ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Mike Moustakas wasn't sure if this day would come.
He knew what kind of team the Kansas City Royals had and he knew what kind of player he could be. He just wasn't sure if the two would cross paths this season after the start he had.
Moustakas got off the slowest start of his career and was optioned to Triple-A Omaha in late May after opening the year hitting .152. It was a humbling experience for the 26-year old third baseman who had been in the majors since being called up in 2011 and appeared destined to fulfill the potential that made him the second overall pick of the 2007 draft behind David Price.
Fast forward about four months and Moustakas is hitting the game-winning home run in the 11th inning of the opening game of the American League Division Series in front of a dozen of his friends and family members who drove to the game from his hometown 60 miles north in Chatsworth, California.
"It's unbelievable," Moustakas said. "Being able to do that in front of my friends and family, I can't explain it. ... I couldn't even tell you how many [were here]. I know I left a good amount of tickets. But I have so many friends and family around this area, and a lot of them came out here to support not only me but the Royals also."
Moustakas was born and raised in Chatsworth and his father, Mike, played college football at UCLA. He has lived in Newport Beach the past seven offseasons, which shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who watched him walk into the postgame interview room for the first time in his career wearing board shorts and sandals.
After the Royals' dramatic 12-inning, comeback win in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday, Moustakas tried to put into words his solo shot in the 11th inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit," Moustakas said. "We got a bunch of guys on that bench that can get a bag, so I was doing whatever I could to find a way on base. [Fernando Salas] threw me the first pitch, it was a good pitch. I got another pitch, another fastball, and I was able to square it up and ended up getting it out of the yard. That's probably the biggest one I've ever hit."
Moustakas' dad, who is a retired attorney, was able to see his son's dramatic wild-card game win on Tuesday in Kansas City and was in the stands to watch him in Anaheim on Thursday. Although Moustakas said he couldn't hear them cheering during the game, he constantly hears the biggest piece of advice his dad gave him when he was younger, "If you're not out working hard, someone's working harder."
It could have been easy to forget that earlier this season when Moustakas was sent down, but he said Royals manager Ned Yost assured him he would be recalled after he was able to work through his issues at the plate.
"I knew I had to go down there and figure some things out," Moustakas said. "I had to figure out my swing and get back on track, and I was able to do that a little bit and came back up and had a little bit of success and kept it rolling."
When Moustakas was called back up to the majors 10 days after he was sent down, he responded by hitting .284 with a double, five home runs and 14 RBIs over his first three weeks back. He finished the season with 15 home runs, which ranks seventh among AL third basemen, and had a pair of six-game hitting streaks, including during Kansas City's final homestand of the season.
"He gets mad sometimes because he knows he's better than what he shows," Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. "But you got a young guy who came up through the minor leagues hitting .300 and every year he's hitting something like 20 homers and he wanted to carry that over into the big leagues right away. You get frustrated. But when he got sent down and came back up, he came back with a different mindset. He looks better now in the second half than he did in the first half. He's just playing baseball and having fun."
Moustakas, who grew up as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and looked up to Raul Mondesi and Mike Piazza, said he didn't want to think about how many texts he got on his phone from friends and family as he stood in front of his locker answering questions after the game. As he was surrounded by reporters and camera crews in the Royals' clubhouse, Jason Vargas, who was the starting pitcher for the Royals in Game 1 and grew up in Apple Valley, California, smiled.
"That home run was really a reward for how much he's had to grind this season and stay in it and believe in himself," Vargas said. "It's not easy when you're struggling and not doing what you want to do. So to come back home and do it on the biggest stage it's probably as satisfying as it gets."