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The End of an Era

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Royals Championship Core Makes More Memories in Season Finale

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals
Thanks for the memories!
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

(Ed note: Huge thanks to Hokius who is, unfortunately, feeling a little under the weather. It’s my honor to write the final recap of this Royals era.)

On the broadcast, it was mentioned this game was going to be treated like a Spring Training game. Really, it was a celebration of the last five years. It must have been a big deal: Marlins Man was at the game today. At one point, Physioc cornily said (I think I got this quote exact): “There is a reason this is called the Heartland and the fans are showing their love today.” Even the weather cooperated as it was a beautiful day in the upper 70s.

It got started early with Salvador Perez, who was not in the lineup. He got in a little staring contest with a Diamondback about who would leave the field last after the National Anthem and introductions . Graciously, the Arizona player backed down and let Salvy have the day.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals
#35 Eric Hosmer, 2016 MLB All-Star MVP
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Standing ovations were practically nonstop in the early innings. In the bottom of the 1st, Eric Hosmer strode through a cacophony of applause to the plate. The ovation swelled as he launched an opposite field home run down the left field line. While trotting to 1st, he had a giant grin on his face as his storybook life continued. The Diamondbacks considered challenging and Ryan Lefebvre made some joke about needing the national guard to protect them if they had. That home run, his 25th of the season, tied last year’s career high. It also is the first time in franchise history the Royals have had three 25 home run hitters (along with Perez and the next hitter).

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals
#8 Mike Moustakas, 2017 Kansas City Royals Home Run King
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Moustakas, the newly minted Royals home run champ, was next. Before his at bat and on every pitch, “MOOOOOOOOOSE” thundered through Kauffman Stadium. He grounded out in the first. In the fourth, he squared up on one but hit it to straight away center for a loud out. The new Royals single season record stands at 38 home runs.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals
#2 Alcides Escobar, 2015 ALCS MVP
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In the bottom of the 2nd, another upcoming free agent was cheered to the plate. Alcides Escobar, the current MLB Iron Man, logged his 333rd consecutive game. It also marked the 3rd time in the last 4 season he played all 162 games. During the game, he made a nice play at short, diving to his left and trapping former Royal Grego Blanco in a rundown. In the 4th, he flashed the #Ambush and #DevilMagic. With runners at 1st and 3rd, he grounded to short. But Arizona's SS bobbled it and everyone was safe, including Hosmer crossing the plate to tie the game at 2.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals
#6 Lorenzo Cain, 2014 ALCS MVP
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Finally, the 3rd inning had Lorenzo Cain’s first at bat. As with the others the (Send help! I’m running out of synonyms for “applause”!) was deafening. He was batting 9th, possibly to split up the ovations, possibly to protect the batting average. Whatever the reason, he ended the season at .300 after going 0 for 2 on the day. He also ended with 5+ bWAR in 3 of the last 4 seasons.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals
#51 Jason Vargas, 2017 MLB wins leader
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Today’s starter, Jason Vargas, wasn't part of the core that came up through the minors, but he had been with the team for the last 4 years. He came into the day tied for the league lead in wins with 18. Through 4, he gave up 2 runs and it looked like the team was trying to will him through 5 to get him that 19th win so he could have sole possession of the lead.

Unfortunately, something called a Jeremy Hazelbaker happened. The backup Diamondbacks outfielder ended Vargas's day with a 3-run homer in the 5th. In a nod to Vargas and his pitching coach, manager Ned Yost let Dave Eiland go the mound to get Vargas. It was an emotional scene from an emotional pitcher, who slowly walked off the mound, trying to take it all in.

One batter later:

All four positional free agents were removed from the game as a group. There were hugs all around: incoming players hugging outgoing players, other players in the game hugging those going out, and all the Royals outgoing core hugging each other. Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, and Escobar all walked off the field together, tipping their hats to the crowd. Arizona’s Brandon Drury just stood in the on-deck circle while the game stopped for a few minutes. A hat tip to the NL team for letting the Royals fans and the players share this and every moment in the game.

At this point, the game became more exhibition than regular season MLB game. And I'm not just saying that because the Royals would go on to lose by nearly two touchdowns: 14-2. The scorecards looked more like something out of Spring Training, not the regular season as 21 Royals and 24 Diamondbacks played in the game.

Honestly, there was so much news today, it was hard to keep up.

Today was Don Free’s last day after 32 years as the radio producer/engineer for the team. If you were confused as to why Steve Physioc was with Rex Hudler on the TV broadcast in the early innings, it was because Ryan was saying goodbye to the long time Royals fixture.

Alyssa Hudler, Rex's daughter, sang God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch.

Whit Merrifield (34 SBs) held off a pair of Astros, Cameron Maybin (33) and Jose Altuve (32) to win the AL stolen base crown. It was the first time a Royal has led the league in that category since Johnny Damon in 2000.

With 32K-odd fans today, season attendance topped 2 million for the 4th straight season with a yearly total of 2,220,370.

Rustin Dodd did a great job keeping fans abreast of shared “cultural” moments on Twitter. It goes without saying that he's a must-follow for Royals news.

Also, the Royals Twitter feed has loads of videos from today.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals
Fans show their appreciation with signs
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I have never seen so many signs in the crowd as there were today, from a middle aged man holding up "Hosmer, It's Our Turn to Buy the Beer" to a cute old couple sharing: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened. -Dr. Seuss". The impact this team had on the city was in full display.

Other players who may have seen their last days in Kansas City include two-time Royal Melky Cabrera, less-than-stellar trade deadline acquisition Trevor Cahill, September closer Mike Minor, and lovable human canvas/unexpected espresso officianado Peter Moylan. Other minor contributors who are going to arbitration and may not be back include Brazilian speedster Paulo Orlando, Shawnee Mission South product Mike Morin, barn loving lefty Brian Flynn, and six-years-younger-and-a-switch-hitter Billy Burns.

At the conclusion of the game, all of the Royals went back out on the field, giving the large crowd one last chance to show their appreciation and say their goodbyes. A video played with highlights including first hits, career moments, and World Series celebrations. It ended with another who was no longer with the team, Yordano Ventura (much of the 8th inning was also dedicated to his memory). Tears mingled with smiles from fans, players, and staff alike.

The Royals just miss out at .500, ending the season at 80-82. Pick your joke, either "Take that, PECOTA!" or "Thanks Soria/Herrera!" or "Yosted!"

Hud mentioned at one point (paraphrasing) that the fans don't want to go home. The party may be over, but the memories shared by this city and fanbase will last a lifetime. To this current core, thanks for everything and godspeed.

We don't know what the future will bring. 2018 will be a new world for Royals fans. This team will look drastically different when they take the field March 29th against the Chicago White Sox. Just 179 days to go until Opening Day!