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.
Simply put, this is the greatest game in Royals history. A winner-take-all game with a crazy comeback, extra innings, a second comeback? With the cherry on top being this was the team’s first postseason game in 29 years? Yeah, this bests any regular season game, and pretty much any other postseason game in franchise history. A game so good that even if the Royals had lost after giving up a run in the 12th, it would have been pretty high on this list. I almost put it at the top spot, but I couldn’t quite get there, seeing as how it was not a game for a title.
But this was the first taste of the postseason for a generation–maybe two–of Royals fans. Even us oldtimers who could remember the glory days of the 70s and 80s were out of playoff-watching shape. But when Brandon Moss hit a two-run homer in the top of the first off Royals starter James Shields, anyone could be forgiven for wondering if we had waited 29 years for this.
The Royals got one run back in the bottom of the inning, with Billy Butler driving in Nori Aoki with a two-out single. Kansas City had been a freewheeling team on the bases all year, and here they tried to catch the A’s napping. Butler took off for second but stopped halfway, drawing a throw to second from A’s starter Jon Lester. As Butler was caught in a rundown, Eric Hosmer, who had walked earlier and moved up to third on Butler’s single, broke for home. But he was easily thrown out by first baseman Steven Vogt, with catcher Geovany Soto applying the tag.
But even this worked out for the Royals. Soto hurt his thumb on the play and was replaced by Derek Norris behind the plate. Oakland had started Soto mainly because he would be better at controlling the Royals’ running game. Now, with Norris, who had only thrown out 17% of base stealers in 2014, behind the plate and Lester’s well-known aversion to pickoff throws to first, Kansas City could start running wild.
However, the running game was not a factor in the Royals’ two-run third inning. Mike Moustakas led off with a single and moved up to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout. Lorenzo Cain doubled and Hosmer singled, and the Royals had a 3-2 lead.
After Shields and Lester turned in two perfect innings each, disaster struck for the Royals in the sixth. Sam Fuld led off with a broken-bat single to right, and Shields walked Josh Donaldson. With the left-handed Moss coming to bat, manager Ned Yost chose to bring in right-handed Yordano Ventura, normally a starting pitcher, rather than lefties Danny Duffy or Brandon Finnegan. It didn’t take long for the strategy to backfire. Moss deposited Ventura’s third pitch over the fence in center field, giving Oakland a 5-3 lead.
“Ventura came into a game earlier this year and actually won it for us by throwing an inning and two-thirds of relief. He was lights-out, and we got to that point where we just wanted to bring the gas. . . . We didn’t want to push Herrera two innings.”–Yost, quoted by Barry Svriuga, Washington Post, October 1, 2014
But after a single, wild pitch, and fly ball put Josh Reddick on third, with one out, Yost put Herrera in the game. The Royals’ manager left the mound to a loud chorus of boos.
To be fair, Herrera wasn’t great, either. After he got the first batter he faced out, Oakland put together three straight singles, pushing their lead to 7-3.
Lester followed that with two more scoreless innings, allowing only a two-out bunt single to Omar Infante in the seventh. The Royals’ hopes were dwindling and their plan to run was fading; as the old saying goes, you can’t steal first base.
But things turned around in the eighth. Alcides Escobar led off with a single, a ground ball that somehow found center field. Normally, down four runs with six outs left, teams would not risk losing runners trying to steal bases. The 2014 Royals were not a normal team.
“We have to be aggressive on the base paths. We have to try to take advantage of every situation, to get into scoring position. And when you do that, that’s upsetting to the defense. It’s upsetting to the pitcher.”–Yost, quoted by Andy McCullogh, The Kansas City Star, October 2, 2014
Indeed, Escobar was standing on second three pitches later. After a groundout, he scored on Cain’s single. At last, the Royals had a little life. Cain stole second and Hosmer walked. Suddenly Kansas City had the tying run at the plate and the crowd was back in the game. Butler greeted reliever Luke Gregorson with an RBI single, and Yost sent Terrance Gore out to run for Butler. Gore swiped second on the first pitch to Alex Gordon. The second pitch to Gordon bounced in the dirt and away from Norris, allowing Hosmer to score. Gordon drew a walk, but Gregorson recovered to strike out the next two batters. The game headed to the ninth, with Oakland now clinging to a 7-6 lead.
