Goose bumps erupt on Kris Medlen’s arms as he flashes to the still-surreal action of Wade Davis’ 1-2 pitch to Wilmer Flores.
With two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field, with the Royals leading 7-2 and behind the menacing man enjoying arguably the two most dominant relief pitching seasons in baseball history, the victory was inevitable.
As Medlen and Danny Duffy limbered up in the bullpen to be ready for the sprint in to celebrate, even at that distance, he still pictures in slow motion the 95 mph pitch leaving Davis’ hand.
In Medlen’s mind’s eye, the ball inched along on its trajectory, somehow almost hovering as he absorbed what was about to happen.
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His life and all that he’d been through “kind of flashed before” him, but so did the tales of the unique, magnetic and resilient group around him.
“There are stories behind every journey,” said Medlen, who had two Tommy John surgeries before resurrecting his career late last season. “If I was a director of a movie, I probably would have cut to, like, child memories of playing Wiffle ball, like a montage kind of thing.”
Then, all of a sudden, the final effect: smacking his fist in his hand, “Bam, you see the pitch: ‘This is about to happen.’ ”
When it did, when Davis’ pitch paralyzed Flores into a called third strike, the Royals uncorked a celebration befitting a 30-year championship drought enhanced by so much sheer futility.
The spontaneous euphoria in the immediate aftermath made for a compelling and telling panorama of a triumph both fleeting and everlasting.
As the Royals meet the Mets in a historic 2016 opener Sunday (the first time teams that played in the World Series will square off again to start the following season, tentatively with the same starting pitchers in Edinson Volquez and Matt Harvey), The Star looks back at the scene after their last game with a composite built through the perspectives of 22 players, coaches and club officials.
Inside a city of 467,000, an estimated crowd of 800,000 Royals fans gathered to salute the World Series champions. The bodies packed from the steps outside the station to the grass of Liberty Memorial.Monty Davis firstname.lastname@example.org
Contrasting with a postseason that otherwise hinged on absurd escapes and rallies, after a five-run Royals 12th, the achievement a lifetime in the making suddenly was draped in anticlimax.
In the dugout, as Davis entered the game, manager Ned Yost thought, “We just won the World Series.”
Before he went out to right field, Paulo Orlando, a rookie after 10 minor-league seasons, made sure that teammate Cheslor Cuthbert had ready for immediate product placement the Brazilian flag that Orlando had kept for motivation since the 2007 Pan American Games.
As he took his spot in left field, Alex Gordon found it all “pretty relaxing.” His thoughts flickered back to where the Royals had come from and his own path here, one that had included reinventing himself after struggling as a third baseman.
The immensely intense Gordon became all the more placid as he watched Davis strike out the first two Mets batters.
So when Michael Conforto singled Gordon’s way and advanced to second on “defensive indifference,” that term perhaps never had been more apt.
As Flores fouled off a few pitches, Royals coach Rusty Kuntz put aside the pen he uses to record and chart.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas found themselves making eye contact with each other … and laughing.
In part, it was giddiness with anticipation.
In part, it was another prompt for reflection — thinking of the ridiculousness of this one last meager hurdle delaying their destiny.
“Even though you know anything can happen, you’re feeling pretty confident,” Hosmer said. “That was the last reminder of how hard the accomplishment is.”
Then Davis got the called third strike from home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez and it … was … on.
For most, anyway.
At that point, I don’t think it would have mattered if somebody would have snagged it and run off with it.
Royals closer Wade Davis, who tossed his glove into the air after the final out of the World Series
In center field, the adrenaline surged through Lorenzo Cain, who hadn’t even dreamt this as a kid because he didn’t play baseball until 10th grade.
He momentarily stood in place as he appreciated all it had taken to make this happen. He just threw his hands up and looked around … and then sprinted toward the mound.
In the dugout, Christian Colon hugged Jonny Gomes, whose raving speech at the Royals’ parade would become a sensation.
Gomes pointed him to the field and said, “Go get ’em, man, go out there and celebrate.”
“And he knows how to celebrate,” Colon said, laughing.
The scrum was defined by a blurry sensation that Hosmer would describe as “you really can’t control your body.”
Davis initiated it all by making like a Little Leaguer and flipping his glove into the air with no thought whatsoever … even as his mind raced.
