One year ago today, the Royals played the most exciting post-season game in recent history and perhaps one of the most important games in franchise history when they came back and beat the Athletics 9-8 in the 2014 American League Wild Card Game. Is your voice still hoarse from the screaming? Are your ears still ringing? Can you believe the Royals came back? We recall our memories of the greatest Wild Card Game ever, one year later.
Kevin Ruprecht: Like hell I was going to miss the first playoff game for the Royals in my lifetime. My wife and I were willing to pay a relatively large price tag to go to the Wild Card game, and we certainly did. Sitting behind the left-field foul pole but still having a good view, we experienced everything we expected and some things we did not expect in playoff baseball. My wife's father-in-law has season tickets to the Chiefs, so we know what Kansas City can bring in terms of noise. We brought the noise. Since we couldn't figure out when we should cheer (when they bat or when we bat?), we were just loud all the time. Though I generally enjoy baseball in a more cerebral, quiet manner, this game demanded our collective roar. We delivered.
Being a Royals fan over time has meant that we are accustomed to a certain set of emotions. Disappointment. Reservation. Skepticism. Hopelessness. We unfortunately expect the worst because that's all we've known for the past few decades. It's not that we turn on the team quickly, it's just that we (or at least I) have a defined mechanism for dealing with failure, which is an aloof detachment from winning and losing. The Royals brought these emotions as well. After the Moss dinger and before the late-game heroics, I was fully engaged in this mechanism. I had plenty of thoughts such as, "Well, it was a hell of a season" and "At least we got to experience a playoff atmosphere here". I was preparing myself to deal with crushing defeat such that I could drive home without internalizing my negative emotions in silence. The Royals were delivering this part of the narrative.
Then the comebacks happened. The grief mechanism ground to a halt as we witnessed most likely the greatest ending to a sporting event we will ever see. My brain has now formed a new set of connections to the Royals. Elation. Pride. Belief. Hope. The tingly feeling of something grand happening when Christian Colon streaked home. It was a new experience in my fandom that will never be replicated. There are expectations now. A gradual acceptance that the team and front office may actually know what they're doing. An association with winning. Aloof detachment is not the way to experience winning. The Royals delivered a new part of the narrative, and I now have to figure out how to read it.
Minda Haas: Going to Kansas City was out of the realm of possibility for me, but two of my brothers live in my neighborhood, and our neighborhood bar is within easy walking distance. We tried to watch the game there, but it rained in Omaha right as the game started, and that knocked out the DirecTV signal. We dashed in the pouring rain to one brother's house, but for some reason his TV wasn't working. This led five of us to all pile into my tiny living room.
As the game wore on, we started grumbling about how terrible it was, and how we shouldn't have dared to have any hope, and we were so glad we had not tapped out all our resources to travel to the game, and we would have to wait another couple decades for the Royals to play October baseball. My sister-in-law (not a Royals fan) rolled her eyes so hard at all of that, because we were acting like it was the end of the world. It kind of felt like the end of the world to a family of long-tortured Royals fans, though.
We resorted to bizarre fan rituals, ascribing "rally power" to everything from a bowl of stew to beers (so many beers) to my cat knocking things off a shelf. It all seemed to work - we'll take a "Thank You" note from the team any day now - because suddenly, the insurmountable lead started feeling surmountable. I don't think any of us in the room took a breath during Salvador's at bat, except maybe the cat. When the hit sneaked down the left field line and Christian Colon crossed the plate, we all jumped up and down and hugged, and I forgot that the beer in my hand was open and it flew all over the place. I moved out of that apartment this summer, and could swear I still saw the ghost of that celebration.
Matthew LaMar: I didn't expect to go to the Wild Card Game. I assumed the tickets were super expensive on the secondary market, and they were (though not as much as later on the playoffs). Thankfully, a poster on Royals Review was unable to make it, and transferred two tickets to me for face value--you have my eternal thanks, Jeff. This was maybe the day before. The only problem was that this was so last notice that I almost couldn't find anybody to go with me. My fiancee was still in Oklahoma. My parents lived in Iowa. RoyallyDisplaced was unable to free himself from a class at Iowa State to drive down.
The entire Royals Review staff was already going or unable to make it. I finally found my friend Randal, who had been in Alaska for the summer, and we met up to go to the game. Randal was a casual fan but a lifelong Kansas City area native, so he was still eager to see such a phenomenon. He was wearing a green shirt when I met him, as he had forgotten to change into something blue. I found that highly amusing at the time. The game itself was the best sporting experience I have ever or will ever seen in person. It was transcendent. Kauffman Stadium had an otherworldly energy about it. It was loud, electric; you could cut the excitement with a knife. Every crack of the bat, every strike, every run was precious or a deep wound to the soul depending upon its effect.
Every emotion was touched--pure excitement as James Shields threw the first strike, agony and anger after Yordano Ventura allowed the three-run home run in the sixth, incredulous joy as the Royals came back to tie the game, weary sadness as the Athletics took the lead in extra innings, unbridled euphoria as Salvador Perez plated Christian Colon. The two couples to our left departed in the sixth inning. I can't fathom how they feel about it. As I was driving home on I-35 late at night, I played some music in my car. It was the artist Lights. The lyrics to one of her songs went like this: "Everyone here is ready to go/It's been a hard year, and I only know/From down this low/It's only up we go, up we go." The Wild Card Game was the start of that upward swing.
October, 2014 was pure magic
Matt Jackson: On September 28th, I grabbed the bag that had been packed and waiting by our front door for nearly two months and called a cab to take my wife and I to the hospital. By 2 p.m. we were admitted and assigned a birthing room and nurse. By the time we welcomed our daughter into the world, the Royals were slated to play the Wild Card game the following day. As they weighed her, my daughter grabbed my finger. Through the sobs, I told her that I loved her, that she was perfect, and that the Royals would face off against the Athletics the next evening. I wasn't sure she had been able to hear over the contractions when I had relayed the message to her during labour.
