15. October 18, 1980: Aikens hits two homers in Series game—again
On this list, we also previously mentioned Willie Aikens’ heroics in Game Three of the 1980 World Series. Aikens had an amazingly good World Series overall, belting two home runs in Game One and driving in that winning run in Game Three. On this sun-splashed afternoon in Kansas City (back when they played World Series games during the day sometimes), he would write his name in the record books. The Royals wasted little time getting on the scoreboard; Willie Wilson led off with a single, advanced to third on a bad pickoff throw, and scored on a George Brett triple. Then Aikens hit the second pitch he saw into the right field water spectacular, giving the Royals a 3-0 lead. The Royals added one more that inning, and Aikens came to bat again in the second, this time with two outs and no one on. This time, he blasted one to the back of the Royals’ bullpen, upping Kansas City’s advantage to 5-1 and prompting a curtain call as Royals fans roared their approval. Aikens became the first player in history to have two two-homer games in one World Series, something that has only been equaled by Chase Utley in 2009. Aikens had two more chances to tie the record of three home runs in one World Series game, but he struck out and drew a walk instead. Dennis Leonard allowed a couple more runs but Dan Quisenberry closed out the 5-3 win, which evened up the Series at 2-2.
14. October 28, 2014: Ventura Slays Giants
When the 2014 World Series headed back to Kansas City for Game Six, the Royals needed…well, not a miracle, but something special. They had just lost the previous two games by a combined score of 16-4, and since they scored those four runs in the third inning of Game Five, the Giants had scored 15 unanswered runs. Now San Francisco needed just one win to finish off the World Series. And at this key juncture, the Royals would turn to a rookie. Yordano Ventura had enjoyed a successful first full year in the majors, but this was easily the biggest moment of his career to date. And although he was slightly built, Ventura proved he had a huge heart by pitching seven shutout innings in a 10-0 win. It’s true he was helped by the Royals’ offensive awakening, which included a seven-run outburst in the second inning, but Ventura still had to go out there, maintain his focus, and get people out, things which can be hard for a young pitcher given a big lead. In fact, following that big inning by the Royals, Ventura walked the bases loaded in the third, then got Buster Posey to ground into a double play to end the threat. He would only allow one infield single, one line-drive single, and two walks after that. The fireballing Ventura only picked up four strikeouts in the game, instead letting the spectacular defense behind him do the work. And by working seven innings, he allowed the most important pieces in the Royals bullpen to have an extra day of rest, assuring they would all be available for the Game Seven showdown the next night.
13. October 15, 2014: Royals complete ALCS sweep
Let’s be honest, by this point in the 2014 ALCS, a Royals win seemed inevitable. They were already ahead 3-0 and just needed to win one of the last four games to advance to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Plus they were on the roll of a lifetime; it seemed like whatever it took to win the game—key hit, amazing defensive play, or lockdown innings from the bullpen—would happen. Still, you don’t want to mess around with these things. It’s best to just go ahead and win it when you can. So that’s what the Royals did. They scored two runs in the first inning in the most “2014 Royals” way possible: Alcides Escobar led off with an infield single and Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch. The number three hitter, Lorenzo Cain, put down a sacrifice bunt. Eric Hosmer hit a high bouncer to first, and when Steve Pearce threw home, Escobar slid and knocked the ball out of catcher Caleb Joseph’s glove. Escobar was safe, and as the ball bounced to the backstop, Aoki raced home with a second run. Yep, two runs without the ball leaving the infield. Those were the only two runs the Royals scored on the day, but Jason Vargas made them count. He allowed two hits and one run (a solo home run) while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings. After that home run, he only allowed one walk–which was promptly erased by a double play—as he worked into the sixth. At that point, manager Ned Yost turned things over to his best weapon: the bullpen. Kelvin Herrera allowed a single that put the tying run at third, but got the final out of the inning, then worked a perfect seventh. Wade Davis worked around a two-out single in the eighth. And Greg Holland finished things off in the ninth, avoiding trouble even though he issued a leadoff walk. Mike Moustakas fielded a grounder, took his time to make sure his footwork was good, and threw a bullet to Hosmer at first for the final out, touching off a celebration that lasted into the night.
