Legendary Royals bullpen trio honored on special weekend

May 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- Before the legendary H-D-H reliever trio was created during the Royals’ 2014-15 postseason runs, saw exactly what a good Royals bullpen did to opposing hitters.

When Davis was still with the Rays in 2012, the Royals deployed (2.35 ERA that year), (2.96 ERA), Tim Collins (3.36 ERA), Aaron Crow (3.48 ERA) and, until he was traded, Jonathan Broxton (2.27 ERA with Kansas City) in their bullpen. And Davis remembers his teammates in Tampa Bay coming back into the dugout in disbelief.

“Our hitters came into the dugout, and they’re like, ‘What was that?’” Davis said this weekend at Kauffman Stadium. “For four straight innings. Going down there, you weren’t going to have a job if you don’t fall right in line with that type of mentality and the product.”

Two years later, Davis became a reliever and joined the unit, helping take it to the next level. Herrera, Davis and Holland were nearly unhittable in 2014, when the Royals won the American League pennant for the first time in nearly three decades, and again in ‘15, when they won the World Series.

As part of the Royals’ 10-year anniversary celebration of the AL championship team, the team recognized Herrera, Davis and Holland with a bobblehead giveaway on each of the three days of their series vs. the A’s. On their respective bobblehead game, each former reliever threw out the first pitch.

They were deployed in order: Herrera on Friday, Davis on Saturday, Holland on Sunday. Davis caught Herrera's throw, and Holland caught Davis'. On Sunday, Holland's son, Nash, who was born during the 2014 ALDS, caught Holland's first pitch.

And all three bobbleheads interlock -- because there is no H-D-H without each one of them.

“The bullpen was just as good as a bullpen can be,” general manager J.J. Picollo said.

In 2014, Davis, Herrera and Holland each posted a sub-1.50 ERA, while making 71, 70 and 65 appearances, respectively. At the time, no other team had ever had even two relievers, let alone three, post sub-1.50 ERAs with more than 60-plus appearances.

They were also -- and still are -- the only trio with sub-1.50 ERAs and at least 50 strikeouts each. Only the 2013 Rangers had even two relievers (Neal Cotts and Joe Nathan) reach those plateaus.

"It's hard to describe," Holland said. "You couldn't really dream up anything like that. It was such a blur for me, because I just wanted to stay focused on doing my job."

If the Royals were leading or in a close deficit by the sixth or seventh inning, their confidence in winning that game was at its peak.

“Our recipe was we needed to get through the fifth and sixth innings with a lead, and it’s over,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “Because we’ve got the bullpen.”

The relievers felt it, too.

“You saw a lot of defensive swings as it started to progress throughout the year,” Davis said. “A lot of guys went up with a two-strike approach when it was 0-0. You started seeing that especially against Kelvin because he was throwing so hard. And Greg was such an unpredictable pitcher on what he was going to do. … And I thought that helped build confidence, because now you feel like, ‘OK, guys are defending against me, and not me against them.’”

When former general manager Dayton Moore told then-manager Ned Yost his strategy to create the best bullpen he could while having efficient veteran starters, Yost agreed that it would give the Royals an advantage.

At the time, though, he didn’t understand how big it would be.

“Their dominance was such that the opposing team knew that after the fifth inning, if they didn’t have the lead, they were in trouble,” Yost said. “If they were tied or behind, that game was over. There was just no way they were going to score off of those three guys. They were as dominant as they could be. Then in ’15, you add [Ryan] Madson and [Luke] Hochevar. We had four closers on that team."

After the Royals showed the advantage of having a dominant bullpen, there were other teams that constructed rosters differently, with more focus on high-powered and nasty relievers.

But Davis isn’t sure if the Kansas City bullpens of 2014-15 will ever be recreated.

“You’re always striving for something like that as a team,” Davis said. “You’re going to have groups who can do those things, for sure, but as far as drawing it up, that was more than just having three guys with good stuff that were competitive. When you’re able to keep leveling each other up because of your relationship -- we were able to root for each other, but still try to one-up each other. That’s what it felt like.

“It wasn’t just something that you had. I think it was something that developed over time, and then able to sustain it for another year and add to it. It was contagious because of the personalities.”