KANSAS CITY: A heartbreaking near miss last year has the Kansas City Royals mindful of unfinished business as they face the New York Mets in the 111th World Series starting Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
The Royals have not captured Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven final since 1985 while the Mets last won the crown in 1986, so one team’s title drought will end.
But the Mets have not reached the World Series since 2000 while the pain of last year’s seventh-game Series defeat at the hands of San Francisco still lingers for the Royals.
“From the first day of spring training, we expected to be here,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
In the ninth inning of the last game in last year’s World Series, Alex Gordon, the Royals’ potential tying run, was stranded on third base when Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez flew out to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval to end the game.
“Ever since that pop up was caught by Pablo, this has been on our minds,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said of returning to the World Series. “The ultimate goal is to win a world championship.”
Not since Oakland won the 1989 World Series after losing it in 1988 has a team done what the Royals are attempting. Both Texas and Atlanta have lost in back-to-back years since then. In all, return trip losers are 13-12 the next year in World Series history.
The Royals are the eighth team back after a game-seven loss. Five of the prior seven won the title on their second chance, the most recent being the 1961 New York Yankees.
The Mets boast a strong staff of starting pitchers, with right-hander Matt Harvey to start Tuesday’s opener in Kansas City, Jacob de Grom going in game two, rookie Noah Syndergaard in game three at New York and left-hander Steven Marz in game four.
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy is on a playoff-record six game home run streak and is batting .421 with seven homers and 11 runs batted in during the playoffs. He has a homer every 5.4 at-bats in the playoffs versus every 58.4 at-bats over his career.
It has been quite a bounce back for the Mets, whose majority owner Fred Wilpon was hit in the 2008 Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal. The Mets suffered six losing seasons in a row until this year, when a trade-deadline deal brought outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit and sparked a turnaround the led to the World Series.
Worth the wait for Collins
For 66-year-old Mets manager Terry Collins, it’s his first World Series after a lifetime in baseball.
“It was worth the wait,” Collins said. “It was worth all the work, to see what it takes. So it’s a special moment for me after all these years, when this has been your whole life, to finally get to the ultimate series.”
Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar, a Venezuelan shortstop, leads all playoff batters with 17 hits. The Royals have patiently moved runners around the bases with barely 30 percent of their runs from homers, least in the American League.
“Feeling pretty good compared to last year,” Escobar said. “Last year we were really a good team and this year, again, a really great team. Everybody is playing hard.”
The Royals have relied upon a strong bullpen of relief pitchers that produced fewer strikeouts but plenty of ground ball outs for a strong group of infielders.