I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.*
*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this.
I already do not remember what I was thinking on the train ride to Carroll Gardens. Did I try to read Middlesex? Was I on the lookout for Astros fans? Did I turn the stove off when I left the house? I don’t know. All I know is that we have to win this game and the thought kept me in slow motion all day.
But now I’m at the bar with Katie at bar near Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s the top of the second inning, and the score is 2 – 0. We’re winning and even though Ventura concedes a run in the second inning I decide it’s safe to eat. Katie and I each order turkey burgers and something to drink. I get a ginger beer and Katie gets a real beer.
Katie and I are the only daytime drinkers here. The television mounted above the sink is not a widescreen, but that’s okay, we’re close enough to see the game unfold. The volume is low but audible. Katie and I are relaxed and even venture to talk about something other than baseball, like the ways in which Jon Snow could come back from the dead.
But by the bottom of the third Carlos Correa hits a one-run homerun and the game is tied. The Astros score again in the fifth inning—off a double by Correa. That’s okay, as long as we keep the score close there is hope. That is what I tell myself, anyway. My stomach knows I’m bluffing, though.
In the seventh inning Salvy is hit by the pitch and Terrance Gore comes in to pinch run. Katie and I exchange loaded glances. We are sad to see Salvy go, but we know this is going to be exciting.
Our excitement is not unfounded. Gordon strikes out, but not before Gore steals second. Then he steals third during Alex Rios’ at-bat. Wow. Awesome. Katie and I are on the verge of spilling our drinks. The tying run is at third! But the Astros manager demands a review of the play. Gore has to be safe, he’s never not been safe when stealing bases, we say to ourselves. This will be a waste of time.
They replay is broadcast in slow motion, in many angles, Gore slamming into third, tagging the base, and his body and the third baseman’s collide. They show the replay again and again, each time slower than the last. The slower the replay, the more momentous and cataclysmic it seems. The convergence of the twain is now as serious as two tectonic plates crashing into each other. The is an aftershock. You can almost see the players’ bodies ripple like the crust of the Earth. The replay is so slow you think the collision will last forever, their bodies gathering power and momentum, and soon you can see mountain ranges being created before your very eyes where there were once baseball players.
The issue seems to be Gore’s foot. Did it get off the plate or did it not get off the plate? Was he pushed by the third baseman or not? These watchers, being slightly biased, did not think his foot off the plate—and if it was, it’s because Gore was pushed. But when the umps phone New York they do not talk to us and Gore is ruled out.
Our rally is killed, but that’s fine, we tell each other. We have momentum. This is not over.
But half an inning later it certainly does seem over and I think maybe my roommate is right after all. Ryan Madson concedes a two-run homer to Correa, who has been prolific today. Then, the homerun-hungry Colby Rasmus gets one too, just for good measure. A four-run deficit heading into the eighth inning is not good. Sure, we overcame it in the Wild Card game last year, but that was that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. That’s what made that game so special. Things like that just don’t happen a lot.
I almost want to leave the bar then and there. The end of game seven of the World Series was really hard, but at least we knew that we made it tremendously far, ridiculously far given who we were up against and our extreme lack of postseason experience. We came ninety feet away, and isn’t that something?
If we lose this, the Royals will not be thought of as the team that defeated the odds and the oddsmakers who thought we’d win 73 games this year, and who certainly didn’t expect us to be back in the postseason. Instead, the Royals would be the team that failed to finish the job, the team that left Alex Gordon on third—where, in an unknown galaxy, on a planet of broken dreams, he still stands, waiting to go home. Which isn’t fair, but that’s how people think in posterity.
“Well, we won the Central Division for the first time, and that’s something,” I say to Katie.
“Yeah, and we had the best record in the American League.”
We know we can handle this loss. We are Royals fans.
“I think we should go for a walk in the park when this game ends,” I say.
“Yes, we should definitely take a walk in the park.”
I don’t have time for the postseason anyway, I tell myself.
The commentators seem to have written the Royals off, too, and start a long-running cascade of hogwash, saying things that range from “this could be Alex Gordon’s last game with the Royals,” to “the Astros have struck out 48 times and this could be the first time a team that strikes out so much makes it to the ALCS!”
