Although October had long been taken over by the chill of winter and the lingering sting of a World Series defeat, the Kansas City Royals started 2015 as if the post season had never ended, steamrolling opponents into pancakes with an unexpected offensive onslaught. Pure, unadulterated enthusiasm reverberated through the fanbase. Optimism was high, but it carried with it a price. A debt. Royals fans tried to ignore this debt, avoid thinking about it at any cost. But the dread was always there.
The Kansas City Royals, eventually, would have to play the Detroit Tigers.
Although the Kansas City Royals would surpass the Tigers in the postseason with the assistance of the Baltimore Orioles offense, Detroit’s trio of Cy Young pitchers and the best lineup in the American League stagnated the Royals throughout the 2014 campaign. Out of eighteen matchups between the AL Central division teams, the Royals won a total of six games. There were times when Detroit would falter while the Kansas City Royals would pack on wins, teasing our boys with occasional trips to the top of the division. But just when the flames of victory would reach an apex, we’d play the Tigers and they’d provide ample buckets of water to darken our joy.
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Needless to say, I was scared. The days leading up to April 30 were fraught with anxiety. I know the Kansas City Royals were a great team, and in many ways, a much better team than the one that brought us a successful Fall. All of the wins leading up to the initial Detroit matchup were, if anything, padded insulation for the bruising the Motor City would provide. From day one, Ned Yost and the boys knew that they had a single, specific objective in 2015: Own the AL Central. In order to achieve this goal, the Kansas City Royals had to declaw the long-reigning champs.
In the first seven games against the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals hold the edge: 4-3. Even more astonishing, they’ve outscored the Tigers by eleven runs. They hit four home runs, two of them off of David Price. Alcides Escobar took the first pitch swing from Anibal Sanchez out to dinner in left field, giving the Royals a one run lead before most Tiger’s fans reached their seats.
In essence, the Kansas City Royals aren’t about to be used as win column fodder for the Tigers this year. They have proven themselves worthy adversaries to a team full of aces, MVPs, and future hall of famers. A true rivalry has emerged.
A good rivalry doesn’t happen in a void. It’s not created through physical proximity or residing in the same division. Nor is a true rivalry the result of one team dominating the other. The best kind of rivalry emerges from the meeting of equals, close games, spectacular moments of victory, and hard fought defeats.
As of this moment, the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers have the best rivalry in baseball. And we have the evidence to prove it:
Alfredo Simon had turned opponents bats into pool noodles for four straight starts; the Royals handed him his first loss with six earned runs. David Price silenced the Royals in their first match up; in the second, the Royals pegged him with five runs. In that very same game, the two teams went back and forth until, regrettably, the Tigers walked off with a win.
The “little” moments are what makes this rivalry one to savor for a lifetime; Chris Young loading the bases with no outs, but left the inning without the Tigers scoring; Kelvin Herrera mimicked Young’s tight-rope, dueling Miguel Cabrera in perhaps the best strikeout of the season; Lorenzo Cain’s defiant two-out home run on David Price; and Salvador Perez‘s childish grin at Cabrera’s second straight lineout to third base.
The best part of this rivalry is that it doesn’t come from anger, frustration, or violence; it arrived from mutual respect and great sportsmanship on both sides. No one was thrown out of the game. There were no suspensions. Just good baseball.
It remains to be seen if the Kansas City Royals can continue to match and surpass the Detroit Tigers, but the Royals have certainly held their own, even when suspensions and injuries make it seem like they’re fighting with one hand behind their back. Good rivalries make teams even better. Every game the Royals play against the Tigers will feel as important as any postseason or World Series match. It will define who the Royals are as a team. It will test their resilience. And as a Royals fan, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It’s gonna be a great ride on the road to 162.