Wild Card chase highlights KC's outstanding '13
An energized young core helped Royals claim their best season in years
KANSAS CITY -- Call it the big revival, the great awakening, the re-birth of Royal blue.
Bottom line: Just call Kansas City's 2013 season a lot of fun. The Royals recovered from an awful month of May, made a run at an American League Wild Card berth and finished 10 games over .500 at 86-76.
OK, they were just third in the AL Central and seven games out, but Cowtown hadn't seen such excitement since Jesse James robbed the Kansas City Fair or Truman beat Dewey or the Royals beat the Cardinals in the World Series. Those events took place, respectively, in 1872, 1948 and 1985, so no matter which you choose, it's been a long time.
Baseball caught a breath of new life in KC, inspiring considerable optimism for the 2014 season.
"Everybody just kept grinding," manager Ned Yost said. "We came back and got off on the right foot out of the All-Star break and just kept going from there."
As the All-Star Game approached, the Royals went into a five-game tailspin and entered the break six games under .500. They had four off-days to think it over and apparently didn't like the images that were conjured up.
In their first game back, Ervin Santana pitched a 1-0 win over the Tigers and they were on their way to an AL-best 43-27 record in the second half.
Here is a glimpse at five prominent storylines of the Royals' 2013 season:
5. Three All-Stars put glitter on the season
The baseball world was paying attention to Kansas City as things picked up in June and July. For the first time since 1989, the Royals placed three players on the AL All-Star team -- left fielder Alex Gordon, catcher Salvador Perez and closer Greg Holland. They all played and did well.
The Royals' emphasis on defense also played well and five individuals were up for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Gordon, Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer won at their positions; shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain did not, but were nominated. In addition, Cain was named the team's top defensive player by Wilson Sporting Goods.
4. The rotation needed a new twist and got it
With the young position players coming into their own, more depth and improved talent was needed for the pitching rotation. So general manager Dayton Moore swung into action. Jeremy Guthrie was brought back, signed as a free agent. A trade fetched Santana from the Angels for the last year of his contract. A six-player deal with the Rays inserted James Shields and Wade Davis into the starting five.
Shields, Guthrie and Santana were effective all season long and the Royals' staff was the AL's best with a 3.45 ERA, the team's top mark since 1978. Their ability to pile up innings enabled the stable of tough relievers to get sufficient rest and that showed in a bullpen ERA of 2.55, the best in franchise history.
3. Unusual games run gamut of emotions
The season was still young when the Royals came into Boston just after the horrific marathon bombing. The April 19 game was postponed and the city was shut down as police hunted and caught the terrorists. The next day's game was an emotional attempt to return to normalcy at jam-packed Fenway Park. The Red Sox won, 4-3, after touching pregame ceremonies.
"It was special, it was cool," Gordon said. "I almost started crying at some of the points. So it was a special moment and we were happy to be a part of it."
There were unusual twists to the May 30 game at St. Louis. First, Hall of Famer George Brett arrived to take over as hitting coach. Then, after the game started one hour late due to rain, another downpour interrupted play in the ninth inning just after the Royals went ahead, 4-3. Umpires waited 4 hours 32 minutes and finished the game at 3:14 a.m. CT. Primary emotion: Sleepy-eyed joy.
2. Royals ran hot and cold, rarely lukewarm
Winning six of their first nine games put the Royals in an April battle for first place and by May 5, they were 17-10 and just a half-game behind. They lost 22 of their next 28 games and, on June 4, were in last place and 7 1/2 games out.
Was the season over? Not hardly. They ripped off a 20-12 stretch and were one game under .500 before staggering into the All-Star break with five straight losses. But Santana shut out the Indians on the first day back and a new revival was ignited -- a 21-8 record through mid-August only to be followed, of course, by seven straight losses. But, despite a grueling 44-games-in-44-days stretch caused by early-season postponements including a snowout, the Royals stayed alive until almost the end.
1. Fans go wild over run for the Wild Card
For the 154th game of the year on Sept. 21, it was Fan Appreciation Night, but it was the fans who showed how much they appreciated the Royals' run for a Wild Card berth by turning out 36,575 strong, a sellout. For a team not in postseason play since 1985, having a shot at the AL's second Wild Card berth ignited considerable fan passion. The Royals lost that game to the Rangers and their long-shot hopes were damaged. But, boy, it was fun for a while.
A Sept. 8 win over the first-place Tigers had stoked the Royals' hopes.
"We know we're in it. We know we're close and that's all we need to know," Hosmer said. "Other than that, we're going to come out here fighting to the end."
It wasn't until the 158th game of the season, a 6-0 loss at Seattle, that the Royals were finally eliminated from the Wild Card chase. And they were already looking forward to 2014.