September 30th marked the fifth-anniversary of the Royals’ wild 9-8 extra inning marathon win over the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card game. And as expected, I poured over Twitter today, getting nostalgic as people shared fond memories of one of the most enjoyable moments in the history of Kansas City Royals baseball. And it’s easy to see why…watching the highlights below will surely bring a tear to the eye of any passionate Royals or Kansas City sports fan.
With the Wild Card games taking place today, and the Royals once again not in the postseason for a fourth-consecutive season, I decided to watch the condensed game, which is actually still available in full glory on YouTube (though there is no commentary, which is kind of a bummer). In fact, you can take a look at it here on this blog, embedded below:
As I watched the game, a few things stood out to me that I had forgotten about this fateful night nearly five years ago. Yes, we remember Salvy’s huge hit in the 12th. Yes, we remember Jarrod Dyson’s shimmy at third after stealing the base in the ninth inning (which would later become the game-tying run). Yes, we remember Hosmer’s big triple off the Kauffman Stadium wall in the bottom of the 12th, which set up not only Salvy’s big moment, but Christian Colon’s infield single which scored Hosmer and tied the game. Those BIG moments are burned in the memory of any Royals fan.
However, there are plenty of things that were probably forgotten or under-appreciated by most Royals fans, especially after the 2015 season, where the fond memories of 2014 were supplanted by even greater ones the following year, which is to be expected when a club wins the World Series. So, here are three underrated moments of the legendary 2014 Wild Card game at Kauffman Stadium.
“Big Game” James on the Hill
James Shields was acquired in December of 2012 from the Rays in a well-publicized deal that sent Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. The trade from a Royals perspective was a move from GM Dayton Moore to shift the Royals from a “rebuilding” culture to a “winning” one, which seemed odd for a club coming off a 72-win season. It would be one thing to acquire a starter like Shields, who had two years left on his deal at the time of the trade, if the Royals were 5-10 games away from being a playoff team. But to make up 15-20? That was a little more difficult to digest, especially since it came at the cost of two top prospects such as Myers, who had the potential to be a star hitter, and Odorizzi, a potential 2-3 starter.
In fact, most in the Royals blogosphere were critical of the deal, as Beyond the Box Score mentioned in a retrospective on the fateful trade. I on the other hand, who had just moved to Kansas City in the summer of 2013, Shields’ first of two seasons in KC, was actually a fan of the move. I didn’t know if it made them a playoff team, but Shields was one of the most durable and dependable starters in the league at the time. He was coming off seven straight seasons of pitching 200-plus innings, and he was also fresh off of two straight seasons of 220-plus strikeouts. At the very least, I felt Shields would come in and make the Royals’ rotation immediately respectable, which at the time, the Royals had not had after former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke left Kansas City.
Thankfully for Moore and Royals fans, Shields lived up to his billing during his two seasons in Kansas City. In his two seasons with the Royals, Shields posted a 27-17 record, while accumulating a 3.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 7.5 WAR. The Royals ace gave the club the top-of-the rotation guy they needed, and brought fire, competitiveness and energy into a pitching staff and clubhouse that seemed to lack leadership and direction for so long. And to see him on the hill, in front of an electric crowd that has waited almost 30 years for playoff baseball, felt somewhat poetic: “Big Game” James pitching in one of the “Biggest Games” at the K in almost three decades.
Shields didn’t have the greatest performance in the Wild Card game (he allowed four runs on five hits in five innings pitched, though he did have six strikeouts), but he still held his own despite early troubles. It is sad though that Shields left the Royals at the conclusion of the 2014 season, as he left a competitive team (and eventual World Series champion club) for a bigger payday in San Diego.
That being said, Shields is one of the forgotten heroes of the 2013 and 2014 years, and the Wild Card game was a nice reminder that Shields was one of the key cogs that helped the Royals change their fortunes around as a club starting in 2013.
