by John Viril—
This weekend, the Kansas City Royals drew the unenviable task of being the first baseball team to play against the Red Sox in Fenway after the Boston Marathon attack. The weekend featured an emotionally charged atmosphere that included Neil Diamond appearing live to sing “Sweet Caroline” and a pre-game speech by Red Sox DH David Ortiz on Saturday. After blowing a 2-1 8th inning lead in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, the Royals came back to sweep a double header in two close games on Sunday.
This was an acid test for a young team trying to establish itself as a winning ballclub. Not only was the city of Boston revved up after a nightmarish five days that began with Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox came into the series after an 11-4 start to the season. Despite near playoff-level intensity from the home fans, the Royals managed to win 2 of 3 games this weekend against the Red Sox.
This was a big deal.
The Royals arrived on Thursday to play a 3 game series in Boston. They stayed in at Westin Copely Place—right near the site of the Boston Marathon bombing. They were immediately informed by authorities to stay in their hotel as police engaged in a firefight with the two bombing suspects on the streets of Boston. The Friday game was cancelled as the manhunt extended throughout the day and did not end until the evening.
On Saturday, the Royals played in front of a sellout crowd hungry for a little civic validation. Kansas City lost the first game of the series in a nationally-televised event after Boston LF Daniel Nava hit a 3-run home run off Kelvin Herrera in the 8th inning.
Despite what could have easily been an emotionally draining defeat on Saturday, the Royals won two tight games on Sunday. In a double-header created by the need for a makeup game after Friday’s manhunt, the Royals held on against multiple late threats to win the 1st game 4-2. They staged a late comeback to win 5-4 in the evening game after trailing 4-3 in the eighth. Billy Butler hit a solo home to tie the game and Lorenzo Cain‘s bases-loaded walk in the 10th forced in the winning run.
This is the kind of performance that can propel an emerging team through the season.
On their current road trip, the Royals have split two games against the hottest team in baseball (Atlanta) and won against Boston with the eyes of the nation on them. They broke both the Braves’ 10-game winning streak as well as Boston’s 7-game run. Kansas City will finish the trip with a 3 game set against the defending Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. A series win in Detroit could turn this stretch into a season-defining episode.
The Royals have shown they can win against hot teams while playing under adverse conditions.
Things are far from perfect so far this season. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are scuffling. Key relievers Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera both have ERA’s north of 6.00. Kansas City has been out-homered by opponents 20-10. Despite these problems, the Royals sport a 10-7 record. Other players—in particular the starting pitching—have picked up the slack for their struggling teammates. That’s what winning teams do.
A magical season feels more than possible.