Royals on one of the great runs in playoff history
Kansas City is just the fourth team to win its first six games in a postseason
KANSAS CITY -- When the White Sox honored Paul Konerko on the last weekend of the regular season, the Royals were looking on intently from the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field. They had clinched a Wild Card spot into the postseason the night before but still turned out in large numbers on the top step, paying their respects to a rival.
Konerko paused at one point to congratulate the Kansas City players for playing their way into the postseason for the first time since 1985. He wished them luck and added something that had to be music to the Royals' ears.
"You guys remind me of a team I played for once," Konerko said.
He didn't say it, but he was certainly alluding to the 2005 White Sox. That team fought until the 160th game of the season to win an American League Central title, entered the postseason as a 99-win sleeper and shocked the baseball world with a World Series sweep.
Give the Royals credit for validating Konerko's observation. They might have been the least appreciated of the 10 postseason teams, but they head toward Tuesday night's Game 3 of the AL Championship Series at 7 p.m. CT on TBS on one of the best runs in the era of expanded playoffs.
The Royals lead the AL's No. 2-seeded Orioles 2-0 after sweeping the AL Division Series against the top-seeded Angels and rallying from a 7-3 deficit against Jon Lester and the A's in the Wild Card Game simply to avoid being done after one game.
"I think coming back and getting to the playoffs, winning that game against Oakland, that breeds a lot of confidence," Royals closer Greg Holland said. "You understand you can do it under extraordinary circumstances with a guy like Lester going against us who has roughed us up in the past. You're down whatever the score was and you come back to win. It tells everybody in the room you're never really out of it, no matter what the score is."
Like the '05 White Sox, the Royals didn't clinch a spot in the postseason until the last Friday of the regular season. The Royals had little chance to catch their breath as they were still trying to catch Detroit for the AL Central title until the season's final day.
Few teams have ever run this far on a combination of talent and adrenaline.
The Royals are only the fourth MLB team to win their first six games in a postseason, not that it guarantees you anything.
The Rockies swept the NLDS and the NLCS against the Phillies and D-backs, respectively, in 2007, but were then swept by Boston in the World Series. That was one of the most one-sided World Series in history, with the Red Sox winning the opener, 13-1, and the Rockies leading for only three innings in the four games.
Clint Hurdle's team had won 21 of 22 games entering the World Series, including a one-game tiebreaker against the Padres for the NL's Wild Card spot. But when the wheels came off on baseball's biggest stage, there was no repairing the wagon.
The 1970 Orioles went 6-0 to start the postseason in 1970, the second year of divisional play. They swept the Twins in the ALCS (then using a best-of-five format) and were within one game of sweeping the World Series, but the Reds rallied in the eighth inning to win Game 4. Mike Cuellar nailed down the championship the next day.
That eighth-inning rally against Jim Palmer and Eddie Watt still carries with it some historical significance, especially for the Reds. Because of it, the 1976 Big Red Machine is the only team that has ever gone through the expanded postseason without a loss.
Behind Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, those Reds went 7-0 against the Phillies and Yankees.
Thirty-eight years later, that's the standard that the Royals have a chance to obliterate -- not that anyone really thinks they will, nor are many of us paying any attention to this game within the game. But Konerko's '05 White Sox barely lost once they got on their roll, going 11-1 in the postseason and winning eight straight games after a loss in Game 1 of the ALCS.
So far, the Royals aren't just keeping up. They're ahead of the pace.
Mojo, pitching, defense and big home runs are quite a recipe for success.