As Royals fans begin to go through all the emotions of denial, anger, sadness and acceptance of the team’s imminent breakup, it’s perfectly normal to dust off that lucky hat from 2014, sit down in that lucky chair like in 2015 and take a stroll down memory lane one last time.
The magical runs of 2014 and 2015 produced new feelings in fans that had not yet witnessed a playoff win, quenched the thirst of those that weathered the storm from 1986 to 2013, and in the process, created a new generation of die-hard baseball fans in Kansas City.
The main four free agents hitting the open market, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, all played a massive role in bringing baseball back in Kansas City. Now as they prepare to potentially say their goodbyes to the city, here are the group’s top 10 individual moments as a Royal.
10. Moustakas to Hosmer to clinch back-to-back pennants
Starting off the list with a bit of an asterisk, as it does count as two moments, but it’s fitting that the original building blocks, the corner stones of the rebuild and team’s eventual success, combined to send the Royals to back-to-back World Series’ with the exact same play.
Both first round picks in 2007 and 2008, Royals fans could only dream of radio broadcaster Denny Matthews one day saying, “ground ball Moustakas, sets, throws, Royals win the pennant!”
That call happened twice, as the Royals became just the third team to repeat as league champions since the turn of the century. The plays themselves were not incredible moments, but the outs did come with a degree of pressure, with the game tying run on first and game winning run at the plate.
9. Cain’s back-to-back diving catches against the Angels in the 2014 ALDS
When Royals fans think of Lorenzo Cain, it’s not his bat that first comes to mind, it’s his fielding and base running.
It’s no coincidence that his two biggest contributions came in these areas.
Cain’s first grab in center field is one of the most impressive of his career, as there’s so little margin for error with the route, speed, angle and dive for Cain to make the catch. He does, earns 40,000 hat tips, then makes another diving catch on the very next play.
One of these postseason catches alone would be memorable, but turning them into get back-to-back outs sent Kauffman Stadium into an absolute frenzy. In a game where Billy Butler stole a base, this unlikely event proved that there was serious magic in the air.
The 2014 Royals defense was considered one of the best in the history of the game, and Cain epitomized that.
8. Escobar’s game-winning double in game 2 of the 2014 ALCS
While the Royals swept their way to the World Series in 2014, the games themselves were anything but dominant. This game winner gets lost in the shuffle, as it’s one of 11 times Kansas City scored the tying or go-ahead run in the ninth inning or later, but this road win set the tone for the entire Baltimore series.
The Royals took an early lead in game two, knowing that a second win on the road could seal the deal, but when the ninth rolled around KC and Baltimore were locked at 4-4. This was just the sixth postseason game these players would play, that the fans would watch, and the late game confidence that so many would eventually have had not quite set in at this point.
Escobar’s double helped establish that never say die mentality, the confidence that if the game was close in the last few innings, that the Royals were going to find a way win. Escobar may not be as big of a fan favorite as the others, but his postseason performances were vital to the team and should not be forgotten.
7. Hosmer’s game-winning home run in game 2 of the 2014 ALDS
This moment proved that the Royals run was really happening, that the Wild Card game magic had a greater impact than many knew at the time.
Hosmer’s 11th inning home run to break a 1-1 tie placed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and gave Kansas City a decisive 2-0 series lead.
Winning the Wild Card game was one thing, taking game one of the series was a step, but taking the second game on the road, to put the team one win away from the league championship series, caught the nation’s attention. Hosmer had more clutch moments than any Royals player and this big fly further established his growing reputation as the bat to be feared in KC’s lineup.
6. Moustakas’ home run in game 2 of the 2014 ALDS
Very similar to Hosmer’s moment at number seven, only slightly bigger for two reasons. One, it showed that the Wild Card game was no fluke. Before the home run, the Royals had scored just one run in 10 innings. Wasting a great pitching performance could have set the team back in the series, like it eventually did for the Angels.
Secondly, Moustakas was no Hosmer at the time. Hosmer had a somewhat successful regular season and an outstanding Wild Card game, but Moustakas was coming off a year where he hit .212, was sent down to AAA and was pinch hit for in the Wild Card game.
Moustakas was the team’s number nine hitter, someone in there more for his defense and the hope that he’d run into one. But this moment catapulted Moustakas into the player fans know today; achieving success on the biggest stage, in such a big way, can give all the confidence in the world.
This home run not only gave KC one of its most important wins, it also gave KC a star.
5. Escobar’s inside the park home run in game 1 of the 2015 World Series
Esky magic, Esky ambush, whatever you want to call it, Escobar’s success in the leadoff spot may be where Hollywood draws the line on the Royals 2014-2015 movie script. The shortstop always swung at the first pitch, everyone in the ballpark knew it, and somehow the first pitch the Royals see in the 2015 World Series goes right down the pipe to Escobar.
