Maybe it only makes sense that the Kansas City Royals would have to overcome a 12-game losing streak before making their first playoff push in 27 years. After all, this is a franchise that overcame 3-1 series deficits not just once, but twice in 1985. In fact, they are still the only team to ever do that in both the LCS and the World Series. Before that, the Royals lost to the New York Yankees in the ALCS 3 straight seasons (’76-’78) before finally breaking through in 1980 and making their first World Series appearance. What does that tell us about 2012, probably nothing…other than this team has never done things the easy way.
The 12-game losing streak to seemingly end the Royals’ season in April was disheartening for many reasons. Obviously, the “Our Time” campaign didn’t help, nor did Ned Yost’s apparent confusion over which league he manages in. The fact that most of the games were close at the end made no one feel any better, especially after a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers left the Royals 6 games back just 12 games into the season. What made things worse for some though was the team’s denial that they were that far away. Despite the in-game evidence that Ned Yost was clearly panicking, he and the players said all the right things to the media and gave the impression that their confidence in this team’s ability had not been shaken.
Wednesday, April 25 was the day the streak died and the Royals looked like everyone had hoped they would from the start. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Eric Hosmer all homered. Luke Hochevar threw 6 1/3 innings and gave up just 2 runs. The bullpen was lights out, shutting down the Indians on one hit to seal an easy 8-2 victory.
Thursday, April 26 the bullpen was even better, giving the club 4 shutout innings preserving a 4-2 win and a series victory over the Indians. While fans joked that the club was only 5 games out of first (and third), the mood was still somber when it was announced that long reliever Everett Teaford would start in place of Danny Duffy who had elbow soreness. This came less than 24 hours after it was announced that Lorenzo Cain had a setback on his rehab assignment. Two measly wins could hardly offset the cloud of injuries that was beginning to settle over this ball club.
Friday, April 27 may be the day we look back at as the true turning point in this 2012 season. Teaford was ineffective at best, but after 4 innings the offense had kept the team in the game at 4-4. Alex Gordon had blasted a bomb to right field, and brought back a home run himself. Billy Butler was responsible for the other 3 runs, including another 2-run shot. Over the next 5 innings the Royals combined clutch hitting, incredible defense, and a little good fortune to piece together a 7-6 victory, and the beginning of a winning streak. Alcides Escobar was wizardly…Jeff Francoeur made an incredible diving catch and then doubled in his next at bat…Everything the Royals needed they got. The Tigers and White Sox even lost again to pull the club within 4 games of second place. That’s right, the team that started Friday playing to get out of the cellar could be playing next week for second.
A rainout on Saturday could halt the club’s momentum, but as Earl Weaver once said “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher” and staff ace Bruce Chen will be on the hill on Sunday. A win would put the club at 7-14 and guarantee a winning road record in the month of April. A difficult schedule in May leads to one of the easiest June schedules I have ever seen.
The point? Even after a 12 a game losing streak…even after injuries to their starting catcher, centerfielder, 4th starter, closer, set up man, (and 5th starter?) this team is not out of it. They’re fighting, it’s starting to turn around, and before this year is over it may be “Our Time” after all. We may be down 3-1 in a seven game series, but we’ve been here before.