“For the stars to align like that, you think of everything,” said Davis, clad in No. 17 in tribute to his late stepbrother, Dustin Huguley. “I just reacted. I don’t even know where I threw it.
“At that point, I don’t think it would have mattered if somebody would have snagged it and run off with it.”
As many on the field pointed skyward (Gordon, Zobrist and Escobar, among others), most also followed Davis’ lead in flinging aside their gloves — all of which apparently were recovered by alert Royals clubhouse men.
Meanwhile, from the dugout where Kuntz went numb and started weeping as he converged in a relatively subdued celebration among the coaches, players ran amok toward the field — including Raul Mondesi, who never had played above Class AA ball but was called up for the World Series.
“I’ve got to say the truth,” Mondesi said, smiling. “I got lucky in that.”
Human blur Terrance Gore playfully said he had zipped to the mound before Davis’ glove even came down.
Actually, though, the more lumbering likes of Sal Perez, Kendrys Morales, Johnny Cueto, Tim Collins, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie evidently had a better jump than Gore: They were closing on the mound just after Davis and catcher Drew Butera had hugged in midair.
In fact, Davis and Butera barely got to each other before others swarmed them. That was less because of any records being set in time getting to the field than because of the curiously circuitous route Butera took.
It started with Butera, in the game that inning after Perez left for a pinch runner, somehow having the presence of mind to turn to Marquez to tell him “good job.”
“I felt like he did a great job that whole game,” said Butera, who had just joined his father, Sal, in having played for a World Series winner. “And I wanted to give him the credit that (umpires) sometimes don’t get.”
As he backed away from Marquez, Butera then banged into Flores.
“That was kind of embarrassing,” Butera said, laughing.
But Butera stayed poised enough to remember to hold on to his glove and the game-winning ball that he donated to the Royals Hall of Fame.
“This ball doesn’t belong to me,” he said as he announced the gift at Fan Fest, adding that it belonged to the city and this special group of players.
That included, of course, Perez, who had gone from making the last out in Game 7 against the Giants to World Series MVP.
“Now I feel the both ways,” Perez said, smiling and adding, “It’s a little more better when we win.”
Newly crowned World Series Champions return home Monday afternoon to Kauffman Stadium. Video by Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Starrsugg@kcstar.com
As much as the moment brought unbridled joy for all, it was perhaps all the more joyous for those who rose together through the minor leagues, sputtered and even suffered at times in the bigs and had been together for years.
Including the injured Collins and Greg Holland, 12 players who had appeared with the 2011 Royals were part of this renaissance.
So when Duffy raced Medlen to get to the bouncing mosh pit, he wasn’t thinking just of a baseball life that went back to “before I had any memories,” he was hurrying toward the “brotherhood,” the people he’d grown up with.
“Eighty percent of these dudes I’ve been playing baseball with since we were 18,” said Duffy, 27, whose own odyssey included quitting baseball for a time in 2010, Tommy John surgery and being demoted to Class AAA Omaha in 2014.
Even in the haze they all felt, that same acute awareness was part of what overwhelmed Luke Hochevar.
In one of the most poignant postgame images, Hochevar stepped away from the revelry around him, squatted and stared down at the ground.
“It was the perfect timing to just kind of take a minute,” said Hochevar, who had been oft-ridiculed in his failure for years to make good as the franchise’s only overall No. 1 draft pick, and whose transformation was made complete as the winning pitcher in the clinching Series game.
He thanked God and thought of all the hard times and his arm issues and love for his family and teammates.
“I don’t think it’s as valued any more, keeping guys together; you can’t put a price tag on that,” he said. “And you really can’t put any stat or value or anything on it. And that’s a big part of everything.”
It was like that, too, for other Royals originals such as Jarrod Dyson, whose improbable presence can almost be summed up in his vital stats: a 50th-round draft pick from McComb, Miss.
‘Man, we ain’t got nowhere to go. Soak it in.’
Jarrod Dyson, on what he remembered thinking during the celebration after the Royals won the World Series
The Royals, he likes to say, believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.
“You know what, man, you sit back and you think about everything that went on in your life and everybody that touches you in your life and how you get to where you are in your life; you think about every day you spent in the clubhouse with the fellas,” said Dyson, for whom a street in McComb was renamed in January. “I can’t put it in words. If I could, I would, but I can’t.”
