KANSAS CITY -- Alex Gordon joined the Kansas City Royals organization in 2005 as the second overall pick of the draft. And then he spent the next nine Octobers in the exact same position most every Kansas City fan has spent the past 29 autumns: Spread out on the living room couch, watching oh, so many other teams spraying champagne on TV while wondering why the Royals could not even reach the postseason decade after decade ... after decade.
"I'd be thinking about what we could do to improve and get in that situation," Gordon said. "What can I do to improve? What can this team do to improve?"
It's a question asked many, many, many times by many, many, many Kansas City fans, but the Royals finally answered it. It's simple, really. Just build a team that can do everything right, from Web Gem-grade fielding to good starting pitching, to even better relief pitching, to swift, shrewd baserunning and occasional timely hitting.
The Royals did all that Sunday when they completed their division series sweep over the Angels, the team with the game's best record, with an 8-3 victory. And that means Kansas City fans can watch the American League Championship Series from Kauffman Stadium rather than from their couches for the first time since 1985. If they can find a ticket, that is.
Those fans, some wearing shirts that read "Party Like It's 1985," cheered many moments in Sunday's game (even Billy Butler stole a base!) but the biggest was with two out in the bottom of the first when Gordon stepped to the plate against Anaheim starter C.J. Wilson with the bases loaded and the Royals trailing 1-0 thanks to Mike Trout's home run in the top of the inning. Gordon doubled into the gap in left-center to clear the bases, knock Wilson out of the game, give the Royals a lead they never surrendered and symbolize a good chunk of the reason the Royals finally reached this position.
They made it here in large part by building from within. And fittingly, the Royals have won all four postseason games with the winning/go-ahead run driven in by a homegrown player.
Catcher Salvador Perez, signed out of Venezuela in 2006, singled home the winning run in the 12th inning of the wild-card game. Mike Moustakas, the second pick of the 2007 draft, hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning of Game 1 of this division series. Eric Hosmer, the third pick of the 2008 draft, hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning of Game 2. And Gordon, the 2005 first-rounder, doubled Sunday to score three runners, including Butler, yet another first-round pick (2004).
"We have a ton of first-round picks and a ton of homegrown talent on this team," said Butler, the man known as Country Breakfast whose first stolen base in two years was one of an astounding 12 by the Royals this series. "That's what they imagine when they draft you. They're drafting you to be a piece of a championship team. It's been 10 years and it's been some growing pains and processes but it's all worth it."
Well, Kansas City fans might not have agreed it was worth it during all those long, 29 previous years but there were no complaints from the sellout crowd that stood throughout much of the game, even when it began raining. They may have complained about general manager Dayton Moore in the past but not this season.
"Dayton said when he first got the job [that] we're going to build this organization from within and that's what we've done," Butler said. "We have a ton of homegrown talent and mixed it in with a tremendous free-agent group and through trades."
Indeed, it isn't just homegrown talent. The Royals traded Cy Young-winner Zack Greinke in a multi-player deal that brought them center fielder Lorenzo Cain, whose superb fielding was crucial this series.
Cain, who made two great catches in Game 1, followed that up with two superb diving catches on consecutive batters Sunday. With the Angels threatening (sort of -- they were trailing 7-2) in the fifth, Cain saved a run by snaring Albert Pujols' liner barely an inch off the ground. He then made another diving catch on Howie Kendrick's subsequent drive to center to end the inning.
Trades also helped the Royals develop its excellent pitching staff that has been tremendous this series. Kansas City dealt top prospect Wil Meyers to Tampa two winters ago for ace starter James Shields, plus reliever Wade Davis. Shields was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA in the regular season and held the Angels to two runs in six innings to get the Game 3 win. Davis helped the bullpen continue its dominance Sunday -- Kansas City relievers held the Angels to one run on four hits in 12 innings in the series.
That pitching also helped the often anemic Royals to match the powerful Angels in homers this series. The Royals hit a major league-low 95 home runs in the regular season; St. Louis was next lowest with 105, meaning that the state of Missouri was out-homered by Baltimore 211-200. But the Royals swung with surprising and well-timed power against Anaheim. Moustakas and Hosmer added to their extra-inning heroics with two more home runs Sunday, just the second time in Kansas City's past 38 games that the Royals hit more than one home run in a game.
Still, both credited Gordon's double as the key hit Sunday. "That's a big reason he's the leader of our team," Hosmer said. "He really shifted the momentum there and got us feeling good."
Asked whether it was special that he knocked in fellow longtime veteran Butler with the double, Gordon said no. "We're past that point," he said, wiping champagne from his face. "We're about now. Yeah, it's been a struggle to get here but we're here and now. It doesn't matter who does it as long as someone does it."
And more importantly, after 29 frustrating seasons, as long as someone simply has the opportunity to do it in October rather than sit on a couch and wonder what it takes to get that chance.