The Kansas City Royals have made a name for themselves over the past 3 years for epic, heart stopping, and mind-blowing comebacks that leave their opponents shaking their heads.
But on Saturday against the White Sox, the Royals just might have taken things to another level entirely, coming back from a 7-1 deficit in the bottom of the 9th inning and committing highway robbery versus Chicago.
The question has naturally been raised: Was this the best comeback we’ve seen from these Royals? First, let’s take a step back and appreciate the other two moments that Kansas City’s seven run 9th inning is being compared to.
The Wild Card Game versus Oakland, and Game 4 of the ALDS at Houston.
September 30th, 2014: The Wild Card Game
Kansas City was making their first playoff appearance since 1985 (that’s 29 years prior) and had the luxury of playing the one game elimination at home. Things started off promisingly enough, with the Royals responding to an early two run home run via the bat of Brandon Moss by taking the lead, 3-2, in the 3rd inning.
And then the 6th inning came. Starter James Shields allowed the first two hitters of the inning to reach base, and the game was hanging in the balance. Manager Ned Yost decided to pull Shields in favor of a rookie Yordano Ventura.
Boom. With one swing of the bat, the young, inexperienced Royals were crushed, and it seemed like their first playoff appearance in nearly thirty years would end in a whimper.
Oakland would go on to add two more runs in the 6th inning to go up 7-3. The Royals would go quietly on offense in the 6th and 7th innings, and things were looking bleak. Jon Lester was on the mound for the Athletics, a pitcher who was very well known by Royals fans for his domination of Kansas City. In 2008, Lester threw a no hitter against the Royals when he was a member of the Boston Red Sox.
Going into the 8th inning, with 6 outs left in their season and Lester still going strong, the Royals had just a 2.9% chance of advancing to the ALDS, and a date with the Los Angeles Angels.
What happened next would be nothing short of incredible.
The Royals broke through against Lester, including a pair of singles by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain (driving in Escobar) and an Eric Hosmer walk. They scored a run against the ace before he gave way to Luke Gregerson (who will come up again later) with a couple of men on base. Gregerson proved unable to strand the runners, as Billy Butler knocked home Cain with a single, and Eric Hosmer managed to score on a wild pitch. Oakland led 7-6 after 8 innings.
In the 9th, late season acquisition Josh Willingham got things started with a single after pinch hitting for Mike Moustakas. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran, and was able to steal third base with one out, setting up this situation to tie the game for Nori Aoki:
The improbable comeback was complete. After being down 4 runs, with one of the best pitchers in baseball (and a Royals killer) on the opposite bump, and having only 6 outs left in the season, Kansas City changed their destiny and went on to win the Wild Card game in 12 innings on a Salvador Perez single past Josh Donaldson and into left field.
After losing in Game 7 of the World Series in 2014, the Royals entered the 2015 season with World Series or bust expectations. Not once over the course of the playoffs in 2015 did those expectations look more in jeopardy than this very afternoon in Houston.
Actually, “in jeopardy” would be underselling it quite a bit. The Royals were down 2-1 in the best of 5 series, and were facing elimination on the road. Similar to the Wild Card game, things started out well enough for the Royals, who scored two runs early in the 2nd inning on a Salvador Perez home run, capturing a 2-0 lead.
From innings 3-7, the Royals would manage only one hit, as Astros starter Lance McCullers simply dominated the Kansas City lineup.
Meanwhile, Royals starter Yordano Ventura would go on to give up a solo homer in the 2nd and 3rd innings at the hands of Carlos Gomez and Carlos Correa respectively. The lead was ultimately taken by the Astros in the bottom of the 5th inning after Correa doubled home George Springer. Ventura’s night was done after 5, and the Royals trailed 3-2.
And then the disaster in the bottom of the 7th.
Royals relief pitcher Ryan Madson, who had an ERA of just 2.13 in 2015, completely collapsed. Madson gave up 4 hits, serving up a two run homer to Carlos Correa, and a solo shot to Colby Rasmus.