Derek Norris’ “career-ending” game
Going into the Wild Card game, Oakland A’s catcher Derek Norris could say he was having quite the season. He had posted a 119 wOPS+ and had a slash of .271/.361/.403 to go along with 10 home runs. Norris’ strong performance behind the dish had earned him a spot in the 2014 All-Star game, and it was expected that Billy Beane and the A’s had found an underrated gem in the 25-year-old Norris.
However, after Salvy’s game winning hit, Norris’ career was never the same.
Originally, Norris wasn’t even scheduled to start the game. While he had made the All-Star team, defense wasn’t exactly Norris’ strongest quality, especially when it came to throwing out base runners. In 2014, Norris had a success rate of 17 percent, 10 points lower than the league average of 27 percent. Instead, Bob Melvin slated backup Geovany Soto to start. Though Soto wasn’t a great hitter, Gordon felt that Soto would be better at keeping the Royals at bay in comparison to Norris (Soto had thrown out 43 percent of runners stealing over 24 games in 2014).
However, Soto injured himself on a play at the plate in the third inning, and Norris was summoned to replace him. And the results were catastrophic for the A’s: six straight Royals stole bases against the A’s in the game, and it seemed like Norris only got worse and worse with each and every stolen base. You could tell when you re-watch the game on film that Norris was just in disbelief after Colon stole the seventh and final base for the Royals that game. You could tell that he knew that the A’s were going to lose the game after Colon’s stolen base and his inability to throw out the Royals base runners all night long was a big reason why.
Norris has only played three more seasons at the Major League level after the momentous night in Kansas City, playing two seasons in San Diego, before fizzling out after 53 games in 2017 with Tampa Bay.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence or funny timing, but I couldn’t help but feel after watching the game in retrospect that the Royals and the 2014 Wild Card game ruined Norris’ big-league career.
Ned Yost’s Yordano bullpen “blunder”
It’s funny to see all the Ned Yost love that went on this past weekend. I mean, as a Royals fan, I admit it’s easy to focus on the positives of Yost’s tenure: he brought two American League pennants not to mention a World Series title to Kansas City after 30 years of struggle and irrelevance.
However, it’s easy forget that in the sixth inning, there was a strong contingent of Royals fans who were clamoring for this to be Ned Yost’s last game as the Royals manager. Why? Because of his ill-fated decision to bring in Yordano Venutra to relieve Shields in the sixth inning in one of the biggest games in Royals history at the time…
And it completely blew up in his face.
The decision to bring in Ventura was head-scratching, especially since Ventura had been in the rotation all year long, making 30 starts for the Royals rotation in his first full season in the big leagues. Ventura had definitely electrified in his full-season rookie debut, going 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA and a 159 strikeouts in 183 innings. And to do this as a 23-year-old was even more impressive, as it gave Royals fans hope of what he could be on the horizon (RIP Ace Ventura).
However…he was 23 years old…and he came in with a one-run lead in a situation he had never been in before. Even when Yost brought him in, Royals fans and broadcasters couldn’t make sense of the move, as Yost was usually a traditionalist when it came to bullpen roles and rarely went against the grain.
As predicted by the naysayers, Ventura struggled in the difficult spot. Coming in for Shields with two runners on, Ventura gave up a monster 3-run home run to Brandon Moss that not only gave the A’s back the lead, but also sucked almost all of the air out of Kauffman Stadium for a moment. In fact, Ventura had just as many wild pitches as outs (one), and when Yost came in to relieve Ventura for Kelvin Herrera, the damage was already done. Venutra was a shell of himself, and many Royals fans wondered if Yost had scarred their future ace for life.
Herrera of course couldn’t hold the runners on and gave up back-to-back RBI singles, which made the game 7-3. I remember thinking in the seventh how stupid Yost was for his decision to bring in Ventura, and feeling that it was going to be Milwaukee all over again, as Yost would be sent packing after such a boner of a move.
And then the 8th inning happened…and then the 9th…and finally the 12th.
Without those respective Royals comeback innings, who knows what Ned Yost’s legacy as Royals manager would be…
I guarantee you he wouldn’t be the Royals all-time winning manager if the Royals didn’t comeback to win this Wild Card game.