Thankfully, both mother and child were in good health and discharged the following afternoon. We arrived home and did the things that all new parents do. We took turns holding her, cooing at her, allowed ourselves to imagine that her facial expression conveyed meaning and intention, and worried about whether she was getting enough to eat. Eventually, they both feel asleep, my daughter in my arms and my wife in our reclining chair. Sleep was at a premium for my wife, so I wandered into the bedroom, pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, and glanced at the time. I hadn't forgotten about the game. I just assumed I wouldn't have the opportunity to watch it. Now sitting on the floor, I loaded the game and turned the volume off just in time to see Brandon Moss stride up to the plate.
First pitch strike. I rock my daughter gently and make up lyrics to nursery rhymes for which I only know the tune. Second pitch. Ugh. She stirs and begins fussing. Did she pick up on some physical cue? Had I tensed up in frustration and disappointment? No matter; she was awake. I closed the app and padded around the bedroom hoping to lull her back to sleep. I heard my wife wake in the other room and decided to join her to see if the baby was hungry. A couple of hours later I retrieved my phone and notice a couple dozen text messages. After flipping through a couple I realized that I missed what may be the defining game for Royals fans of my generation. Actually, I wouldn't say I missed it. I just didn't watch it live.
Josh Duggan: Unlike seemingly every staffer at Royals Review, the then twelve-hour drive for me was going to keep me from getting to Kauffman for anything short of the World Series. As the game fell on my day, I was pounding away at the keyboard, watching the game while trying to write it up, police the game threads, and stay on top of overflows. I wrote a Wild Card preview thread. I wrote a game thread. I wrote an overflow. And then another. And then another. And then a fourth. There were just shy of 5,000 comments in the five game threads. The game was a disaster. Then it wasn't. Then it was again. Then it wasn't. It was the wildest game I think I can remember seeing. Then I wrote this--nothing I can write today will come close to recapturing the emotion in that recap.
Max Rieper: I remember buying Wild Card tickets when they first went on sale - when the playoffs still seemed like they were in doubt. We got great seats for a reasonable price, a few rows behind the third base dugout suites. I took my dad, the man that had taken men to dozens of lousy Royals games that didn't matter, at least on the field, but meant a heckuva lot to me as a kid.
We sat right behind THE most obnoxious Athletics fan in the world. I'm sure 99% of Athletics fans are wonderful people, but this guy was the 1%. He was sitting by himself, obviously inebriated by first pitch, and just egging on the Royals fans around him with constant heckling. "OAAAAAK----LAND!" he would shout every few minutes at even the most trivial plays.
The game went back and forth early on, which shut him up. But when Brandon Moss hit his big home run off Yordano Ventura, that gave him a second wind. Royals fans implored the ushers to escort this guy out of the stadium to no avail. It wasn't until he put his hands on a kid - innocently enough, just a hand on the shoulder to get his attention - but that set off the child's father and got the ushers to step in and escort the drunken A's fan in the Rickey Henderson jersey out of the section to the applause of everyone in blue.
My father and I were still a bit stunned that (a) Ned Yost was dumb enough to bring Yordano Ventura on one day's rest; and that (b) the Royals had just coughed up the lead on a huge Brandon Moss home run, his second of the game. The A's hung a five-spot on the board. They led 7-3 with just four innings left to go. Some Royals fans in front of us left. Hey, at least they beat traffic.
Then, the comeback. In the eighth inning, the Royals got to Jon Lester. Suddenly, his Superman cape began to show holes. The Royals stole a base. They stole another. You could see a light-bulb go off in their heads. They can't catch us.
The Royals entered the ninth still down a run, but it felt like they could tie or win the game on sheer will. Small ball may be antithetical to my philosophies on baseball, but in one game, in this particular game, it made all the sense in the world. Josh Willingham led off the inning with a pinch-hit single, Esky bunted him to second, and Jarrod Dyson, pinch-running for Willingham, had his amazing steal of third. Nori's flyball got him home and Kauffman Stadium erupted.
We went to extras and even when the A's took the lead in the twelfth, the defeatist attitude built up from 29 years seemed to be denied entrance at the Kauffman Stadium gate. These were the 2014 Royals, with Royals Devil Magic. Weird things happen. Weird, wonderful things.
Eric Hosmer stepped in and launched a glorious fly ball inches away from clearing the left-field fence. No matter, he stood on third with a triple and just one out. Christian Colon bounced one of the weirdest infield hits I've ever seen, scoring Hosmer easily. Of course, its the 2014 Royals, what else would you expect?
I thought for sure in my bones that Alex Gordon would be the hero. He popped out. Colon stole second. They can't catch us. Salvy's up though. Salvador Perez, who had caught about a million innings in August and September until he was worn down to a nub. Salvador Perez, who never met a pitch he didn't like. Salvador Perez, who reached out, poked a pitch low and away, and drove it just past an outstretched Josh Donaldson!
I've been to some very loud games at Arrowhead Stadium, and I know they recently broke the record for loudest stadium, but had the Guinness people been at Kauffman Stadium that night, they might have given Royals fans the award. My dad and I just kind of looked at each other. We embraced complete strangers. I had not seen the Royals win a playoff game since I was seven years old, and I had just witnessed the most amazing game I had ever seen.
My dad would later remark that he would remember that game for as long as he could remember things. I think that is true for the entire city. The Royals may have missed out on post-season action for nearly three decades, but when they returned, they announced in a big way - they can't catch us.
Except, of course, until they met Madison Bumgarner.