In a sign of things to come for the series, the Mets booted the ball in the outfield and the game was 1-0 Royals before Ben Zobrist even tightened his batting gloves.
So much of baseball is about confidence, setting the tone, and Escobar’s role on the team is a direct impact of that. When he led off, swinging at whatever the first pitch was, the team won.
Escobar’s round-tripper also signaled that 2015 would be different, as the Royals lost game one in 2014.
In a series of improbabilities, Escobar kicking off the World Series with an inside the park home run ranks pretty close to the top.
4. Moustakas’ catch in game 3 of the 2014 ALCS
Was the game one home run way more important? Yes. Were the Royals going to win the series without this moment? Probably. But, it’s impossible to think of Moustakas’ best moments and the team’s best moments, without bringing up this iconic play.
A symbol for the hard-nosed, scrappy, underdog 2014 Royals, Moustakas risked it all to record one out against Baltimore with a lean, balance, catch, fall sequence into the third base fan dugout section.
Royals fans were there keeping Moustakas from crashing into the concrete, helping up the fan favorite back to land, as the third baseman earned even more fan respect and love for doing all he could do to make the play.
3. Cain’s game-winning run home in game 6 of the 2015 ALCS
After coming so close to winning it all the year before, anything short of making it back to the World Series would have been a disappointment. Kansas City wanted no part of a game seven against the Blue Jays, with an erratic Johnny Cueto set to start, coming off a terrible outing earlier in the week.
The Royals had just blown a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning to Jose Bautista, there was a short rain delay in between and momentum would be stacked against the Royals if KC failed to respond quickly. Not only did they respond, they did so in unbelievable fashion.
Cain scoring from first base, on a Hosmer single, embodies just what the Royals did best. The scouting ahead to realize a potential flaw, the ability to make that send under pressure and Cain’s ability to pull it off all made for a perfect storm of excitement.
Home runs are exciting, but the anticipation and amazement of Cain running around the bases, and not even drawing a throw, provided one of the most memorable moments of the two-year playoff run.
2. Hosmer’s triple in the 2014 Wild Card game
Perhaps the most forgotten play amongst casual Royal fans, but this may be one of the most important hits in Royals franchise history. If the Royals lose the Wild Card game, failing to win a single playoff game in 2014, does 2015 end the same?
That’s hard to answer, but thankfully the Royals didn’t have to, thanks to Hosmer’s first clutch moment in his storybook career.
The Royals had allowed Oakland to take the lead in the top of the 12th inning, after clawing their way back from a 7-3 deficit in the eighth, and needed a run to stay alive.
Lorenzo Cain grounded out; two outs away from elimination. Hosmer stepped up and came inches away from a game-tying home run. Instead, it sailed past the reach of two Oakland outfielders, without reaching the seats, ricocheting off the fence, and put the tying run 90 feet away.
Two outs away from a magical ride never happening, Hosmer delivered more than just a hit. Ending up at third made Christian Colon’s job easier, as the infielder just had to put the ball in play for Kansas City to score. He did, Hosmer scored, Colon then scored, and Hosmer invited the whole city to celebrate downtown after the win. Covering the tab, of course.
Hosmer’s poise in this situation is so remarkable as this was his first playoff game. Players will go a whole career without tasting the postseason, but this was the first sign that Hosmer was not afraid of the big stage.
If Hosmer doesn’t triple, Colon probably ends the game, instead of winning it.
1. Hosmer’s mad dash home in game 5 of the 2015 World Series
There’s a legitimate argument to be made for the number two moment ranking ahead of the “mad dash home.” But there’s only one play that dropped the jaws of fans across the country, and that’s Hosmer’s daring decision to risk it all, to make a run at glory.
Spoiler alert, it worked.
Hosmer’s career-defining moment came between 90 feet of third base and home plate at Citi Field in New York, tying the game in the ninth inning and breaking the heart of every Met fan in attendance. They knew, Royals players knew, Mets players knew, everyone knew, that Hosmer’s run home probably just won Kansas City the World Series.
With how dominant the Royals bullpen had been, with Kelvin Herrera ready to go for another inning, Luke Hochevar waiting for his chance and Wade Davis lurking at the end, the odds of the Mets scoring another run was almost non-existent.
Hosmer’s run home created a sense of inevitability, that this was really going to happen for Kansas City. In a full circle ending, the man that started the rally in the wild card game seemingly sealed the World Series.
Hosmer’s run was the beginning of the end for the Mets and created a moment that kids playing little league will reference every time a runner slides in from third.
Baseball in Kansas City would not have been, and won’t be, the same without any one of the above celebrated players. And the memories they gave Kansas City will not soon be forgotten.
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