Programming note: For the most comprehensive World Series coverage from Kansas City, watch "October Quest" tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
KANSAS CITY – Has baseball ever seen a World Series team as scorching as the Kansas City Royals?
Well, yes, actually. There are more parallels between these Royals and the 2007 Colorado Rockies than a college rule sheet of loose leaf. And Javier Lopez, for one, hopes those parallels hold.
That’s because those Rockies, who entered the 2007 World Series with more momentum than the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, got spun around like teacups by the Boston Red Sox. Lopez was a member of that Red Sox team that pulled off a four-game sweep of the Rockies, sending a rollicking team reeling, and he remembers the message that David Ortiz gave to the group before Game 1.
“Respect the team across the way,” said Ortiz, “but don’t fear them.”
“I’m sure Hunter Pence will give us that same message,” said Lopez, on the eve of Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium. “I don’t know whether we’ll need it. But he’ll give it. If there’s one constant, it’s that Hunter Pence will say something.”
Maybe Lopez can provide a brief look at recent major league history to the group, too. He can tell them that the 2007 Rockies, just like the Royals, ran the table in the first two rounds, sweeping the Phillies in the best-of-5 round and taking all four games over the Arizona Diamondbacks to clinch the pennant. The Royals did the same thing to the Tigers and Orioles.
The Rockies even had to with the wild card knockout game before it ever came into existence. They finished tied with the San Diego Padres for the wild card that year, and in a game started by Jake Peavy, they prevailed in a wild, 9-8 victory at Coors Field. The Royals did much the same to the A’s in the wild card game this year, coming back from a 7-3 deficit to advance as the wild card.
The Rockies were even hotter in September, going 14-1 in their last 15 games. The Royals were just 9-6, but have transformed themselves into a different club by adding a power dimension they didn’t show most of the summer.
No question, this series is setting up as experience vs. momentum. But how much is that momentum worth, really?
Well, there’s a reason they always say momentum goes as far as the next day’s starting pitcher. Lopez remembers that pitcher making all the difference for the Red Sox.
“Well, we had Josh Beckett, and in the run-up to that game, he had power stuff and he had command of it,” Lopez said. “The Rockies hadn’t experienced a loss yet. We were in win mode, just trying to take care of business, but I think for their part, it shocked them, getting beat. It set the tone and it picked up our spirits.
“That was a really good lineup he was going through. Winning that first game, that’s when we knew we had a chance to do something special.”
The Giants’ version, Madison Bumgarner, has a 1.42 ERA in four postseason starts, and despite 249 innings on his arm this year, he said he feels the best he has all season. It’ll be on him to set the same momentum-breaking tone that Beckett did seven years ago.
Bumgarner will have to wrangle an opponent that, as Royals manager Ned Yost describes it, plays to win: “Not to play safe, not to cover our tails. We play to win. And the players have the freedom to do that.”
Bumgarner said he wouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary to try to hold runners, and that’s exactly what pitching coach Dave Righetti wants to hear.
“Do not let these guys bother you,” Righetti said. “If they want to do silly stuff like take off for third base with nobody out, let them. If we need to hold them late in a game, we do that as well as anybody.
“If they want to run, they’re going to run. We can’t let it become an atmosphere we don’t handle very well, and quite frankly, we’ve been beat up a few times that way.”
The Giants are trying to win their third World Series in five years precisely because they are able to slow the game down. The Royals are not the Rangers or Tigers, though. This is an National League wolf wearing American League wool.
They have speed and power – and momentum. Just like the Rockies did seven years ago.
“I remember the talk (with Boston) was, `Hey, let’s dictate our pace and dictate our game,’” Lopez said. “This (Royals) team, they’ve been hot. The one thing I take away is the genuine joy they have to play the game. Even in the Oakland game, when they were down, they battled back and had that no-quit mentality. It’s a fun team to watch.”
The Royals are the fifth team to sweep an ALCS since it moved to a best-of-7 format. And there’s one more parallel the Giants would love to draw to the end of the page. All four of those other AL teams failed to win the World Series.