KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two teams that, three weeks ago, thought their postseason might last just one day now meet in what might be the most cheerful, least stressful and chummiest World Series anyone can remember.
Quick, someone dream up an insult. Import a dark cloud to place in these (Royal) blue Midwestern skies. After the ceremonial first pitch on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, maybe San Francisco and Kansas City, a pair of delighted wild cards, should meet for a group hug in the infield.
This is the So Happy to Be Here Classic. Neither team should have an iota of pressure. To those to whom not much is given, not a heck of a lot is expected. These evenly matched loose teams, playing with upper-deck-high stacks of house money, have a sweet setup to play a mega-fun series. Maybe they won’t manage it. But the usual October gag reflexes aren’t here. No one gets booed or fired if they lose. There are no curses or jinxes. The Giants are admired; the underdog Royals, adored. So, just go play.
The 88-win Giants already are the first “second wild card” to win a pennant; now they may become the first to win everything. The 89-win Royals don’t have a 20-homer or 75-RBI hitter or a 15-win starting pitcher. There’s something else the Royals don’t have either: a single loss in the month of October. A’s, Angels and O’s, all skunked: 8-0.
Many note that no World Series has ever had two teams with fewer than 90 wins. But series have been won by teams with fewer victories than either of these clubs, such as the 83-win Cardinals in ’06.
Often, the World Series contains the enormous pressure of expectations for at least one team and, thus, the specter of choking. In 10 of the past 15 World Series, the loser had 95 to 105 wins. And eight of those 10 losers actually had more wins than the team that beat them. That makes for a very long winter. Sometimes, there’s conflict between the teams from previous meetings, regional rivalries, even memories of a World Series long ago that one town still can’t quite digest. Maybe there’s a grudge between players or managers.
In this series: nada. Just joy. The mascots probably won’t even be able to pretend to pick a fight.
By normal series standards, the Giants would qualify as ecstatic. Two weeks ago, I had lunch with an old friend, in his Giants jacket, who goes to Giants games and plays in Giants baseball fantasy camps and sends me texts to apologize for the Giants beating the Nationals to end their season. “This wasn’t supposed to happen this year — again,” he said. Giants fans are like that. They remind you the Phillies were supposed to win the series in ’10 and the Nats were supposed to win it in ’12 and one of those teams in Los Angeles was the betting favorite to win this year, but, gee, the Giants keep winning.
However, as delighted as devoted Giants followers are at the series appearance of their rotation of Madison Bumgarner and the Old Fogies, and their batting order of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and a Bunch of Guys (some of them filling in for Other Injured Guys), they can’t match the joy of the folks in K.C. Last time I covered the series here in ’85, my wife came with me. We were footloose. No kids. Now we have a son: He’s 6 feet 4 and graduated from college several years ago. That’s how long Royals fans waited.
This city and its team are so overjoyed that you expect Kansas City to order barbecue and a brew for 300 million — to go. Don’t be surprised if your doorbell rings on Tuesday night: “Hello, the Royals sent this over to help you enjoy with the game. No charge.” For novice World-Series-only baseball followers, it’s easy to identify which team is the young swift Royals: They’ve never seen anything they didn’t want to steal whether it was one of your extra-base hits headed toward an outfield gap or a base that you took your eye off for a split-second. And pitchers aren’t allowed in their bullpen unless the lights flicker and go out every time they enter a room.
There is one small shadow over this series. Knowledgeable fans, who would love to fall hard for the Royals with their spectacular defenders, such as outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson, and laser-armed catcher Salvador Perez, can’t get one haunt out of their minds. The 2007 Rockies won 21 of 22 games to transform a mediocre season into a fairy tale, including an 8-0 postseason run just like the Royals — and then got swept by the Red Sox in a catatonic bore of a series.
Another worry is the four- and five-day layoffs since each team’s last game. Winning fast has a paradoxical price. An eight-day layoff froze the Rockies’ offense. The ’06 Tigers still mutter that a long layoff beat them as much as the underdog Cards. So, will the Giants and Royals, 11th and 13th in MLB in runs, be able to escape a string of too-low-scoring games? The Royals were last in homers; the Giants, next-to-last in steals. These offenses need TLC, not “No Game Today” or tomorrow or tomorrow or . . .
This series also has a much more conspicuous designated-hitter factor than most. In games in San Francisco, if the Royals put hard-hitting DH Billy Butler in the field, advanced metrics say that any ball, once hit toward him, may never be seen again. In games in K.C., the Giants are that rare NL team that has an ideal DH-in-waiting: a black-hole defender with a home run bat, Michael Morse. Both edges to S.F.
Such concerns are legitimate. Both these teams are very good, and have been playing great. But both made 100 or more errors. After the Game 1 matchup of Bumgarner against (Big Game) James Shields, every nightly pitching matchup will bring questions about lack of experience, excess of age or shaky recent results. Bullpens, great — if you can get to them. But there’s turn-into-a-pumpkin potential for both these teams before Halloween.
Let’s take the chance. Don’t focus on the flaws. (Oh, they’re there.) Pull for the story. (Because it’s wonderful.) Giants, thanks for coming. But this is Kansas City’s once-in-a-generation royal World Series.
May they shine.
© 2014, The Washington Post