12. October 23, 2015: Cain scores from first (on a single!)
Just like in life, it’s the little things in baseball. Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele, who was second-guessed by many after he held Alex Gordon at third in Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, was doing some prep work on the Blue Jays before the 2015 playoffs (a nice advantage of the Royals’ big division lead was the freedom it gave them to look ahead to October) and noticed that Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista had a tendency, on balls hit to his left (towards the foul line) with a runner on first, to throw on the fly to second base. Jirschele alerted the team to this fact before the ALCS, telling them to be prepared to be sent home. Then he waited. It would take the right situation, the right baserunner, and maybe even the right stadium (Kauffman’s spacious outfield would be better than Rogers Centre’s, probably) for this to ever come up. And then it did. In the eighth inning of ALCS Game Six, the Royals came to the plate with the score tied 3-3. Kansas City needed just one win to return to the World Series. And Lorenzo Cain led off with a walk. The speedy Cain could possibly score from first if the ball were hit to the right spot. Eric Hosmer obliged, pulling one close to the right-field line. It didn’t reach the corner; Bautista did a nice job of cutting it off and picked it up on the first bounce, but his momentum was carrying him towards the line. He spun and threw…to second, just as Jirschele expected. Cain was running on contact, and was already almost halfway to third by the time Bautista whirled around to throw. Bautista’s throw arrived at second base, where shortstop Troy Tulowitzki grabbed it (causing Hosmer to slam on the brakes and retreat to first) and made a throw home that was off-target and late. Cain slid in with the go-ahead run and jumped to his feet in the same motion, clapping his hands and exhorting the Kauffman Stadium crowd to get loud, a completely unnecessary exhortation. The Royals had a 4-3 lead and needed just three more outs. But the drama wasn’t over yet…
11. October 23, 2015: Wade’s great escape
…because the Royals didn’t score any more in the eighth inning (despite having runners at first and second with no outs), they still had that 4-3 lead as the Blue Jays came to the plate in the ninth. But to fully set the scene, we have to go back to the top of the eighth. The inning started with the Royals ahead 3-1. Kelvin Herrera had being throwing bullets in 1 2/3 innings of relief of Yordano Ventura, but manager Ned Yost turned to Ryan Madson to pitch the eighth. Yost perhaps would have gone with closer Wade Davis, but as everyone in the stadium knew, a line of storms was headed for Kansas City. There was certainly going to be a rain delay, and possibly a fairly lengthy one. If Davis pitched the eighth, he certainly couldn’t pitch the ninth after sitting down during a long delay. Madson had to face the top of Toronto’s potent batting order. Ben Revere led off with an infield single (at which point Davis started warming up anyway), but Madson struck out Josh Donaldson. However, any thoughts of him getting out of the inning unscathed quickly disappeared. Jose Bautista drilled a Madson fastball into the left-field seats, tying the game at 3-3. After Madson walked Edwin Encarnacion, Yost had no choice but to bring in Davis. He got the last two outs and then the rain hit. Forty-five minutes later, play resumed and the Royals scored that go-ahead run. But who would pitch the ninth and protect the lead? Davis returned to the mound, electrifying the Kauffman Stadium crowd. But the crowd quieted a bit when Russell Martin dropped a single into center field. Things got quieter when pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third. And a very nervous hush fell on the crowd when Kevin Pillar walked. Now the Blue Jays had the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at first, and both men could fly. Pretty much any ball in play would tie the game. Davis struck out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro, but Pillar stole second on strike three, meaning any base hit was almost certainly going to put Toronto ahead. Davis started Revere off with two balls, then threw a nasty slider for strike one and got a helpful call on a fastball up and a little outside for strike two. Perhaps that call got in Revere’s head, as he swung and missed at the next pitch for the second out, then walked into the tunnel behind Toronto’s dugout and beat a trash can senseless. Now it was Donaldson, who would be named American League MVP after the season. Davis fell behind in the count, but Donaldson pulled a grounder to third, to Mike Moustakas, who made a perfect throw across the diamond to Eric Hosmer. For the second straight year, the cornerstones of Dayton Moore’s rebuilding efforts participated in the out that sent Kansas City to the World Series.