The A’s left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, as Greg Holland worked around three walks. The Royals came to bat with at least a respectable chance to tie or win, thanks to that three-run eighth. Facing Oakland closer Sean Doolittle, pinch-hitter Josh Willingham dropped a single into right field. Now Yost could use his other pinch-running weapon, Jarrod Dyson, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Dyson then stole third; his speed and momentum nearly carried him past the base, but his foot stayed on. Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly tied the score, and the Royals had come all the way back. But Cain lined out, and it was on to extra innings.
Finnegan pitched a scoreless 10th and 11th. Mind you, Finnegan was not only a rookie, but he had been the team’s first-round pick in the 2014 draft in June. Four months before this game, he was helping TCU reach the College World Series.
But Finnegan ran into trouble in the 12th. Reddick led off with a walk and took second on a bunt. Jason Frasor took over for Finnegan. A wild pitch moved Reddick to third, and former Royal Alberto Callaspo delivered a pinch-hit single to give Oakland the lead at 8-7. Frasor got the next two batters, but the Royals would need one more comeback, or they would regret leaving runners on third to end both the 10th and the 11th innings.
Oakland reliever Dan Otero, who had pitched the 11th, retired Cain to start the 12th. But Hosmer blasted a high fly ball deep to left center. The crowd, sensing a game-tying home run, grew incredibly loud as the ball neared the wall. Perhaps that affected outfielders Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld, who both attempted a leaping catch. Instead, the ball hit the wall and bounced back toward the infield as both players collided in mid-air. By the time Gomes tracked down the ball, Hosmer was standing on third. Christian Colon hit a high bouncer; even with the infield in, third baseman Josh Donaldson had no chance to throw out Hosmer at the plate. Donaldson tried a barehanded grab but couldn’t come up with it, and Colon was on first.
The Royals had one more stolen base in them, their seventh of the night. With two outs, Colon swiped second. This despite a pitchout; the A”s had guessed right, but Norris simply dropped the ball.
“He was kind of trying to be quick with it. Maybe that’s why he dropped it.”–Colon, quoted by Andy McCullogh, The Kansas City Star, October 2, 2014
With two strikes, Oakland pitcher Jason Hammel tried to get Salvador Perez to chase a low and outside pitch. It worked! Except that Perez somehow yanked it down the third base line, just past a diving Donaldson. Colon raced home as the Kansas City dugout emptied. First they mobbed Colon, then moved on to Perez, the group of ballplayers bobbing up and down in center field. TBS cameras caught George Brett in the press box, hands on his head in disbelief.
“This will go down as the craziest game I’ve ever played. This team showed a lot of character. No one believed in us before the game. No one believed in us before the season.”–Hosmer, quoted by the Associated Press, October 1, 2014
“That’s the most incredible game I’ve ever been a part of. Our fans were, man, unbelievable. Our guys never quit. When we fell behind there in the fifth inning, sixth inning, they kept battling back. They weren’t going to be denied. It was just a great game.”–Yost, quoted by Dick Kaegel, MLB.com, October 1, 2014
3 thoughts on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #2: Salvy’s Single Ends Wildest Wildcard Game (September 30, 2014)”
This was a heartbreaking game as an A’s fan….we had gone “all in” with the controversial John Lester trade. I feel like we could have won the WS if Sean Doolittle wasn’t a complete mutt and Derek Norris didn’t have a noodle arm.
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Yeah, Soto leaving early and Norris coming in was a huge part of what happened (and I think an underrated part now).
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