It was Dyson, along with Hosmer, who would be the first to carry the World Series trophy out to the field from the clubhouse, and who from the dugout steps would turn to fans and yell that they were taking it back to Kansas City.
Moments later, Dyson was atop the dugout presenting the trophy to that horde of Royals fans who had made their way to Citi Field.
Dyson’s ecstatic reaction also was spurred by the heartache of the year before, when Perez left Gordon stranded as the tying run at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Giants.
After that loss, Dyson was so despondent he could barely move and stayed burrowed into his apartment for several days without seeing anyone.
Now, Dyson’s impulse was never to let this go. He even wondered if the entire team could do a sleepover in the clubhouse.
“ ‘Man, we ain’t got nowhere to go,’ ” he remembered thinking. “ ‘Soak it in.’ ”
But perhaps that sense of camaraderie resonated most within the deep friendship between Hosmer and Moustakas, who later would be the big-brotherly one making sure everyone got a turn with the trophy.
Ever since either can remember, it’s been Hos and Moose, or Moose and Hos: Moustakas was the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, Hosmer was the third overall in 2008, and they had been trumpeted as the cornerstones who would save the organization.
Through endless growing pains, particularly for Moustakas, a constant was the ritual of them playing catch together before every game — a symbol of their connection.
So even as Moustakas tossed his glove and shed his hat and untucked his jersey, his eyes were fixed across the diamond at Hosmer, who had stood up for him in his wedding and any number of other ways.
They yelled who-knows-what toward each other as Moustakas jumped into Hosmer’s arms behind the pitcher’s mound.
“Everybody in this clubhouse is brothers,” Moustakas said. “But to have what me and Hos had … to be able to share that with a guy you’re always with and always associated with, is an unbelievable feeling that you really can’t describe.”
That was only one of a series of intimate emotions connecting Moustakas with others.
The relationships among Moustakas, Edinson Volquez and Chris Young had become fused by their anguish in the wake of the deaths of a parent of each in the months leading up to that night — including Volquez’s father less than a week before he started the clinching game.
“It’s kind of a special bond that Eddie and C.Y. and I have now, one we’re going to have for the rest of our lives,” said Moustakas, who later on the field would present Volquez the trophy and whisper, “I really love you” in his ear.
“We all know how hard it was, what we went through,” Moustakas added. “But it was so special knowing that Eddie’s dad and C.Y.’s dad and my mom were all sitting there watching the game together, so proud of all three of us.”
Not to mention those they left: Moustakas later would see his father smiling in a way he hadn’t seen for a long time.
Volquez had used his spikes to scrape his father’s initials, “D.V.,” into the back of the mound.
And he was sustained that night both by his teammates’ support and a force he felt from his father that he would call a “lot of energy coming from the dirt, from the grass, all the way to your head.”
His first gaze at the trophy was with a gleam that said he felt his father with him, too, a feeling shared by Young — a former Met who also was touched that night to hear Mets fans yelling, “You deserve this.”
“To have him not be there was hard for me, but at the same time I felt like he played a part in the whole thing,” said Young, who like Volquez felt a mystical presence of his father as he pitched after his death.
Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez remembers returning to the World Series for game 5, after his father died shortly before he started game 1.John Sleezer email@example.com
Amid the champagne-splashed bedlam in the clubhouse, Yost retreated to his office and sat by himself for a moment. General manager Dayton Moore, the architect of the Royals’ ascent, soon joined him.
For long moments, they exchanged few, if any, words. Mostly they just sat and looked at each other, smiling.
“We didn’t need to celebrate,” said Yost, who perhaps was calmed by having been a coach for many World Series teams and a winner with Atlanta in 1995. “I know we’ve won the World Series, but this jumping up and down, screaming and yelling — no. And that never came.
“But the feeling of satisfaction, the feeling of contentment, the feeling that we got it done … it was an awesome feeling. But it was mellow.”
Moore, too, exuded more serenity than thrill.
Even months later, he would call it “a relief” more than anything else, adding, “I haven’t really thought about how I felt.”
That’s because, hokey as it might sound, Moore truly takes his joy in the journey and the development and the relationships.
And also because Moore soon would be on to … what have you done for us lately?
But whatever happens from here, however grainy the montage might become, that achievement, that scene, will remain forever indelible to those who made it happen.
“There’s things that can’t be erased,” said Colon, who delivered the game-winning hit that night. “And this team will forever be linked.”