Webb: Hosmer, Moose, Cain, Esky, et al, will always be Forever Royal

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royals world series

The 2015 Kansas City Royals wiped out decades of frustration by defeating the New York Mets in five games for the title.

June 26, 2014. That day is one of a handful that stand out when I think about the Kansas City Royals of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.

Two days earlier, I watched from the press box as the Royals struggled, as everybody does, against Clayton Kershaw. I was there to interview Davey Lopes, the first-base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a Washburn University alumnus, for The Ichabod magazine.

Though my interview was done an hour before the game began, I stayed for the experience and as a reminder of how fortunate I was to cover sports at newspapers for more than a decade. I remember being impressed that nearly 30,000 people attended a game at Kauffman Stadium in late June.

A couple of days later, I went straight from work to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Leawood to buy a basketball for my daughter, who mentioned earlier in the week that she wanted to learn how to play basketball.

Rushing to the checkout line, I did a double-take as a looked to my right. Is that? Wait … Dayton Moore? What in the world is he doing at a Dick’s Sporting Goods?

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A decade after inheriting a mess, Dayton Moore has built one of the classiest organizations in baseball.

After hesitating, I approached Moore as he neared the checkout line. “Excuse me, are you Dayton Moore?” Obviously, I knew the answer. He hesitated, almost as if he was afraid to be approached by somebody during a recent Royals slump. “Yes, yes I am.”

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be surprised by what I said next. “I just wanted to tell you thanks for bringing winning baseball back to Kansas City. I know you’re a busy man, so I’m going to get out of your way.”

Moore reached out his hand to shake mine, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” It was as if he needed to hear it.

After interviewing a number of athletes, coaches and sports executives during my career in newspapers, I knew the vast majority of them typically don’t want to hang around and chat. But as I started to walk away, Moore held firm his handshake and asked me what my name was.

We spoke for about five minutes. He stopped short of apologizing for the recent slump, though I could tell it bothered him. I wondered how many times in the past several years he had a conversation with fans that was far less complimentary.

The other thing I remember about that conversation is that after learning I was there to buy a basketball for my daughter, he brought his son over and introduced him. Same firm handshake and steady eye contact.

Since that point, I’ve been a huge Dayton Moore fan.

END OF THE DROUGHT

Three months later, as I walked the sideline at a high school football game in northeast Kansas, I tried to check the score of the Royals-White Sox game on my phone. The reception in Waverly wasn’t cooperating, but the public address announcer provided updates throughout the evening.

With each update, in the midst of a competitive game between two good teams, the crowd erupted. The loudest applause came at 9:51 p.m.: “Final score: Royals 3, White Sox 1.” For the first time in 29 years, Kansas City was in the playoffs.

The following Monday, I spent an hour at work trying to get into the portal for playoff tickets. When I finally did, I had two choices: Purchase tickets for the Wild-Card game or Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Knowing my work schedule was hectic that week, I opted for the ALDS, even though there was no guarantee the Royals would be there. Three years later, I still kick myself for not picking the Wild-Card game.

As my wife and I settled in at home on Sept. 30 for the Wild-Card game against Oakland, I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. Nerves became anger when manager Ned Yost replaced James Shields with Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning of a game the Royals led 3-2.

By the end of the inning, my blood pressure was through the roof and face bright red as I screamed at the TV that Yost had to be fired as soon as the game ended.

My wife opted for bed not long after that, kissing my forehead and whispering, “I’m sorry, honey” in the seventh inning. I decided to stay up, though I changed the channel and followed the rest of the game on Twitter.

What unfolded in the eighth, ninth and 12th innings also rank among my favorite memories of The Core. I’ll never forget hitting the refresh button to see fellow Royals fans post updates full of exclamation points as Billy Butler ripped a single into right field to cut the lead to two and Hosmer scored on a wild pitch.

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Salvador Perez’s 12th-inning single during the 2014 Wild-Card game ignited the Royals run in 2014-15.

I didn’t see Jarrod Dyson’s stolen base in the ninth inning, not live anyway. I switched it back to that channel after reading what happened on Twitter. I didn’t see Hosmer’s triple live. I did catch Christian Colon’s single and stolen base, but missed Salvador Perez’s game-winner. What I did see was the entire dugout pouring on the field in a sea of blue when I switched channels for the 100th time that night.

In the meantime, I woke up my wife twice, first when Nori Aoki tied the game, and again on Salvy’s hit.

A couple of days later, I woke her up again with a loud scream on Hosmer’s blast in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. I had a 5K the next morning, got about three hours of sleep and ran my personal best, partly because the adrenaline from the previous night served as fuel.

