Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar share their thoughts following the last game of the season. John Sleezer The Kansas City Star
Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar share their thoughts following the last game of the season. John Sleezer The Kansas City Star

Royals

End of an era? Royals stars take a bow in season-finale loss

By Rustin Dodd

rdodd@kcstar.com

October 01, 2017 05:59 PM

UPDATED October 02, 2017 08:35 AM

The end came on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, as a fall sun lit the corners of Kauffman Stadium, as a light blue sky hung overhead, as four teammates — friends and brothers and champions — huddled together on the infield grass in the top of the fifth inning.

Eric Hosmer wrapped his left arm around Mike Moustakas, who did the same with Lorenzo Cain. Alcides Escobar clutched Hosmer and Cain by the neck and completed the group hug. Together they had helped revitalize a franchise and change a city, transforming one of the worst teams in sports into a champion, taking a success-starved Midwestern town on two magical rides through the postseason. And now, they stood here again, linked together in the middle of the diamond, doffing their hats as they walked off, one last time, together.

“I don’t think anybody said anything,” Moustakas said. “I think we all just looked at each other.”

Salvador Perez stood at the top of the dugout steps. Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen”, the anthem of 2015, blared from the PA system. One fan, standing in the bottom section, held up a blue sign with four words: “We Are So Grateful.” This was Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.

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As Hosmer and Moustakas passed the first-base line, they looked up at the crowd and locked arms once more. Cain flashed his megawatt smile. Escobar raised his hat in the air. All around them, teammates and coaches and fans had come to their feet. Moustakas wiped tears from his eyes.

“I had shades on all day for a reason,” he said. “I was a wreck.”

This was Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, the end of an era coming into focus in a 14-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a tearful goodbye on the final day of the baseball season.

A crowd of 32,277 showed up at Kauffman Stadium to pay tribute to a collection of pending free agents, a championship core that brought a trophy to Kansas City. The Royals (80-82) closed out a 2017 season that was both disappointing and compelling, frustrating and bittersweet, an anticlimactic end to one of the finest runs in franchise history.

One season removed from hoisting a World Series championship trophy in New York, the Royals entered this year knowing that Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Escobar would be free agents at the end of the season. As the club gathered in Arizona in February, the reality hung over every moment and every decision. In the afterlight of tragedy, in the moments before another 162 games, the front office let it be known: They were prepared to give their core one more chance to make a run.

The hopes of a fairy tale ending were curtailed by woeful start and a late-season fade, the year sabotaged by a confluence of feeble offense in April and a pitching collapse in August. And yet, the stars inside the clubhouse still hurtled toward free agency. The future remained uncertain. So the Royals prepared to say goodbye on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re all celebrating what we accomplished here together,” Hosmer said.

They came to celebrate friendships built over a decade and memories forged across two Octobers. They came knowing this could be their final day in a Royals uniform. They wondered how the emotion would feel.

When Hosmer, the franchise first baseman, walked to the plate in the bottom of the first, they all realized this would not be a normal day. As he approached the box, a deafening sound enveloped the stadium. Hosmer would call it “one of the loudest roars I’ve heard.”

Moments later, Hosmer saw an 0-2 fastball from Robbie Ray and launched a line drive down the left-field line. The baseball tucked inside the foul pole for his 25th home run. Standing near the on-deck circle, Moustakas said his eyes filled with tears.

“That was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever been a part of,” said Moustakas, the franchise third baseman. “Watching the fans of Kansas City give an ovation, and then (the) kid going out there and hitting a home run. That was unbelievable.

“I couldn’t believe that happened.”

On the field, the rest of the day did not match the emotion. Perhaps it could not. Jason Vargas would fail to record his 19th victory — though he still finished in a tie for the major-league lead in wins. The Diamondbacks seized control during a four-run fifth inning and then turned the game into a rout.

By then, Royals manager Ned Yost had already formulated a plan. He wanted Cain to finish the season above .300, which meant he could only allow him two at-bats without a hit. When that happened in the fourth, he prepared to offer his stars their final ovation in the fifth.

“The crowd,” Yost said, “was so special today.”

In the moments after the loss, the focus turned to the future. The four free agents sat together on the bottom floor of Kauffman Stadium, holding a press conference. A common sentiment emerged: Nobody knows what’s going to happen.

All four players will be free agents for the first time. Maybe one or two will be back next season. Maybe it’s zero. But whatever the case, they will not all be playing together next year. The future is coming soon.

“Everybody wants things to work out in the perfect fashion,” said Vargas, a 34-year-old free agent who has been a free agent before. “But they usually don’t. It’s like family getting broken up and having to go make their own way.”

This is the cold, hard truth of free agency. A player must find what is best for him and his family. An organization must look out for itself. As he sat between Escobar and Moustakas, Hosmer pondered what the next few months would feel like.

“I don’t want to say it’s scary,” he said. “It’s just different.”

