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.
Kauffman Stadium is a bowl of sunshine right now. Light has flooded most of the field and the players wear wraparound sunglasses with Plutonite lenses and Unobtanium frames that make them look like cyborgs. Some opt for streaks of black paint that are now starting to run down their face, making them look like Scottish warriors.
I’m watching the game with my friend Zack at his place on the Upper West Side. Zack is a ballhawk and baseball writer whose most recent claim to fame was catching A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and taking his sweet time giving the ball back. His friend Muneesh is also there, and he has a baseball podcast, The Clubhouse Podcast. Basically, these two have Ph.Ds in baseball, and I’m still in Pre-K. During the game they tweet other baseballheads, look up stats, and correctly predict which pitch will be thrown and why. I can only handle watching the game and sometimes not even that. I’m also trying to eat, but am barely able to dig into my pad Thai. It’s a disappointing rendition, mostly a pile of starch scantly studded with peanuts and a few greasy shrimp.
Zack is cheering for the Royals in solidarity with me. He used to be a Mets fan but resigned after too many run-ins with stadium security. Muneesh is a Tigers fan who, by default, is supposed to cheer against the Royals but out of politeness isn’t doing so openly.
It’s the top of the top of the sixth and the Blue Jays are ahead by one run. That’s better than I expected us to be doing at this point. Ventura was shaky against the Astros but he’s in better form today. He hasn’t glared at anyone or started any fights—important because the Blue Jays enjoy clearing their benches for a good brawl. In ALDS Game 5 against the Rangers there were two brawls in one inning. In some ways it is strange to see this kind of behavior from a Canadian franchise, but in other ways it’s not surprising at all. I mean, look at hockey. Those guys are basically boxers on ice.
I’m getting a little nervous when Donaldson singles off Ventura. Donaldson would have been out earlier had his foul ball not hit a thin wire, one of two in the whole stadium. Perez caught it with his bare hand but it was declared dead and Donaldson got a chance to single. The wire incident was bad luck for the Royals and Ventura seems to internalize bad luck. He is a young person learning how to deal with his emotions, just like most young people around the world, except watching him grow up is a spectator sport.
Next up is Bautista. He walks. There are no outs and that’s not great, but to me, any time Bautista does not hit a home run the pitcher is doing their job. I’m about to take another stab at my pad Thai when Encarnación singles when his grounder slides past Escobar. Donaldson scores, and there’s still no outs. Muneesh lets out a whoop, but stops short of unabashedly cheering for the Blue Jays.
“I just like seeing runs,” he says to me.
Ned keeps Ventura in the game, maybe thinking he’ll dig himself out of the tight spot like Volquez did in Game 1.
Ventura gets one out when the next batter comes up, but here comes Tulowitzski. Instead of painting his cheeks he is wearing black stickers. The sleek slits really make it seem like he is trying to channel the Raven of Death. He wants to do damage, and does—with a double that his hits on the first pitch. Bautista heads home. My stomach sinks towards the floor, and I’m glad there’s not much pad Thai to go down with it.
Ventura still can’t get a break after this Blue Jays salvo. The next batter, Russell Martin, is walked.
It’s not just a tight spot anymore: it’s about to be a blitzkrieg. Ventura smothers his face with his glove. He is not hiding tears. The downward thrust of his neck and the enlargement of his jugular all belie the monosyllabic expletive that is erupting from his thin frame.
Zack looks at me.
“You alright there?”
Ventura is pulled and Hochevar replaces him.
“I’ll be fine.”
A consensus has been reached by commentators, Zack, Muneesh, me, and everyone watching the game that it is good as over if the Blue Jays score again. But Hochevar offers a fine display of calm and collection and retires the next two batters, limiting the Blue Jays’ damage. I eat another bite of pad Thai. There’s still a lot of game left. We just need Price to start feeling a little magnanimous.
The top of the seventh inning starts with Zobrist swinging at the first pitch and hitting a fly ball that will be caught by someone. Goins or Bautista. But which will it be? They are both running towards it. They’re both there. They’re both about to grab it.
“Crash into each other! Crash into each other! Crash! Crash! Crash!” I am screaming at the television. Anything I can do to help.
They don’t crash. But they don’t catch the ball either! Bautista thought Goins had the ball, and Goins thought Bautista had his back.
I shout whoo, Muneesh shouts whoa, and Zack thinks he should play right field. By the look on Price’s face he probably thinks he should play right field, too. But he’s not in panic mode. It’s just one guy on, right?