FROM OUT OF NOWHERE IN 2014

The rest of that postseason is a blur. My wife and I attended Game 3 of the ALDS. I’m always going to remember jumping for joy on Alex Gordon’s two-out, three-run double in the first inning. “I’ve never seen you like this!” she said. “You’re just like a kid again!”

This team often made me feel like a kid again, when I’d hit rocks in the driveway, complete with personal play-by-play of walk-off homers in the World Series.

Other memories of the 2014 postseason:

  • Calling Gordon’s go-ahead home run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Twitter (1 out of 100 ain’t bad).
  • Cain’s circus catches in the ALDS and ALCS.
  • Moose’s homers and incredible catch in ALCS Game 3, which I attended thanks to a friend.
  • Escobar’s double in the ninth inning of ALCS Game 2.
  • Following ALCS Game 4 on my phone during a grad school class and tearing up when the Royals won.
  • Ventura carving up the Giants in Game 1 and Game 6 of the World Series.

Above all, I’m going to remember the enormous pride I felt in this team, even as they lost Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants.

FINALLY, THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

The Royals were so good during the regular season in 2015 that I don’t count any regular season games among favorite memories, though Johnny Cueto’s first start at the K, a shutout, was electric.

The lasting memory of the ALDS against Houston will always be the eighth inning of Game 4. I’d just returned to my desk from a workout during lunch with the Royals trailing 6-2. As had become superstition, I wasn’t watching or listening to the game. I resorted to refreshing mlb.com and Twitter for updates.

I didn’t get too excited until Hosmer’s single made it 6-4 and had to contain myself when I saw the 6-6 on mlb.com after refreshing the page. Two days later, the iconic moment was Kendrys Morales’ three-run blast in the eighth to put the Astros away.

My wife and I went to Game 1 of the ALCS, a night we’ll remember because of Edinson Volquez’s gutty performance. The next day, I spent most of my afternoon yelling at the TV as the Royals rallied for five runs in the seventh inning.

Game 6 on Oct. 23 brought a range of emotions, from being absolutely furious at Yost for allowing Ryan Madson to pitch to Jose Bautista to pure joy on Cain’s mad dash from first to home on Hosmer’s clutch single and Wade Davis’s ice-cold comeback from second and third and nobody out in the ninth.

Four days later, I woke my wife up again when Gordon homered off Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning to tie the game, and once again when Hosmer won it with a sacrifice fly in the 14th.

What I’m always going to remember about this team is the way they ALWAYS came back. In Game 4, they jumped all over Daniel Murphy’s error, scored three runs and took a 3-1 lead in the series.

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No play exemplified the 2015 Royals more than Eric Hosmer’s dash to the play to tie Game 5 in the ninth.

The next night, after being dominated by Matt Harvey, they did what they do, obliterating another deficit with enviable resolve and Hosmer’s brazen sprint home. Three innings later, Colon, who barely played, broke New York’s heart with the go-ahead single. Escobar and Cain put the Mets away with a run-scoring double and three-run double.

And, of course, perhaps the best memory: Davis striking out Wilmer Flores to win it all as my wife and I hugged and celebrated. I’m always going to remember my dad calling me after every out in the bottom of the 12th inning. We shared the World Series when I was 9 in 1985 and again when I was 39 in 2015.

A BASEBALL TOWN AGAIN

Perhaps the most telling moment with this group didn’t involve The Core. I’m never going to forget waking up on a cold January morning, grabbing my phone and seeing that Ventura died in a car accident.

ace

RIP, Ace.

As I gathered my thoughts and tried to make sense of it, I tried to keep it together. I walked down the stairs to tell my wife, and as I started to speak, began to sob. I cried for hours that day, as if I’d lost a member of the family.

And that’s what I’m going to remember most about these guys. They’re family. They grew up with us. They’ve had some lows. But, my goodness, have they had some highs.

There will be never be another team like this. They Royals will win another World Series in my lifetime, maybe several, but none will be as special as the one in 2015. This group made Kansas City a baseball town again. Forever Royal. Thank you, fellas.

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Webb: So, So, Soria, Royals

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Some folks say Joakim Soria has been unlucky all season. Coughing up the go-ahead run 11 times in 60 appearances is a trend, not bad luck.

Baseball is a team sport. Blaming one player typically is short-sighted. In 2016, there’s been plenty of blame to go around for the Kansas City Royals. The offense is among the worst in baseball. The starting rotation has been mediocre to awful much of the season. The Royals just have not been good enough in clutch situations.

BUT, no player has hurt his team more than Joakim Soria. Yes, Alex Gordon has been terrible in the first year of a big contract extension. And, yes, Chris Young and Kris Medlen have done virtually nothing. But Soria has been atrocious.

