KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lorenzo Cain raced in from the outfield about as fast as he had raced around the bases, hurrying to join the rest of the Kansas City Royals as they streamed onto the diamond in celebration.
There was Eric Hosmer, hugging anyone in sight. And curmudgeonly manager Ned Yost, finally cracking a smile. And stoic closer Wade Davis, who let out a fierce roar Friday night when the Royals recorded the final out in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, a white-knuckle, 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
A win that returned the Royals to the World Series.
“We came in with one goal,” Cain said with a smile, “and that was to get back.”
The Royals open the World Series on Tuesday night against the New York Mets, trying to do one win better than they did last year. In their first trip to the Fall Classic in 29 years, they lost in Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants with the tying run standing 90 feet from home.
It was a heartbreaking defeat that remained in the back of the Royals’ minds all season, and ultimately spurred their return to the game’s biggest stage.
“Our guys, from the first day of spring training, their focus was to get back to the World Series,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “and they did it.”
In dramatic fashion, too.
Jose Bautista’s second homer of the game, a two-run shot in the top of the eighth, lifted Toronto into a 3-3 tie. Then the weather hit, a 45-minute rain delay that sent fans scurrying for the concourses and threatened to put a damper on what had been a festive night for KC.
After the delay, Cain calmly worked a leadoff walk from Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, and Hosmer followed with a clean single that Bautista fielded down the right-field line.
Rather than hit the cutoff man, though, Bautista threw to second. That gave the speedy Cain, running full speed and waved home by third base coach Mike Jirschele, just enough time to beat the relay throw from second base with a textbook slide that ignited a sellout crowd.
“I felt like I cut it off quick enough to where if I threw to second I could prevent him from going to second and Cain from scoring,” Bautista said, “but I was wrong.”
Jirschele had noticed all series that Bautista usually threw to second in those situations.
“As soon I saw him release the ball to second,” Jirschele said, “I had Lorenzo coming in.”
Then it was up to Davis, who got the Royals out of a jam in the eighth, to finish it off.
The closer gave up a single to Russell Martin and walked Kevin Pillar, ratcheting up the tension, before fanning pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro. Then, after stolen bases put runners on second and third, Davis struck out Ben Revere and got Josh Donaldson on a bouncer to third.
“At that point, it was about as bad as it could get, a man on third with no outs,” Davis said. “Just hoping for some magic and get out of it.”
It’s getting hard to believe the Royals still have magic left.
Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas homered, and Alex Rios also drove in a run for Kansas City, while shortstop Alcides Escobar was voted MVP after going 11 for 23 in the series.
For the Blue Jays, it was a frustrating ending to a late-season surge that ended their own postseason drought dating to 1993. They had rallied from a 2-0 series deficit against Texas in the divisional round, then staved off elimination against the Royals in Game 5 in Toronto.
They simply couldn’t win their fifth straight elimination game.
“They made a run at it,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “I really couldn’t be more proud of our guys. They laid it out every day. They’re great competitors and a fun bunch.”
The Royals never trailed in the game, though it was never easy.
Zobrist pounced on Blue Jays ace David Price in the first inning, pulling a 1-1 pitch from his old Tampa Bay teammate down the left-field line. Zobrist’s second home run of the series gave Kansas City the lead and sent a capacity crowd of 40,494 into a towel-waving frenzy.
They hardly stopped by the time Moustakas came to bat in the second.
After scrawling the initials of his late mother, Connie, into the dirt with the end of his bat, Moustakas sent a 1-2 pitch from Price screaming over the fence in right. The ball was caught by a fan, 19-year-old Caleb Humphreys of nearby Blue Springs, Missouri, and the umpires briefly reviewed whether fan interference should be called on the play.
The review lasted 1 minute, 47 seconds, before crew chief John Hirschbeck announced that the replays were inconclusive. The home run stood and Kansas City had a 2-0 lead.
Rios added an RBI single in the seventh, but only after two marvelous plays by Toronto limited the damage. Revere made a leaping grab at the fence to rob Salvador Perez of a two-run shot to left, and second baseman Ryan Goins made a sliding grab to rob Alex Gordon of a single.
The defensive plays proved critical when Ryan Madson came on to pitch the eighth.
Madson allowed a leadoff single to Revere, and then struck out Donaldson, before peering in at Bautista in the box. The home run hitter who irked Kansas City fans all series followed his solo shot in the first inning with a tying, two-run homer to left that silenced the crowd — other than the smattering of boos directed at Madson on the mound.
The home run squandered a strong start by Yordano Ventura, who allowed only Bautista’s first homer of the series and three other harmless hits in 5 1-3 innings. But it didn’t seem to dent the confidence of the Royals, who have grown accustomed to tense postseason games.
There’s a reason they were defending American League champions, after all.
“The story just keeps better and better,” Hosmer said. “I can’t waiting to be fighting on the big stage with these guys in a couple of days.”