NEW YORK -- Sometime around the 11th inning in Game 5 of the World Series, two supporting players for the Kansas City Royals convened in an indoor batting cage behind the visiting dugout at Citi Field. Backup infielder Christian Colon and reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson had yet to appear in the in-game box score. But as the scoreless innings dragged on, the odds increased they would be more than just spectators or innocent bystanders to a slice of baseball history.
Colon, the fourth pick in the 2010 first-year player draft out of Cal State Fullerton, is a tough-minded Puerto Rico native who has never lost confidence in his abilities even though the road to success has been strewn with obstacles. Dyson, a chatterbox former 50th-round selection, talks almost as fast as he runs, which is saying something. Together, in the relative silence of the workplace, they shared a vision that seems as improbable as all those comebacks the Royals crafted on their way to a world championship.
"This is no joke," Colon said. "I had been playing things over and over in my mind, and in the cage I told Dyson, 'I have a feeling I'm going to hit with you on third base.' And three minutes later, it seems like, I was hitting with him on third. It's just crazy."
The anecdote makes you wonder if Colon might want to consider moonlighting as a stock picker in his spare time. It also validates a fact of life that unites players who fill complementary roles and have to stay calm and composed at a moment's notice: Good things come to those who prepare.
Several Royals who had received limited exposure during the postseason got a chance to participate in Kansas City's clincher. Backup catcher Drew Butera caught the final strike from closer Wade Davis, and Dyson, who went 0-for-4 in the postseason, scored the winning run. Royals fans should also give a big shout-out to reliever Luke Hochevar, who leapfrogged Ryan Madson in the bullpen pecking order in October and contributed 10⅔ scoreless innings in the playoffs and World Series.
But no Kansas City player crafted a more improbable storyline than Colon, who summoned admirable hand-eye coordination to seize the moment at the most optimal time.
Colon's pinch single to center field off Addison Reed in the top of the 12th broke a 2-2 tie, and the Royals piled on to beat the Mets 7-2 and win the World Series in five games. History will ultimately lump Colon in with Brian Doyle, Tony Womack, Bernie Carbo, Scott Podsednik, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey and numerous other players who delivered big October hits that served as seminal moments in their careers.
Mercifully, the pinch-hit RBI might also put a kinder slant on an evolving professional narrative. To this point, Colon is known primarily as a utility infielder who happened to be chosen three spots ahead of future Mets ace Matt Harvey and nine picks ahead of Chicago White Sox All-Star Chris Sale in that 2010 draft. Try lugging around that burden for a few years.
"He's a tough kid and he has a little chip on his shoulder, because he wants to prove people wrong," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "He's going to get his [career] opportunity, and he'll be ready for it."
Although the Royals carried Colon on their 25-man roster throughout the playoffs and World Series, he hadn't logged an at-bat since Oct. 4, when he singled against the Minnesota Twins in Kansas City's regular-season finale. Until Sunday night, Colon's most visible chore was serving as the Spanish-to-English interpreter for Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura in the media interview room.
But Colon seems to have a flair for this sort of thing. Just a year ago, he came off the bench and contributed a single, stolen base and a run scored in Kansas City's thrilling 9-8 wild-card victory over the Oakland Athletics.
"He was working out in the instructional league coming off a finger injury, and he told everybody there, 'Guys, I don't know how I'm going to help this team. But if I get my moment, I'll be ready,'" Picollo said. "Two nights later, he got that hit in the wild-card game. And here he is a year later, and he's done it again."
The stage for Colon's star turn was set when Royals manager Ned Yost approached him in the dugout at the start of the 12th inning and told him, "You're hitting third." Salvador Perez began the 12th by dumping a single to right field off Reed, and Dyson came on as a pinch runner. After a steal of second, Dyson advanced to third on an Alex Gordon ground ball.
Reed's encounter with Colon consisted of five straight sliders. Colon swung and missed at the first one, and failed to hold up on an attempted check swing to go down 0-2. After a pitch in the dirt, Colon fouled off a fourth consecutive slider to hang tough at 1-2.
On the fifth, fateful slider, there was no doubt. Colon kept his head steady and his hands back and rifled the pitch toward a big patch of green in left-center field. By the time he rounded first base and looked back at the third-base dugout, a roster full of giddy Kansas City players and coaches was celebrating his big moment.
"I was so pumped up, it's hard to describe the moment," Colon said. "I looked in the dugout and I found Jonny Gomes, and then I saw [coach] Rusty Kuntz and I just wanted to hug him and cry. It's almost like you want to tear up, but you can't because the game is still going on."
Gomes, who handed Colon a bottle of champagne in the clubhouse while Colon was doing postgame interviews, understands the challenges of coming off the bench and facing 95-mph fastballs as a part-time player. He sensed Colon might play a pivotal role for Kansas City sometime during the postseason. So a couple of weeks ago, during the American League Championship Series, Gomes took his younger teammate to dinner in Toronto and delivered a part pep talk, part tutorial on the potential challenges that might lie ahead.
Gomes understandably beamed with pride over how well Colon responded to the lesson plan.
"That at-bat he had tonight is one of the hardest at-bats you could have in June -- let alone October,'' Gomes said.
It remains to be seen if Colon's career highlight will be a springboard to bigger and better things, or if he's destined to be a fringe player who kicks around the majors with Kansas City or another organization.
For now, he'll revel in the afterglow. The RBI single will be replayed over and over in Puerto Rico, where Colon grew up, and it will be an endless source of pride to his family and his friends. Colon's father, Elfrin, works for a pharmaceutical company and was traveling in Ohio on Sunday, so he had to watch his son's signature professional moment on television. But they will see each other in a day or two and have plenty to discuss.
"It's crazy to go from not playing much to being in that situation," Colon said. "But I've lived it. I went to bed last night just thinking about this moment, and being there for my brothers and my teammates. So I'm not surprised that I got the opportunity when I did and I was prepared for it."
As baseball history shows, heroes can emerge from the most unlikely places in the postseason. Christian Colon, Kansas City's new Mr. November, has a new signature moment to prove it.