Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
By the time October 15, 2014, rolled around, it was apparent that, no matter how improbable, the Kansas City Royals were going to the World Series. The Royals were on an unstoppable streak where seemingly every bit of bad luck the franchise had suffered over the past 29 years was being paid back over a two-week stretch that started with the wild-card game. From there, of course, the Royals had swept the Los Angeles Angels, then won the first two games of the ALCS in Baltimore. Even a rainout couldn’t stop the momentum; Game Three was pushed back a day by rain in Kansas City, but when it was played, the Royals scratched out runs in the fourth and sixth innings for a 2-1 win.
So now the Royals had four chances to capture one win and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1985. Their first chance would come on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a beautiful fall day. Kansas City sent lefthander Jason Vargas to the mound. Almost a year earlier, Royals fans had laughed when the team said they had a “major baseball-related announcement,” which turned out to be the Vargas signing, since he had compiled a 51-58 mark with a 4.30 ERA in his career until then. But after a solid 11-10 record and 3.70 ERA in 2014, here he was, trying to earn KC the AL pennant. And he got off to a good start, retiring the Orioles in order in the first.
To this point in the postseason, the Royals’ offense had made the most of any breaks they got. That continued as Alcides Escobar led off with a high bouncer over Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez. The ball flattened out before second baseman Jonathan Schoop could grab it, hitting the second base bag, and Escobar had an infield single. Nori Aoki was hit on the leg by a pitch. Lorenzo Cain bunted the runners over. Eric Hosmer hit a chopper to first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw home in time to get Escobar, but the slide knocked the ball out of catcher Caleb Joseph’s mitt. As the ball rolled around near the Royals’ dugout, Aoki came around to score as well for a 2-0 lead.
“As it got later and later, you’re thinking, ‘Is this really how they’re going to win the last game of the series?’”–Joseph, quoted by Randy Covitz, The Kansas City Star, October 16, 2014
From there, Vargas and the Kansas City defense made those runs stand up.
“It’s like playing with five outfielders and six infielders. Anything that gets put in play, there’s a good chance it’s going to be an out.”–Vargas, quoted by Andy McCullough, The Kansas City Star, October 16, 2014
A nicely-turned double play by Escobar, who grabbed the ball and stepped on second before firing to first, helped Vargas work around a walk and a single in the second. Ryan Flaherty started the third with a home run to cut the lead in half, but that was all Baltimore could manage.
The play of the game came in the top of the fifth. J.J. Hardy led off with a deep drive to left. Alex Gordon raced back, reached up, and snared the ball just before he ran into the chain-link fence covering the digital scoreboard. As he lay on the warning track, Gordon raised his glove in the air while the crowd roared its approval.
“It was one of those games where I felt like defense was going to play a large role, and I was going to do everything I could to make the catches. Everybody else was having their fun the last couple games, so I figured I’d join the party and try to make a play.”–Gordon, quoted by Tod Palmer, The Kansas City Star, October 16, 2014
Vargas followed that outstanding play with two strikeouts, moving the game ever closer to the Royals’ well-rested bullpen. Indeed, after Vargas walked Schoop and struck out Nick Markakis to start the sixth, manager Ned Yost turned to his three-headed bullpen monster, starting with Kelvin Herrera. Vargas finished his day with six strikeouts, three walks, and two hits allowed in 5 ⅓ innings.
“My whole game plan was just get us into the sixth with the lead. It didn’t matter where we are, just get us into the sixth.”–Yost, quoted by Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star, October 16, 2014
Herrera retired the first batter he faced, but Adam Jones fought off a pitch on his hands for a bloop single, moving the tying run to third. Nelson Cruz hit a hard line drive…right to second baseman Omar Infante, ending the threat.
After two grounders and a strikeout in the seventh, Herrera turned the game over to Wade Davis for the eighth. He worked around a two-out single, and the Royals were three outs away.
Greg Holland made things interesting by walking Jones to start the ninth. Cruz hit a bouncer back to the mound, and Holland’s throw to second nearly sailed into center field, saved only by a nice stretch by Escobar, who kept his foot on the bag to record the force out. Holland struck out Delmon Young. And with a 1-2 count, Hardy pulled a grounder down the third base line. Mike Moustakas stopped it, then fired across the diamond to Eric Hosmer for the final out, and a celebration almost 30 years in the making began.
“I can’t wait for the World Series to start. I wish it started tomorrow. And I don’t care who we play.”–Royals owner David Glass, quoted by Andy McCullough, The Kansas City Star, October 16, 2014
One thought on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #8: Royals Clinch First AL Pennant Since 1985 (October 15, 2014)”
This definitely ranks high on my list. The 15 postseason got the trophy and might have been more dramatic (with the exception of the 14 WC game), but I still think the 14 run was even more fun- up to those last few innings. And even they were entertaining, even if we didn’t get the result we wanted.
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