KC Royals: The comeback weekend that made history

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The 1985 KC Royals mastered the art of the comeback by winning both the American League Championship Series and the World Series despite trailing three games to one in each.

The Royals’ next postseason run began with a comeback in the 2014 AL Wild Card Game that saw the club respond to a 7-3 deficit in the eighth inning by eventually winning 9-8 in 12 innings.

Throughout the 2015 season, the Royals became known for late-game comebacks and a strong bullpen that kept opponents at bay after the first six innings of games.

Then, the 2015 playoffs saw the team come from behind to win eight games over the course of the postseason and become the first team in history to win three World Series games by coming from behind in the eighth frame or later.

But 2014 and 2015 weren’t the only seasons the club made great comebacks. Take 2016, for example.

The KC Royals made a big 2016 comeback against AL Central rival Chicago.

On May 27, 2016, the Royals were clinging to a 1-0 lead at home when the White Sox came to bat against Danny Duffy in the top of the sixth. Duffy had coasted through the first five innings by retiring all 15 Sox hitters he faced. The sixth started out with more of the same when Jimmy Rollins grounded out.

But then the floodgates opened as Avisaíl Garcia broke up Duffy’s perfect game with a single. Two more singles loaded the bases for Melky Cabrera, who launched the first pitch he saw from Duffy for a grand slam and a 4-1 Chicago lead. Todd Frazier followed with another home run and Duffy’s night was done.

Eric Hosmer began the KC comeback with a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth off White Sox starter Miguel Gonzáles, but the Royals still trailed 5-2 going into the seventh. Brett Eibner came through with a one-out double in the bottom of the seventh for his first major league hit in his first big league game. A walk and a single loaded the bases and Whit Merrifield knocked in two runs with a single. After a wild pitch and an out, Hosmer singled to put the Royals ahead 6-5 on their way to a 7-5 victory.

One great KC Royals comeback deserves another, and it came pretty quickly.

That May four-run deficit wasn’t the biggest the Royals would overcome in the 2016 season—in fact, it wasn’t even the biggest they would overcome that weekend. The very next day, a throwing error by second baseman Omar Infante allowed a run to score and put the White Sox ahead 7-1 in the fifth inning against Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura.

That score held until the Royals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Paulo Orlando struck out against closer David Robertson to lead off the frame.

But then Cheslor Cuthbert started a rally for the ages with an innocent looking single to center. Rookie Eibner, then 1-for-6 in his short big league career, doubled to move Cuthbert to third base. Infante and Alcides Escobar both walked to force in a run against the suddenly wild Robertson.

Merrifield followed with a two-run infield single that scored Eibner and Infante. Lorenzo Cain bounced into a force out but Escobar scored because the Sox were unable to turn the double play. That made the score 7-5 with two outs with the potential tying run coming to the plate in Hosmer. The lefty-swinging first baseman came through with a double to score Cain and move the tying run to second base.

The fifth spot in the Royals order was due up, but Salvador Perez had been replaced by Drew Butera at catcher due to an injury with two outs in the top of the ninth. Butera was hitting .211 for the season and was 0-for-11 since a May 4 RBI double against Washington.

Drew Butera and rookie Brett Eibner came through to sink Chicago again.

Tommy Kahnle replaced Robertson on the mound for Chicago to face Butera, who had three doubles among his four hits on the season coming into the game. On a 1-1 pitch, Butera lined a double to score Hosmer with the tying run.

A wild pitch sent Butera to third and prompted an intentional walk to Orlando. After Orlando took second on defensive indifference, Jarrod Dyson, pinch hitting for Cuthbert, was also walked intentionally, bringing up Eibner with the bases loaded in his second big league game.

After nine pitches from Kahnle, Eibner was still at the plate with a 3-2 count. Every kid dreams of being at the plate with the bases loaded in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth and coming through for the win. Eibner lived that dream on this day, punching through a ground ball single to score Butera and cap the seven-run comeback that made Royals history—it was the biggest Kansas City ninth inning come-from-behind rally for a win ever.

Despite his early heroics, Eibner was gone from Kansas City by the end of July, traded to Oakland in exchange for outfielder Billy Burns.

The back-to-back comeback wins began a six-game winning streak that put the Royals at 30-22 on the season. An eight-game losing streak followed to bring the team crashing back to earth at 30-30 on their way to an 81-81 finish. Although the season wasn’t what Kansas City hoped for following the World Series win the year before, the 2016 team certainly added to the legacy of the comeback Royals.

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A couple of big 2016 wins added to the Royals’ reputation for exciting comeback victories, and one made history.