KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals didn't have a postseason prayer. Until, that is, a praying mantis showed up in their dugout.
Since then, the defending World Series champions are playing like world beaters.
Perhaps the Royals can thank Billy Burns for their 9-1 run. He's a spare outfielder, stuck on the bench almost all the time since being traded over from Oakland last month.
But Burns holds an important side job: He's the caretaker of Rally Mantis Jr.
"I think the only reason I'm taking care of him is I actually care about him not dying," Burns said. "So people are like, 'You can take care of him.' I spent one night researching, how to take care of him, so hopefully we can keep him alive."
See, the Royals were sputtering, their playoff hopes fading, when a praying mantis appeared in their dugout at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 6. They beat Toronto that night and suddenly the bug-eyed insect with a triangular head had a new home.
Really, who needs a Rally Monkey when you have a Rally Mantis?
"The first mantis crawled up on my hat and just kind of camped out there for a while," Burns said. "Some of the guys just thought it was funny."
Adopted by the team, it was christened the Rally Mantis and Kansas City went on to win five of six. Their new mascot traveled with the club to Minnesota, but died on Aug. 13 — the Royals lost that day, too.
"The first one lasted about five or six games," Burns said. "The first one was on his way out. The first one was dying when we found him."
Then Junior showed up.
"The second one flew in out of nowhere during the game the other day in Detroit," Burns said.
Burns said shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitcher Edinson Volquez "used the help of a fan to catch him." After that, with extra time on his hands, Burns took over.
The Royals swept their first three-game series in Detroit since 2008 and Rally Mantis Jr. boarded the charter flight for Kansas City, where the Royals beat the Twins on Thursday night to move back over .500. The surge has moved them back into the AL wild-card race.
Before the victory over the Twins, Rally Mantis Jr. was moved into what Burns described as "his new upgraded cage" with plants and food.
"Right now he's got some crickets hanging out in there, some moths," Burns said. "We've been catching bugs whenever we see them."
There was a photo opportunity with Junior in his new home this week and at least a half-dozen photographers swarmed to shoot Kansas City's latest celebrity. Royals fans are showing up with mantis masks and making Rally Mantis Jr. posters.
The club leaves Sunday night for Miami. Rally Mantis Jr. will make the trip.
"He's part of our team now," Burns said. "He'll be going everywhere."