Stop me when this sounds familiar, but the Kansas City Royals were down 4 runs, going into the 8th inning of a playoff elimination game.
#Royals low win probability in 2014 Wild Card win over A's: 2.9%#Royals low win probability in 2015 ALDS win over Astros: 1.6%
Oh yeah, and the probability of coming back and winning was even lower this time, at 1.6%. However, there was one thing going the Royals way, although nobody at the time cared because it was a certainty that the season was over. Lance McCullers, who was dealing after that 2nd inning home run, was no longer in the ball game.
Will Harris had relieved him, and Alex Rios innocently started off the 8th with a single to left field.
And then Alcides Escobar hit a single. And then Ben Zobrist. And then Lorenzo Cain.
Four hits in a row quickly forced Harris from the game, and the lead had been trimmed to 6-3. Houston brought in Tony Sipp to face Eric Hosmer. Sipp had an excellent track record against left handed hitters in 2015, posting a sub .600 OPS against lefties.
It didn’t matter. Eric Hosmer hit a single.
That made 5 straight singles and 5 straight hits for Kansas City, with Kendrys Morales coming to the plate with the bases loaded in a 6-4 game.
Morales hit the ball straight to Sipp at the mound. He couldn’t grab it.
The ball traveled straight to Carlos Correa at shortstop, who just needed to glove it and he would have a double play.
The ball skipped right over his glove into the outfield, and the game was tied at 6.
The Royals entered the 8th with only a 1.6% chance of winning, and they tied the game before recording one single out.
Tony Sipp was able to strike out Mike Moustakas before exiting the game. With one out, and two men on, in came Luke Gregerson (told you he’d be back) to strand the runners.
He was unsuccessful. Alex Gordon came through with an RBI groundout, giving Kansas City the lead, 7-6.
The Royals would go on to win the game 9-6, the series against the Astros in Game 5, and eventually the World Series.
And now we return to Saturday. If we are just comparing the two comebacks from the playoffs, it is a toss up. The 2014 Royals really struggled to score at times, averaging just 4.02 runs per game over the course of the season. For them to stage a good portion of the comeback against Jon Lester was very impressive coming from that team.
Alternatively, most people would argue the Royals had a very good offense in 2015. Kansas City was 7th in total runs scored in the league, and had the difference making Ben Zobrist, along with a much improved Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Using the argument that the 2015 Royals squad had more weapons, one could make the case that the Wild Card comeback was more impressive, as it was harder to accomplish.
But the one factor that balances the scales is the fact that in 2014, it took the Royals multiple innings to complete the comeback. In 2015, Kansas City completed the comeback without making any outs, and took the lead all in one inning.
Now that we have established that the prior two comebacks mentioned are pretty much a wash as far as comparing their difficulties, let us insert the game from Saturday against the White Sox into the conversation.
First of all, there is definitely something to be said about accomplishing such a feat in the postseason. A close game in October carries a lot more nervous energy than a close game in May.
However, what happened on Saturday against the White Sox was a totally different animal, and comparing this latest Royals cardiac episode to anything in recent Royals history would not do the event its proper justice.
Yordano Ventura quickly put Kansas City into a hole on Saturday, giving up 7 runs after 5 innings. Making matters worse, the Royals were extremely depleted, making it somewhat daunting for the offense to be in a 7-1 hole. Mike Moustakas has been lost for the year due to a torn ACL, Alex Gordon is on the DL with a wrist injury, and Kendrys Morales is currently day-to-day with an injury of his own.
Additionally, Salvador Perez and Cheslor Cuthbert collided with each other in this game and both had to exit (Cuthbert not right away) due to respective quad contusions.
It should also be noted that going into the contest on Saturday, the Royals were only averaging 3.85 runs per game, worse than the 4.01 mark set by the 2014 squad. And a lot of that is with guys like Gordon, Moustakas, and of course Salvador Perez.
