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Greatest Games in Royals History

On MLB Network, they’re beginning a series where they try to rank the best 20 games of the last 50 years. It’s a very cool series, and it was kicked off with a couple of nights ago with a look at the 50 nominees for this that are voted on by fans and, I believe, MLB Network personalities. They picked ten games from each decade to get to their 50 semi-finalists. Is it technically finalists with 20 winners or is there only one winner? Would that make this the quarter finals? I’m confused now, so I’ll move on to my point that I thought it’d be cool to take a look at the greatest games in Royals history. I’m not going to talk about them all in one day, but sometime before the season starts, I’ll rank them in my order and then you can chime in with your thoughts as well. Greatest games can mean different things to different people. For me, I’m looking at the best actual game regardless of the outcome. Sure, the 1977 ALCS probably leaves a bitter enough taste in my mouth that, although the game was great, I probably won’t rank it number one, but it has to be on the list for me anyway.

Without further ado, I’ll get started with one of my favorite games of the last ten years for sure, and one that will probably end up in the bottom half of the list. It comes from probably the most magical season in Royals history, 2003. I say most magical because that team has to be one of the worst ever to finish above .500. Granted, the finish occurred completely from the 16-3 start when the team hit, pitched and played excellent defense, but they were bad and somehow netted 83 wins. On April 18, the Royals hosted the 1-13 Tigers for the first of a three game set. The Royals were 11-3 at this point, but had begun to show some signs of cracking a bit after the 9-0 start. Still, this Tigers team was terrible. Remember that they went on to lose 119 games.

The pitching matchup was the great Darrell May versus Nate Cornejo. The Tigers took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth before the Royals played some little ball in the fourth with a double by Joe Randa* and then productive outs by Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney to bring him home. Then in the fifth, the Royals dinked and dunked their way to another run with a Ken Harvey infield single. Yes, an infield single. That was followed by a base hit by Angel Berroa. Then Harvey advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a throwing error by an eventual All-Star, Omar Infante.

*I absolutely loved Joe Randa as a player and as an ambassador in Kansas City. The funny thing about him, though, is that if I knew then what I know about statistical analysis, I probably wouldn’t be as big of a fan. His offensive value was tied up mostly in batting average and runs batted in. He did play solid defense and was fun to watch, but sometimes I wonder if the year 2000 version of me would be a fan of someone like Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Tigers remained scoreless in the top half of the sixth before Raul Ibanez blasted a homer in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game up. For those who remember what Royals Stadium was like during the playoffs, this game had that feel, but on a smaller level. The crowd was over 38,000 and was absolutely rocking. This town had such a burning desire to have a successful baseball team that when the fast start occurred, people believed immediately. Maybe it was Tony Pena’s infectious personality that played a big role as well, but I believe that it was the great fans of Kansas City just so hungry to root for a contender. Anyway, the roar of the crowd grew as Ibanez circled the bases and by the time he reached home plate, you could hardly hear yourself think.

Something else to recall as far as fan interest is concerned is the Mike Sweeney contract. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know this already, but I’ll go over it again anyway. He signed a contract extension for five years and $55 million, which would later be referred to as the Royale. Except, it wasn’t quite that simple. He had an out clause after 2004 if the Royals did not finish above .500 in either 2003 or 2004. I remember the countdowns with each win to 81 for the season in order to keep Sweeney a Royal. At the time, that wasn’t a detriment to the team.

Back to the game, though. So Ibanez had tied the score up and then the scoring went dormant for the next few innings and the game went into extra innings. The Tigers seemed to threaten much more than the Royals, but never really mounted anything. Then Ken Harvey came to the plate leading off the bottom of the 11th inning against Matt Anderson. Harvey was a rookie, but looked for all the world like he would be a legitimate hitter in this league. I could be remembering this incorrectly, but I recall on either the first or second pitch, he belted a ball into the night that was foul. It was far enough foul that it never elicited any real response, but hit far enough that you couldn’t help but feel dejected that he had wasted his good swing. On an 0-2 pitch, though, he got a fastball and he crushed it to left, this time fair. Harvey lifted his arms as he circled the bases. The crowd was deafening. I’m not lucky enough to remember the stadium at a playoff game, but I can’t imagine it was any louder than it was at that moment. The Royals won the game 4-3 and ended up sweeping the Tigers in the series.

There are games with more importance, but all the factors of that game that begin with the crowd makes this one of the greatest games the Royals have played in their history. Like I said before, it’s on the bottom of their list for sure, but it should definitely make it.

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