After another meltdown on Sunday in yet another crushing loss, Soria has given up the go-head run 13 times this season. THIRTEEN. The “Mexicutioner” has been just that to his team, allowing the go-ahead run in more than 20 percent of his 60 appearances.

Of those 13 games, the Royals have lost 11. ELEVEN. If they win five of those games, Kansas City would be tied for the second wild-card and contending with Cleveland in the Central.

General Manager Dayton Moore has done a wonderful job in Kansas City. He’s taken a perennial loser to a world championship and perennial contention. But to say his offseason, including signing Soria, Gordon and Young, has been awful would be an understatement.

The Royals are not going to cut Soria loose. He’s still owed nearly $20 million and signed through 2018. My guess is Moore brings in another reliever next season (Greg Holland, please) as insurance for Soria and releases him early in 2018 if his performance holds steady, as I expect (Soria’s been average to bad for a while now).

A quick breakdown of Soria’s one-man assault on Kansas City’s season:

April 8: Royals 4, Twins 3 | 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER | 1-0

After entering the game in the eighth, Soria serves up a one-out homer to Byung Ho Park. The Royals rally in the bottom of the inning on Salvador’s Perez RBI triple and Omar Infante’s sacrifice fly.

APRIL 17: Athletics 3, Royals 2 | 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER | 1-1

Soria enters a tie game in the eighth, giving up a leadoff triple to Billy Burns and a sacrifice fly to Josh Reddick.

MAY 10: Yankees 10, Royals 7 | 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER | 1-2

Moments after Lorenzo Cain’s third homer of the game pulls Kansas City even, Soria falls apart after Ben Gamel reaches on an error by Alcides Escobar. Brett Gardner follows with a go-ahead double, Starlin Castro is hit by a pitch, and Brian McCann rips a two-run double.

JUNE 2: Indians 5, Royals 4 | 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R | 1-3

The Royals take a 4-3 lead to the ninth, but Carlos Santana singles to start the inning, scores on Francisco Lindor’s one-out triple, and Mike Napoli wins it with a sac fly.

JUNE 22: Mets 4, Royals 3 | 1 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 R | 1-4

In a 3-3 game in the sixth, Soria coughs up a home run to some guy named Matt Reynolds. Not Mark Reynolds. Matt Reynolds.

JUNE 29: Royals 3, Cardinals 2 | 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R | 2-4

After the pitching staff shut down St. Louis for nine innings, Soria surrenders a leadoff homer to Stephen Piscotty to tie it in the 10th. The Royals eventually win 3-2 in 12.

JULY 15: Tigers 4, Royals 2 | 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R | 2-5

The only game on this list in which Soria wasn’t charged for the deciding run. After Luke Hochevar gives up a homer to tie the score at 2 and the next two baserunners reach, Soria walks Cameron Maybin and somehow strikes out Miguel Cabrera. But he fails to glove a comebacker by Victor Martinez, allowing two runs to score.

JULY 17: Tigers 4, Royals 2 | 0 IP, 2 H, 2 R | 2-6

In a 2-2 game in the ninth, Soria gives up a leadoff single to Tyler Collins and a long home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

AUG. 5: Rays 3, Royals 2 | 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R | 2-7

Soria blows a 2-0 lead quickly in the eighth, as Logan Forsythe singles and Kevin Kiermaier walks. One out later, Brad Miller launches a three-run homer.

AUG. 30: Yankees 5, Royals 4 | 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R | 2-8

Tied 4-4 in the 10th, Soria gives up back-to-back singles to McCann and Chase Headley before recording consecutive strikeouts. Despite getting ahead 0-2, he walks Gardner, then falls down on a grounder back to the mound, allowing the winning run to score.

SEPT. 3: Tigers 6, Royals 5 | 1 IP, 4 H, 2 R | 2-9

Kansas City leads 5-4 in the eighth when Cabrera singles to start the inning and scores on a home run by Justin Upton with two outs.

Not exactly pretty. Four times in these 11 games, the Royals have led when Soria entered. They’ve lost each of those. Win those games, and they’re tied with Baltimore for the final playoff spot.

SEPT. 7: Twins 6, Royals 5 | 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2R | 2-10

Kansas City leads 4-3 in the seventh when Soria gives up a leadoff single to Brian Dozier, who steals second with one out. Miguel Sano doubles to tie the game, and Eduardo Escobar singles off Matt Strahm with two outs for the go-ahead run, which is charged to Soria.

SEPT. 13: Athletics 5, Royals 4 | 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R | 2-11

The Royals lead 3-2 in the eighth when, for some reason, Yost summons Soria with runners on first and second and two outs. Because that’s what garbage do, Soria coughs up a two-run double to Yonder Alonso and an RBI single to Marcus Simien.