Three years ago, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Oakland A’s in arguably the greatest playoff game in franchise history. Let’s take a look back at the classic.
(Editor’s note: This is one of several on-this-date posts that KoK will publish leading into and throughout the 2017 postseason. They will highlight the postseason success of the Kansas City Royals over the years with particular emphasis given to 2014 and 2015—given the strong ties to the current squad.)
The Kansas City Royals had a nearly 29-year gap between Game 7 of the 1985 World Series and the 2014 American League Wild Card Game. Both were winner-take-all games that are among the most famous in franchise history.
On the three-year anniversary of the Wildest Wild Card Game ever, we look back on the moment the Kansas City Royals began a remarkable run that captivated the entire country. It’s the game that signaled a change in the course of franchise history.
In 2012, MLB added a fifth playoff team to each league. This team would be the one that finished second in the Wild Card standings, and it would hit the road to face the first Wild Card team in a winner-take-all game. The victor would then face the top seed in the division series.
The first two seasons of the Wild Card Game saw the road team win three of the four matchups. The night after Kansas City and Oakland met at Kauffman Stadium, the Giants would win the National League Wild Card Game on the road. Needless to say, the decision worked out nicely for MLB. The crown jewel—to this day—is still the Royals-A’s matchup.
Moss Destroys Two Pitches
The Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s have forever been linked. It helped that the Royals came to be only because the A’s left town, but it’s more than that. There are several instances where the two teams have shared players over the years—either directly or indirectly.
One of the indirect players, Brandon Moss, might not have been so welcome in Kansas City this year had the Wild Card Game ended in Oakland’s favor. That’s because he almost single-handedly eliminated the Royals from the postseason. He crushed a two-run homer to right field in the first inning, and later smashed a three-run shot to dead-center field in the sixth.
The second home run came off Yordano Ventura. Manager Ned Yost brought the young starting pitcher in for James Shields in a tough spot. Ventura couldn’t deliver and the Kansas City Royals faced a 7-3 deficit after 5 1/2 innings.
Through seven innings, Jon Lester had been outstanding. He allowed a run in the first inning on a Billy Butler single and two runs in the third inning on consecutive run-scoring hits by Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. He settled down after that, but it seemed as though he should have been done after seven.
However, Lester started the eighth inning and the first rally commenced. Alcides Escobar singled, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Cain’s single. Cain stole second and Hosmer walked. Only then did Bob Melvin finally make a move to his bullpen, summoning Luke Gregerson.
That move did not stop the bleeding; it opened up a bigger wound. Butler singled in a run, pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second and Alex Gordon walked to load the bases. Gregerson uncorked a wild pitch to score Hosmer before finally settling down with a pair of strikeouts to strand the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.
This is kind of the forgotten rally in a way. The eighth-inning outburst got the team back into the game and the 12th-inning runs, obviously, won it, but this is the rally that kept the season alive. Without it, Gregerson is a hero for escaping the jam in the eighth inning. Without it, the Kansas City’s return to the playoffs lasts just one game. And without it, who knows if there is a 2015 World Series trophy with “Royals” on it.
Josh Willingham, of all people, opened the ninth inning with a bloop single to right. Jarrod Dyson ran for him. Escobar sacrificed him to second. Dyson then stole third with Nori Aoki at the plate. That proved critical as Aoki’s drive down into the right field corner was caught by Josh Reddick. Dyson scored easily, and the game headed to extra innings.
Finnegan Steps Up; Royals waste chances
Just a few months removed from pitching at TCU, rookie Brandon Finnegan got the call to start the 10th inning for the Kansas City Royals. The left-hander retired the side in order.
After Salvador Perez grounded out with Hosmer at third base to end the 10th, Finnegan returned for the 11th. He brushed aside the first two hitters of the inning. Josh Donaldson extended the inning with a single, but Finnegan caught Moss looking to end the inning.
The Kansas City Royals once again left the winning run at third base in the 11th inning. This time Jayson Nix struck out looking with Omar Infante just 90 feet away. Finnegan returned for the 12th, but he finally got burnt.
Leadoff walks always come back to bite. Reddick reached on a free pass and moved to second a sacrifice bunt. Jason Frasor came on to relieve Finnegan at that point. After a wild pitch, Alberto Callaspo—another played who has played for both the Royals and A’s—drove in Reddick with a single to left.
Frasor escaped further damage, but Oakland had an 8-7 lead heading to the bottom of the 12th. Despite pitching brilliantly, Finnegan was on the hook for a loss.
Finnegan’s teammates made sure he didn’t get saddled with the loss. Instead, they rewarded Frasor with a win.
As with several subsequent rallies in 2015, Cain led off the inning. Unlike the eighth inning of ALCS Game 6 or ninth inning of World Series Game 5, he failed to reach base.
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Hosmer almost tied the game, but his drive to left-center hit off the top of the wall. Two outfielders collided trying to make the catch, allowing Hosmer to reach third base. Christian Colon followed with a high chopper that Donaldson couldn’t field. Hosmer scored to tie the game, and Colon reached safely.
That was the end of the night for Dan Otero, who had come on to start the 11th inning. Fernando Abad got Gordon to pop out. The A’s made another pitching change, bringing in Jason Hammel—yet another player who has featured in Kansas City and Oakland.
A hitless Perez came to the plate looking to be the hero. With a 1-2 count, the A’s attempted a pitch out. The call was perfectly timed, as Colon took off for second. However, Derek Norris dropped the baseball, which allowed Colon to swipe the bag without a throw.
Two pitches later, Perez somehow managed to get out in front of a slider that was well outside the strike zone. He pulled it towards third base, where Donaldson couldn’t quite reach it. Colon scored without a play to win the absolutely ludicrous contest.
It’s pretty clear that this game proved to be a pivotal moment in this recent Kansas City Royals era. The club had been fighting tooth and nail for respect during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. This game showed the world that the team belonged.
Winner-take-all games are a tricky proposition. The best team doesn’t always win, but the momentum gained from winning them can be incredible. The 2014 season showcased this to perfection as the two Wild Card Game winners made it to the World Series.
Obviously, the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t have reached the 2014 World Series without this wacky Wild Card win. But it’s possible the team doesn’t win the 2015 World Series without winning this game. The two biggest keys for the Kansas City Royals in 2015 were postseason experience and the gut-wrenching pain of losing Game 7 at home the year before.
Neither of those would have happened if not for the incredible 2014 Wild Card Game. It’s a game that will live forever in Kansas City Royals lore. A game 29 years in the making that somehow exceeded the hype.