But one guy turns into another, and another and we score a run. The Kansas City assembly line is on and where the heck is the off button? Does this thing even come with an off button? Sportscasters have come up with all manner of metaphor to describe the Royals offense at times like these. They like to go with politically correct hackneyed ones, like the snowball effect and the leaky pipe, but I think it’s more like Chinese water torture.
These are the facts regardless of your choice of metaphor: Zobrist has scored, Cain is on third and Hosmer is at first. Morales is at bat. There are no outs. The camera zooms in on Hosmer and the first base coach, Rusty Kuntz, and they look like they’re scheming.
Morales hits a grounder towards center field and it looks like it could be a double-play. Except that Hosmer is on base two seconds after Morales hits the ball. Morales is out but he drove in Cain and we have a man on second, a man on third.
Muneesh suggests Hosmer was planning to steal second on the pitch, but instead of stealing, ended up preventing a double-play. Two second later the newscasters are saying the same thing. The score is now 3 – 2, and we have a very real chance of tying the game in the seventh.
Price can’t handle it. The inning could have been over by now. His arms are raised in disbelief, and he is shaking his head. He looks at Hosmer. Why are you even here? I’m a Cy Young winner. How is this happening?
But it is, and it’s not over. Moustakas, who hadn’t had a hit in the entire postseason, finally ends his drought and makes it to second base on a single and Hosmer scores. It is now a tied game.
There is a new chorus of whoas, and whoos and oh-my-gods erupting from the couch. No one is Tweeting, no one is looking up any stats.
Price still has enough stuff to get Salvy out on strikes, but not enough to prevent Gordon from doubling and scoring in Moustakas. John Gibbons, the portly Blue Jays manager, strides up to the mound. He is shaped like a tea kettle. The tortured David Price hands him the ball, and Gibbons gives him an avuncular slap on the butt.
There is a fresh pitcher. But it’s not over yet, kids, because Rios hits a single. The Royals have gone through their whole lineup and now Escobar is at bat. He gets out, putting the inning to bed, but it seems the Royals’ bloodlust has only been whetted after this five-run inning. In the eighth Cain walks with one out, prompting more anxiety from the Blue Jays dugout. The pitcher is changed before he can even get into the game. Cain threatens only briefly and is caught trying to steal. But this new pitcher lets Hosmer take a stroll, too. And then lets Morales join him. Two men out, two men on. And then Moose hits again, driving Hosmer home. Is is now 6 – 3.
It really is starting to seem that the Royals orchestrate their victories so as to spread the mirth around a little bit. The other team’s fans get to enjoy the first two-thirds of the game, and the Royals fans get to enjoy the rest.
A sense of calm before the euphoria takes over in the ninth inning because Wade Davis is coming to pitch, and is it known by now that that he is The Man. But there are still whispers of doubt from some corners of the stadium. The commentators murmur: something something want to get out these next three batters something something so he won’t have to face Bautista something something.
But Davis does not get out the next batter, who gets a single. And he does not get out the following batter, who is walked.
Is this another deliberate plot twist? Are we orchestrating this ninth inning so that we can trade some more joy with the Blue Jays and take it to late innings? It would be great for this narrative arc thing the Royals always seem to be striving to achieve, but it’s horrible for the fans. I mean, I feel like these shrimp could come crawling up my throat any second.
Before the ninth inning started someone, probably me, didn’t want to jinx anything by prematurely declaring victory and suggested that at one point someone is going to get to Wade Davis. I fear the counter-jinx has backfired and that the Blue Jays are going to peck him alive. But what makes Wade Davis great is that he doesn’t let two men on base get to him, at least not in a way that’s visibly notable to anyone (me) who might be scrutinizing his facial expressions for any sign of distress or humanity. There are none.
He retires the next two batters, striking out Revere and Donaldson. But he still has to face Bautista, the only guy to homer off Davis this year—the only guy to homer off Davis in two whole years. There are two outs, and two guys on base. A homer would tie the game. The whole stadium is shitting bricks. As a general rule Bautista either homers or walks, and every once in a while he’ll get out. Commentators are saying his batting average is way better in later innings, so this is also part of the equation. What will Davis do to him?
It does not take long to find out. Bautista swings at the first pitch and makes contact. The ball is soaring. My god, is it a home run? No. It sails into Paulo Orlando’s glove way, way out in right field, ending the game. Thor is quieted again and it is Kauffman Stadium that thunders instead.