This was Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, too. In the moments after the final out, the Royals gathered on the field and watched as a video played on the stadium’s CrownVision beyond center field. This was the same infield on which they had celebrated two American League pennants, the same infield on which Moustakas and Hosmer had worked for the last seven seasons. And now the past flashed before their eyes. They watched the highlights and heard the Moose calls and reflected on the glorious victories and teammates lost.

In the end, there were two words on the screen: Thank You.

“I wasn’t holding it together at all,” Moustakas said.

“I’ll fight with these guys any day,” Cain said.

“We’ve played together for seven years,” Escobar said.

“We’re family,” Hosmer said.

Diamondbacks 14, Royals 2

Arizona

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Blanco lf-cf

4

3

3

1

2

0

.246

Pollock cf

2

0

0

0

0

0

.266

1-Negron pr-lf-ss

3

1

1

1

1

0

.160

Goldschmidt 1b

2

0

0

0

0

1

.297

I.Vargas 3b

4

3

3

4

0

0

.308

Martinez rf

2

0

0

0

0

1

.303

Hazelbaker rf

3

1

2

4

1

1

.346

Iannetta c

4

2

1

1

1

0

.254

Mathis c

1

0

0

0

0

1

.215

Drury 2b

5

0

2

1

1

0

.267

Lamb dh

2

0

0

1

0

2

.248

a-Walker ph-dh

1

0

0

0

0

1

.273

c-Descalso ph-dh

1

1

0

0

1

0

.233

Marte ss

2

0

1

0

1

0

.260

2-Herrmann pr-lf

2

2

2

0

0

0

.181

Rosales 3b-1b

5

1

1

0

0

1

.225

Totals

43

14

16

13

8

8

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

5

0

1

0

0

0

.288

Cabrera dh

3

0

0

0

0

0

.285

b-Gore ph-dh

1

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Hosmer 1b

1

2

1

1

1

0

.318

Moss 1b

2

0

0

0

0

2

.207

Moustakas 3b

2

0

0

0

0

0

.272

Cuthbert 3b

2

0

0

0

0

1

.231

Bonifacio rf

4

0

2

0

0

1

.255

Escobar ss

2

0

0

1

0

1

.250

Mondesi ss

2

0

1

0

0

0

.170

Gordon lf

2

0

0

0

0

0

.208

Soler lf

2

0

0

0

0

1

.144

Butera c

3

0

0

0

1

2

.227

Cain cf

2

0

0

0

0

0

.300

Orlando cf

2

0

1

0

0

1

.198

Totals

35

2

6

2

2

10

Arizona

010

144

211

14

16

3

Royals

100

100

000

2

6

1

a-struck out for Lamb in the 5th. b-struck out for Cabrera in the 7th. c-walked for Walker in the 8th. 1-ran for Pollock in the 3rd. 2-ran for Marte in the 6th.

E: Marte 2 (9), I.Vargas (1), Mondesi (1). LOB: Arizona 11, Kansas City 8. 2B: Drury (37), I.Vargas (1), Mondesi (1), Orlando (3). HR: Iannetta (17), off J.Vargas; Hazelbaker (2), off J.Vargas; Hosmer (25), off Ray. RBIs: Blanco (13), Iannetta (43), Drury (63), Lamb (105), Negron (1), I.Vargas 4 (4), Hazelbaker 4 (10), Hosmer (94), Escobar (54). SB: Blanco 3 (15). SF: Lamb.

Runners left in scoring position: Arizona 5 (Iannetta, Rosales, Negron, Walker 2); Kansas City 5 (Merrifield, Bonifacio, Cain 2, Orlando). RISP: Arizona 7 for 18; Kansas City 0 for 10. Runners moved up: Negron. GIDP: Mondesi. DP: Arizona 1 (Drury, Negron, Rosales).

Arizona

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Ray

1.2

1

1

1

0

1

23

2.89

Hernandez

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

7

3.11

Hoover

1

1

0

0

0

0

14

3.92

Banda W, 2-3

1.1

1

1

1

2

1

33

5.96

Bracho

1.2

1

0

0

0

5

29

5.66

Chafin

1

0

0

0

0

2

9

3.51

De La Rosa

1

1

0

0

0

0

5

4.21

Rodney

1

1

0

0

0

1

8

4.23

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

J.Vargas L, 18-11

4

6

6

6

4

4

92

4.16

Buchter

1

0

0

0

0

1

8

2.89

McCarthy

0.2

4

4

2

1

1

32

3.20

Morin

1.1

3

2

2

1

1

27

7.20

Gaviglio

1

1

1

1

2

0

25

4.36

Skoglund

1

2

1

1

0

1

19

9.50

J.Vargas pitched to 4 batters in the 5th.

Inherited runners-scored: Bracho 2-0, Morin 2-0.

Umpires: Home, Dave Rackley; First, Larry Vanover; Second, Alfonso Marquez; Third, Chad Fairchild. Time: 3:31. Att: 32,277.