Detroit Comerica Royals Tigers Hosmer

Game 84 // Ninth Inning, Detroit // The Great Royals’ Final Go

TOP OF THE NINTH: ROYALS 7 (2) – 4 TIGERS

 

They’re on the telecast, this last inning in Detroit, breathing a last gasp of hope for all the remaining audience: “And the Royals are saying, this game ain’t over!”

It’s the first days of official fall, when the equinox steps in and interrupts all summer glee, the sun tilts its weary way down south, the evening light goes short, the baseball calendar sees its tail and the last competing teams make their final push to play on, to playoff. The grass at Comerica Park streaked with afternoon shadows from the beams above the concourse, the hometown fans imbued with the sense of an inevitable win.

 

 

The Tigers are up 4-2. They’ve crept back up into a Wild Card spot, the night before. And the class of the A.L. Central, in from Kansas City, has hit the low point reality check that’ll sting for an offseason: there won’t be any return to the playoffs, for us defending-champ Royals.

But then, some gut-check burst of pride goes pop. A switch flicks on. A lightbulb, an instinct, a call to arms. A 2-0 count to Alex Gordon, leading off against Francisco Rodriguez, and a line drive onto the right-field grass—a baserunner on first that means maybe, means could, a perhaps and a possible. And the buzz of a feeling around the airwaves: Don’t turn off the TV just yet.

Alcides Escobar comes up. A quick 0-2 count and two big whiffs. Doffs his helmet, readjusts, velcros his batting gloves and steps back in. He flies out, to a casual clap around the ballpark, with J.D. Martinez charging into the sun and hauling it in at full speed before the stands, down the line. One out. Still down two.

Hunter Dozier up. Shadows streaking eastward off the left-hand side of the mound, as Rodriguez crouches, pauses, and winds up. Dozier waits for the pitch, knocks a sly ground ball through the hole between short and third, just under the glove of Jose Iglesias—and now the tying run’s at first, Daniel Nava up from the on-deck circle.

And the Tigers dugout begins the slow, creeping way toward nervous, with the remains of a no-sweat teamwide look still lingering in the air. The comfort that they’ve got this, that the Wild Card spot is still surely theirs, the win theirs too, the lead unfallible and their closer locked in. Blowing bubbles with their elbows bent along the dugout railing, watching as if it’s a formality, who’ll come home with the day’s W.

Nava strikes out on a split-change, curling down into the dirt before the catcher’s mitt as the bat goes by.

And so it’s two outs in Detroit, Comerica Park, the fans all hoisting themselves up, clapping gratefully, casually, as if there’s nothing at stake but the games still to come, the final week when playoff spots settle, when an entire city considers if their team’s got the goods. They clap, not for a team under pressure, but for a team they’re glad about, pleased about, patting them on the back and nodding, saying goodbye before another day’s game. An orange and navy salute to success.

Paulo Orlando goes down into a quick 0-2 count. One strike away from a loss. The fans stay up, awaiting one more. And Rodriguez comes low with a pitch in the dirt. Another ball, outside. He wipes an imagined grease off the ball, cranks it between his palms for grip, adjusts the acorn-like tobacco bump in his squirrel-like cheek.

And Paulo Orlando, on the next pitch, smashes a double off the center-field wall. Cameron Maybin runs back to field it, and a quick rush of air hisses out of the ballpark stands—a sigh, a groan, a What??, a What the hell!!

 

 

The game is tied, 4-4, two outs in the ninth and a man on second base. Cheslor Cuthbert steps up, Rodriguez deals way low again. And the buzzing chatter of the middle innings returns, with an assumed extra-innings ballgame on the way. Fans with hands on their chins, eyes too afraid to look. Brad Ausmus checking the charts in the dugout.

And the Royals, the world champion Royals, the peskiest, rally-happiest, deepest team in the land—out of the race but their names thrown in for one last visit into the late-game glory.

Cuthbert walks on a 3-1 count. Rodriguez stays in after a mound meeting, two arms get warm in the bullpen.

And then, Eric Hosmer. The heart of an order that’s etched their names into the Kansas City hall of legends. The leader, the highlight, the hero. With Rally, rally, rally, rally, continue the rally and rally—repeating in his head like a mantra, the same for over a year. He walks up. He takes a pitch. He misses on a pitch. Then he swings on a third pitch, reaches low on an outside fastball, his back knee bent almost down to the ground. And a long, loping follow-through, shooting a distant ball into the right-field stands.

Three-run home run to right. Smiling a restrained smile as he runs the bases. Tapping his shoulders as he scores. Hugging Orlando at the plate. Hugs in every corner of the dugout. The last, best, proudest moment of the 2016 Kansas City Royals, basking in the residual glow of a championship, enjoying the lasting flair of comeback drama, recalling the great feeling of the unbeatables.

 

 

“This place has gone from stunned,” they say on the Tigers’ telecast, “to angry.” And the camera cuts to the crowd, heading for the exits like packs of distressed ants.

Eric Hosmer, at the center of it all, with a smile that’ll last a week.

 

 

Previously: 

Inning 81: The Royal Fenway Rally

Inning 63: The Butcher Boy

Inning 45: Royals Rally, Rally, Rally, Rally

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