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Playoff fever is in air and Royals want more of it

KANSAS CITY -- Not many of the Royals' players have experienced a late-season push for the postseason, but the excitement is evident in their clubhouse.

"Things can change overnight, that's what I love about this game," said pitcher James Shields, who has seen it before. "This is what we play for -- September baseball. It's what we grew up watching on TV, and this is why we play the game -- for these moments."

Shields has been through the wars and reached a World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. It's new, though, for first baseman Eric Hosmer and his buddies, who came up through the Kansas City farm system.

"We've got a lot of guys in here that believe we can do it," Hosmer said after the Royals took two of three from the Indians. "When you've got guys that are fighting for one goal and doing anything we can to win ballgames, it's real fun to come to the field and play every day, and that's what we're doing."

There are only 10 games left for the Royals, and the first three are at Kauffman Stadium this weekend against the Texas Rangers. This is the team the Royals trail by three games in the battle for an American League Wild Card spot.

"Meaningful baseball is something we've been wanting," reliever Tim Collins said. "For a lot of these guys that have been around here for six or seven years, this is real exciting, especially for those guys, and even for us young guys to play meaningful baseball in September in the big leagues is awesome. I think we've just got to keep a level head and keep pushing."

Winning championships at the Minor League level has been happening frequently for the past few years in the Royals' organization. Just this week, the Omaha Storm Chasers won the Triple-A National Championship, and Class A Idaho Falls took the Pioneer League crown.

But a meaningful September stretch in the Major Leagues is entirely different.

"There's no substitute for it. You get little previews of it at the Double-A championship and the Triple-A championship, but it's a total different scenario here," Royals manager Ned Yost said the other day. "You're on every TV station nationwide. My neighbor -- a lawyer next to my farm -- called and said there's a story in The New York Times today about the Royals that he read. You don't get that in Double-A and Triple-A. So there's so much more emphasis, you're so much more in the spotlight here and you have to learn to deal with that."

The Royals have been learning fast this year, because it's been a season of enormous peaks and valleys. They started out 17-10 prior to a horrid 6-22 stretch mostly in May. Then they got on a 20-12 roll, but were 0-5 right before the All-Star Game. After the break, they roared to a 19-5 record, sputtered to 2-10, then got into gear and have gone 16-8 since.

"They've done a nice job, because it's rough at times," Yost said.

It all adds up to 80-72 and new respect in the baseball world.

"We bought into the process after the All-Star break, and we stuck to the same thing we've been doing all year," Shields said. "That's coming together and playing as a team. We've got a lot of heart and character in this clubhouse, and I think these guys understand now how to win ballgames."

The Royals will finish their regular season on the road next week, with three games in Seattle followed by four in Chicago at U.S. Cellular Field.

"We need to win games, and if we can keep this real close going into our road trip, we've been real good on the road this year and that's good news," said Shields, mindful of the team's 38-36 away record.

Royals fans, waiting since the 1985 World Series championship for their team to return to the postseason, have experienced a crescendo of up-on-your-feet enthusiasm this week at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals players are pumped.

"It's rewarding," center fielder Jarrod Dyson said. "We're not there yet, we have to make it. That's where the reward comes when we get in there. We know what we can do. We work hard doing it in the offseason and in the spring. We made a lot of moves to put this team together, and we're trying to take advantage of it. Do we feel good where we're at right now? Yeah. Are we satisfied? No."

Right now, the Royals are having a great time.

"It's a blast," Hosmer said.

"You look in the dugout, and if we score a run, we're having a blast in there. That's the type of energy you've got to play with, especially late in September. Nobody's counting us out in here, and we believe we can do this thing."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for Associate reporter Kathleen Gier contributed to this story.

Kansas City Royals