You wanna know what it’s like to go into spring training as the World Series favorites? Ask the Cubs. There’s been a lot of buzz around those guys this spring. And there should be. They have a really good, young team that made a playoff run last year and that has its core returning intact.
Going into 2015, we were that team — defending AL champs, one win away from winning the World Series, coming back with our core intact.
And yet … we weren’t even picked to make it back to the postseason. We weren’t even picked to win our division.
The Nationals were the World Series favorites.
We were a “fluke.”
Then something happened. We won 95 games. We won the division. We made the playoffs. We did all the things people said we couldn’t do.
We proved everybody wrong … and we liked how that felt.
So we just kept doing it. We used it as motivation.
But it’s not random. We have a process. We have what we call the Royal Way, and it’s pretty simple: Everybody buys in, and you play with character every day.
That’s the “secret.”
It’s one thing to be prepared for a game. Or to have a group of really talented guys. But when you’re on the road in Houston in Game 4 of the ALDS and Colby Rasmus hits a home run in the bottom of the seventh to put the Astros up 6–2 — and you’re six outs from going home — you need more than talent.
I remember watching Rasmus round the bases, and then watching Luis Valbuena come out to hit next. His walk-up song was some kind of techno jam. Upbeat with a lot of energy. And it was just blasting inside the stadium.
Standing out at first base, I looked around and saw the Astros fans on their feet, celebrating like we were done. Like it was … over.
Then I got back to the dugout and heard Mike Moustakas.
“I’m not ready to go home yet!”
And the guys rallied around him.
Our attitude was, Your next at bat might be your last. Make it count.
And we went out and ripped off five straight singles to open the eighth inning. We put up a five spot to take a 7–6 lead. Then we shut them down in the ninth, took home the win and closed out the series back home in K.C.
That’s not random.
We knew one guy wasn’t gonna go up there and hit a homer and win it by himself. We took the team approach. Everybody bought in.
Let’s get on base. Get guys over. Get runs in, one by one.
The Royal Way.
That’s one thing that’s really special about our offense. Nobody comes out and says they wanna hit 30 home runs and get 100 RBIs. We have a lot of versatile guys who can hit for power and drive the ball, but at the same time they can play small ball, too. And when the moment calls for it, as a team, we can do the little things that it takes to win games.
At last year’s trade deadline, July 31, we were playing up in Toronto. Troy Tulowitzki was playing in his third game with the Blue Jays since being traded from the Rockies, and they had just made a deal with the Tigers for David Price.
Price arrived in Toronto that day and got to the stadium late. When he showed up in the Blue Jays dugout for the first time, it was the second inning. They announced him and put his face up on the jumbotron. He smiled and waved.
The place went nuts.
Something was happening there … you could feel it.
From the time we made the last out in the World Series the year before and watched the Giants celebrate, we knew we would be the team to beat in the American League. We knew we could get back. We were just waiting to see who our biggest obstacle would be. Which team was going to emerge and say, We’re coming after you.
That moment when Price came to town and the crowd went crazy told us the Blue Jays were that team.
That was when we really got locked in. The playoff push was about to begin, and we realized that there was a strong team out there that had just gotten stronger. We knew we had to match their energy — that swagger they suddenly had. And you could feel it in the way the last couple of games in that series were played. It was a playoff atmosphere.
That’s why we came so ready to play against them in the ALCS.
We matched their energy, their swagger … and their bats. We scored 38 runs in that series in just six games. We knew exactly what we had to do to get past the Blue Jays and back to the World Series.
Because they let us know back in July.
And we were ready.
In Game 1 of the World Series against the Mets — when it was tied 3–3 in the top of the eighth and that chopper skipped over my glove and I watched Juan Lagares score the go-ahead run — I was physically sick. I felt terrible.
I was looking for somebody — anybody — to do something and give me an opportunity to do something productive and help us pull out a win.
Alex Gordon was that guy.
Gordo is one of the highest-paid players on the team and also one of the longest-tenured. He’s the big brother. He had been hitting near the top of the order for most of his career, but had slid back to the 6 slot late in the season. No matter where he was hitting, he’s always been a key bat in our lineup.
Before the playoffs, Ned Yost asked Gordo to move down to eighth in the lineup. Most guys in his position would have been … insulted. Maybe even a little pissed.
But Gordo was all for it, ready to go.
Anything to help the team.
The Royal Way.
Back to Game 1 … In the bottom of the ninth, trailing by that one run I let come in off the top of my glove, the 8 slot in the lineup was due up second. Alex, having moved back in the lineup, comes to the plate with one out and blasts one over the center field wall to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
I was all the way at the other end of the dugout when he was jogging back in, but he was staring right at me. The guys greeted him at the top of the steps and he made his way through the dugout — through the high fives and chest bumps — looking at me the whole time. I was the last one to greet him.
I could see the look in his eyes … that “big brother” look. Like, Hey, I’m gonna pick you up and we’re gonna do this thing.
All I could think to say was, “Give me a hug!”
That sparked me. I came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th and got the sac fly that put Game 1 in the books. Then in Game 2, I got a big hit off Jacob deGrom that put us up two runs.
I might not have done either of those things if Alex hadn’t put the first game into extras for us. Or if he hadn’t come down to the end of the dugout and given me that “big brother” look. He had my back. Now I had to have everybody else’s back, too.
Fast-forward to Game 5 in New York.
Lorenzo Cain’s bases-loaded double in the top of the 12th might as well have been a walk-off. We had already taken a 4–2 lead, but when Lorenzo ripped that ball into the gap in left center and cleared the bases to put us up 7–2, you could feel the air and the energy leave the stadium … like Citi Field had exhaled.
Like, Oh, man, this is over.
I came to the plate right after Lorenzo, and it just felt … different. It was dead quiet, except for one little section right behind our dugout and another far away in the outfield corner of the stadium.
Those were the two Royals family sections.
Out of the silence of that stadium — in New York, of all places — the fans of the small-market team nobody believed in broke out into a chant.
“Let’s go, Royals!”
It felt like Kansas City had taken over the world.
When the World Series parade started, I thought about what people in the organization used to tell us when we were all coming up together in the minor leagues. There was a message that was always preached to us. It was about those Royals teams in the ’80s.
You guys don’t understand what this city can be like if the Royals are successful.
They were right. We didn’t. Some of us weren’t even born yet when the Royals won the ’85 World Series.
But when the parade caravan made that first turn around the Sprint Center and onto Grand Boulevard, we understood. It was just a sea of blue, and I couldn’t believe how many people there were — people sitting on street lights, climbing trees to get a better view.
I thought about that message. About how K.C. would just be … crazy if we won it all.
And I was watching it all come true.
When we lost to the Giants in 2014, we made it a point to turn the page and focus on next season because we knew would get another opportunity with the same core coming back. We were just surprised that nobody outside of Kansas City believed in us as much as we did. They thought we weren’t for real. They thought we were a fluke.
So we did something about it.
Now, going into 2016, it’s more of the same. They don’t think we can do it. So we’ll do the same thing we did last year and go into the season believing we have what it takes to win the division, the pennant and the World Series.
A lot of teams have those same goals.
But we’re the Kansas City Royals.
We’re the defending world champions.
We’re the only team in baseball that has an opportunity this year to go to a third straight World Series. To win back-to-back rings. To start a dynasty.
And we believe we can.