Meaningful Games: Wait Till Next Year

I watched the last eleven games the Kansas City Royals played in 2015, and a few others before that, and rooting interests aside, I don’t believe there was a better team in baseball. That statement should be provable merely by the fact that they hoisted the World Series trophy Sunday night in Citi Field after their twelve-inning Game 5 victory, but I think it’s an agreed-upon truism that now, in this age of extended playoffs, the best baseball team doesn’t always get crowned, just the healthiest, or the luckiest, or the hottest-at-the-time. In this case, A does not prove B. But Kansas City passed the eye test, and if you do a deep dive into the numbers, get granular with the data, I think they come out on top there, too. From my vantage—which is to say my house, and a couple of bars near here—they were more dogged than any team in my memory, their hallmark a relentlessness bordering on mania which might have been birthed when they left the tying run of the 7th game of the 2014 World Series on third base. That kind of close-but-not-quite experience can be more painful than 29 years of losing, as the Royals discovered, and it was the sting that motivated them across the long summer and into the fall, right on up until the final out of the season. So said manager Ned Yost, anyway.

But it’s also true that they’re just a flat-out great ball club. Their greatness is a result of preparedness and aggression, of their habit of forcing opponents to make mistakes—often as a result of that preparedness. Royals players were advised by their coaches to test Mets first baseman Lucas Duda’s defense, which they did, and promptly tied the game in 9th inning when Duda sailed wide a throw home, allowing Eric Hosmer to score. Also relevant: KC’s ability to find a seam between a team’s starting pitcher and their best, late-game relievers while at the same time trotting out their own fearsome bullpen. The Royals outscored their postseason opponents 51-11 from the 7th inning on, which is to say, when it mattered most.

Meanwhile, in the other dugout, the Mets had to be feeling particularly Mets-like. They made costly errors, and fiery young starter Matt Harvey, who’d pitched brilliantly, refused to come out of the game after the 8th inning, a demand to which manager Terry Collins relented. It was an ugly assortment of misplays and miscalculations, but these things only take on such an unfortunate shape in the glaring light of a loss. You can build a much different narrative out of the same components if the score tilts in the other direction, which it very nearly did.

Ultimately all these things are merely incidental, the fiddly details of what came to pass. The Mets got steamrolled by a better team. Not that that salves the burn one bit. Likewise, as a Jays fan, maybe I ought to take some comfort in knowing what the Royals were made of; maybe there’s less shame in losing to the clear champs. Maybe.

They gave the Series MVP award—a pickup truck full of baseball equipment meant to be donated to Little Leaguers in a locale chosen by the winner—to Royals catcher Salvador Perez, which seems apt; the team’s route to the championship can be mapped by his scars and injuries over the course of the last eight months or so. He’s a walking testament to the team-first ethos of this maddeningly egalitarian squad.

So that’s what the World Series looked like in 2015: Royal after Royal pushing another Royal over, scampering home in the late innings, leaving no lead safe. It looked like the grimace on Perez’s face after another bat to the knuckles, another ball off the mask, and it looked like the whooping, yelping mug of Hosmer, and the low-hung head of Matt Harvey, trudging off the mound. It looked like a hell of a lot of fun, if you were a Royals fan.

And now here’s winter, or practically, anyway. I don’t meant to seem to fatalistic, but it’s truly done now, all of it. The baseball season will, along with the summer and all it brought, recede into the darkness of memory. There’s nothing to do but wait for Spring Training. I know we’ll get there eventually—we always do—but the Presbyterian in me can’t help but look at it this way: today marks the furthest possible distance from any meaningful baseball game. The season is long, but the winter is longer. Wake me when it’s over.

A pennant-race dispatch from Invisible author Andrew Forbes (What You Need). In April 2016 we’ll be releasing The Utility of Boredom, a collection of Forbes’s baseball essays. 

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