At this point, the Royals were heavily relying on extremely unproven commodities such as Paulo Orlando, Whit Merrifield, and Brett Eibner. Fans likely would have been pleased just to see a little bit of fight in a 9th inning that Kansas City entered trailing 7-1.
They got more than just a fight.
Perhaps the most forgotten part of the resurrection from the dead that took place on Saturday was the fact that the inning actually began with a Paulo Orlando strikeout. The Royals trailed 7-1 with only two outs at their disposal.
White Sox closer David Robertson toed the mound. Robertson entered the day with an ERA of just 0.96. Normally, a closer isn’t used with a 6 run lead, but Robertson had not pitched in 5 days and needed the work.
After Paulo Orlando struck out, Robertson definitely got the work. Just maybe not the kind he was looking for.
Cheslor Cuthbert singled up the middle, with Brett Eibner following with a double, and Omar Infante working a walk. Suddenly, the bases were loaded. Nobody was leaning forward in their seats yet, though. It was still seemingly impossible.
Robertson walked Alcides Escobar, and the lead shrunk to 7-2. Then, unproven commodity Whit Merrifield hit a rocket to right field to cut it to 7-4. Now eyebrows were being raised.
Next, with one out, Lorenzo Cain grounded into a near double play, but his speed was just enough to avoid the conclusion of the ballgame. Had the ball arrived at first base just a second earlier, the game would have been over. 7-5.
Cain had avoided the knockout punch, but the Royals certainly looked to be on the ropes with just one on and 2 outs, still needing two more runs.
Eric Hosmer hit a double to score Cain all the way from first. 7-6.
Everybody was out of their seats. At long last, David Robertson was pulled from the game. By the game’s end, his ERA rose from 0.96 to 3.72.
In came Tommy Kahnle to face Drew Butera, who had to come in for Salvador Perez earlier in the game. Butera entered the day with a career OPS of .510. After Hosmer’s at bat, I actually tweeted this:
None of that stopped Butera from improbably hitting a double to left field to tie the game. 7-7.
After two intentional walks of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, the bases were loaded for Brett Eibner, who was playing in just his 2nd career major league baseball game.
The rookie Eibner engaged himself in a 10 pitch battle, taking and fouling off pitch after pitch. The Royals had already scored 6 runs in the inning to tie the game, and every single fan would have gladly gone into extra innings with a chance to win.
Eibner sent everyone home on time with a single to right field. 8-7. Ball game.
That capped an unfathomable 7 run inning from the Kansas City Royals to win the game.
Conclusion: Saturday was the craziest
I know that some people will always favor the other two games mentioned because they happened in the postseason, but I firmly believe that the events of Saturday transcend when the game took place.
In 2014, the Royals scored 4 runs over two innings before seizing victory in the 12th inning.
In 2015, the Royals scored 5 runs in one inning against the Astros.
On Saturday, the Royals scored 7 runs in one inning, with only 2 outs at their disposal.
The Royals had two outs to score 6 runs and they scored 7. That is incomprehensible.
In the two playoff games, Kansas City each time had multiple innings to get the job done, and it should also be noted that they had better offenses and personnel at their disposal.
In the two years prior to this one, the Royals have been incredibly blessed with nearly perfect health as it pertains to their impact players. The Royals this year have had an extremely pedestrian offense, more so than 2014 or 2015, and were without some of their top options (Moustakas, Gordon, Perez, Morales) for the 9th inning comeback on Saturday.
One would think that a poor offense would simply get even worse after losing many of their stalwarts. The Royals had to rely on a lot of guys that have not at all proven themselves, and yet still the comeback was completed.
I'm really enjoying the Kansas City Stormchasers. #Royals
That’s not exactly an inaccurate way of putting it. A guy like Brett Eibner got as many hits in the 9th inning (2) on Saturday as he had career games played (also 2). Merrifield, Cuthbert, and Eibner were all in Omaha before the season began. Paulo Orlando was thought to be just a platoon player. For my money, give me that game over all the rest.