League champion Mets, and become the 15th team in history to bounce back from losing a World Series one year to claiming the title the next?
That is something that has happened only three times in the divisional era: The 1969-70 Orioles, the 1976-77 Yankees and the 1988-89 A's.
"There is such a great culture on this club," said first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose eighth-inning single provided the clinching run and gave him 23 career postseason RBIs, matching the franchise record set by Hall of Famer George Brett. "There is such a focus of what needs to be done."
Yes, Kansas City knows what is at stake.
"You know, last year at this time, we were so excited to be here," manager Ned Yost said of the team's postseason battle as an AL Wild Card in 2014. "This year, from the first day at Spring Training, we expected to be here."
The Royals are "here," as Yost put it, but they are not yet at their destination.
They need four more victories to reach that point of feeling the mission was accomplished.