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Royals' Win A Tough Act To Beat As Baseball Playoffs Near


A fan sitting in the baseball Stadium in Kansas City last night, held a sign that read we've waited our whole lives for there - literally. That referred to the wait for the Kansas City Royals to make the playoffs, something that hadn't happened in 29 years. And a lot of fans say that last night was worth the wait, worth waiting nearly three decades for, and last night waiting 12 innings for.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now looking for a two-out hit, past third, into left field. The Kansas City Royals are walking off into the ALDS.

SIEGEL: That's the game-winning hit broadcast last night on TBS. The Royals beat Oakland and they advanced to the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels. Last night's win is a tough act to beat as the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants play the National League wild card game, another elimination game. And joining me is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.


SIEGEL: Baseball introduced the wild card games a couple of years ago to add more teams to the playoff mix and to generate some excitement with these do or die situations. It certainly lived up to that last night.

GOLDMAN: Man, oh, man. Four hours and 45 minutes, Robert. I know baseball wants to hurry up games but this one was worth every second. You know, it had swings of fortune. It had dramatic comebacks. It had nerves of steel performance. How about the winning hit that we just heard by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, who'd been terrible at the plate, going 0-for-5 until his single in the bottom of the 12th inning? And then, of course, the move by Kansas City manager Ned Yost in the sixth inning that sure seemed like a major mistake. He took out the starting pitcher, James Shields, with a one run lead, replaced him with a 23-year-old Yordano Ventura, normally a starting pitcher who wasn't used to coming in as a reliever. He almost immediately gave up a home run. The inning ended with Oakland ahead by four and looking very much like they were going to win.

SIEGEL: Well, they didn't. And for the team that loses the wild card game, that's especially tough to take. It's like, you were in the postseason but not really in the postseason.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. I mean, some critics call it a coin flip game because a team can have an off night, or there can be one bad hop or a blown call and the team is out of the playoffs. And, you know, the ultimate message for the losing team, like the Oakland A's, is win your division, guys. That's the only way to avoid this kind of game. And in Oakland's case, you could say they lost this weeks, even months, before when they followed a great first half of the season with a terrible second half. They were cruising toward a division title and then had to win their final game of the regular season just to make this wild card game.

SIEGEL: Now, the Oakland A's are the team that the book and the movie "Moneyball" were all about. And this was the famous school of thought that, you know, you don't have to have a big payroll. You don't have to have big stars. But this year they acquired Jon Lester in a big midseason trade - the pitcher. And he was on the mound in the bottom of the eighth with a 4-on lead and they lost. Did this breach of the faith not pay off for Oakland?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You know, you could say that because the A's are out of the playoffs after one game, a game that was, you know, kind of made for a pitcher like Jon Lester. But, Robert, to be fair he had steadied himself after a rocky start last night. And when he left the game he still had a three-run lead. So you have to blame the bullpen as well.

SIEGEL: And as for the winning Royals, is there something especially appealing about this Kansas City team?

GOLDMAN: I think so. You know, they were last in home runs during the regular season but first in stolen bases and we saw that last night - seven stolen bases, several sacrificed bunts, moving runners to the next base. Classic small ball team as they call them, dink and dunk baseball. It's exciting and, Robert, you know, in a way it's more accessible to the mere mortals watching the game who can't hit a towering home run. But who can delude him or herself into thinking yeah I could get a little choppy single up the middle or I could steal a base. It's how the Royals won last night and a lot of fans are looking forward to seeing if they can keep doing that.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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