The Astros make two more hits after the Rasmus homer, getting on third and second. There are still two innings left for the Royals after this, but they seem like a formality. The undertaker has already started digging a grave.
“This is it right here,” says one of the commentators. “If they get these two runs in you can pretty much just wrap it up for the Astros.”
Keuchel agrees, and is seen sanguinely petting his beard in the dugout.
The excruciating inning does close with no more damage, though, but it still seems like a wrap for the Astros. Alex Rios steps up to the plate again. Katie and I are clenching the bar with white knuckles and knotted stomachs. He swings and hits a single on the first pitch. Katie and I punch the air and pound the bar. Considering the odds we are more excited than we should be, but now it seems like there is still so much game left!
And boy there is. The Royals don’t want to die. Neither does this inning, and for a while it seems like it’s immortal. There are five hits, two walks, one error, two pitching changes and eleven at bats—with Rios batting twice in the same inning. Drew Butera, our backup catcher who had not had a single at-bat in the post season drew a walk after ten whole pitches off the unfortunate Luke Gregorson, who did not fare well against the Royals in the Wild Card game last year. After it all, Astros fans are clasping their hands beneath their chins in utter sorrow. The Royals have scored five runs.
What happened? Is it that the Royals are fans of a huge narrative arc? Has everyone crapped their pants and cried into their cups? Yes? Okay, let’s win this thing! Is that what they say to each other? Or was it just a matter of probability? That the team with the best record in the American League wins against the Astros and it’s only a matter of when and how? Or are the Royals blessed by the gods? The problem with being blessed by the gods is that one becomes, by default, their plaything.
I can see it now—somewhere in the 7th inning, just for the heck of it, Nike, the goddess of victory, launched a boomerang into the nether—so far that it reached Hades. This boomerang, being the Royals, hovered over the banks of the River Styx, where Cerberus spotted it. A glistening rope of saliva trailed from the beast’s three be-fanged mouths as the he lept up to ensnare it in his frothy jowls. But to the great hound’s vexation, the boomerang snaps away and heads back towards Victory.
Yogi Berra might have been a Yankee, but right now the team that best plays to his motto is the Royals. My team!
The cameras zoom in on the Astros players. They are deflated. Their smiles have wilted. They are slumped on their bench, chewing their tobacco and gum and sunflower seeds not with bravado of a team that can smell victory, but with the resignation of a cow chewing cud.
“If we win this game we have to have shots,” Katie says. She is careful to use if because she doesn’t want to jinx anything.
“Totally, and we still have to go to the park.”
At the top of the ninth, Ben Zobrist walks, and Hosmer hits a homerun. Though it’s good to have insurance runs, Wade Davis is coming back out in the ninth, so it all seems like it’s for shits and giggles at this point.
Wade Freaking Davis. He and Mariano Rivera have been mentioned in the same sentence on several occasions, by sports writers who don’t even work for The Kansas City Star, and he is on my team. My team! The Royals! As long as I can remember, no one on my team has been compared to anyone as high caliber as Mariano Rivera.
Wade Davis’s hat is angled so that his eyes are obscured by shadow. When other pitchers spit and shuffle about the mound, it feels like a tactic for them to gather their wits about them, but when Wade Davis spits, it’s the spit of a cowboy who has just done eight seconds on the bull. When he shakes off pitches, it’s a small and subtle. If you blink you’ll miss it. There’s another thing. Does he blink? You catch other pitchers blinking, staring up at the sky asking for deliverance, but I don’t think I’ve seen Wade Davis blink. If you can’t see him blink, you don’t know he’s human. When other pitchers wind up for the pitch cameramen seem to zero in on only the grotesqueness of their extreme physical exertion; we see their bulging eyes, their straining neck, and their jowls quivering like jello during the slow-mo replay. But by the look on Wade Davis’s his face, you would think he’s simply meditating. The cameras can’t catch anything. I don’t know how the batters feel, but I know I’d be scared.
Regardless of how the Astros feel, Davis retires the side and that’s that. Katie and I each have a shot Jameson and walk off into the sunset. Holy Mackerel. What a game.