MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

ALCS a clash of countries, emotion and history

ALCS a clash of countries, emotion and history

KANSAS CITY -- Welcome to an American League Championship Series that offers just about everything.

First things first.

Game Date Matchup
Gm 1 Oct. 16 KC 5, TOR 0
Gm 2 Oct. 17 KC 6, TOR 3
Gm 3 Oct. 19 TOR 11, KC 8
Gm 4 Oct. 20 KC 14, TOR 2
Gm 5 Oct. 21 TOR 7, KC 1
Gm 6 Oct. 23 KC 4, TOR 3

Some history

Thirty years ago, the Blue Jays and Royals played a memorable seven-game ALCS that, in part, set a gold standard for postseason tension and dramatics.

That series was great baseball and amazing theater, an instant classic. It was one of those times when two great baseball cities were so emotionally invested in the teams that the stakes became higher as the series wore on.

That series helped define George Brett as one of the all-time greats. He hit .348 and seemed to will the Royals to victory, helping them come back from a 3-1 deficit.

So when the Blue Jays and Royals play Game 1 of this ALCS at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday (FOX and SportsNet) at Kauffman Stadium, there will be plenty of these franchises' greatest players -- George Bell, Bret Saberhagen, Lloyd Moseby, Bud Black -- who might have a flashback or two of that intense, hard-fought series.

Dress for ALCS: Celebrate Blue Jays' postseason run

Emotional teams

If you thought the Blue Jays and Rangers got on each other's nerves, that may only be an undercard. The Blue Jays and Royals have some history in this area.

Both teams play with emotions bubbling near the surface. Neither ignores a slight. That's one reason this ALCS could be so entertaining.

During a Blue Jays-Royals series in August, Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez plunked Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson. When he continued to pitch inside, Donaldson got mad.

Donaldson gets brushed back

Benches emptied when the two exchanged words and stares.

"He's a little baby," Volquez told reporters that day. "He was crying like a baby."

Do you think Donaldson might remember those words?

Blue Jays, Royals leaving bad blood in past

Royals starter Yordano Ventura also got into it, apparently referring to Jose Bautista as a "nobody" and accusing the Blue Jays of stealing signs.

Whoa, slow down.

Bautista delivered a signature postseason moment on Thursday with a bat flip for the ages that seemed to reflect the tension of a tough, tense postseason series. The Blue Jays won three elimination games in a row to get to the ALCS, and Bautista's three-run home run -- and celebratory bat flip -- in the seventh inning sealed the deal.

Did you see the Royals celebrate Kendrys Morales hitting that home run in Game 5 of the Royals victory over the Astros a few hours later? There was a similar emotional reaction to Bautista's, but the Royals celebrated their moment within their own dugout. There was no bat flip, at least not one that was memorable. Ten players might offer 10 dramatically opinions about bat flips.

Must C: Morales' three-run blast

Rangers fans didn't think much of Bautista's. Blue Jays fans saw it as one of the franchise's greatest moments.

Is it a cultural difference? Games in the Caribbean nations simply are different. Fans are louder, and players are less reluctant to show their emotions on the field.

At times, games have the feel of a wild, happy street party, and players feed off that vibe. That Bautista would be criticized for tossing his bat aside is wrong on so many levels. This may have been his defining moment of a 12-year career in which plenty of people doubted he was good enough.

Fitting that Bautista plays hero for Blue Jays

And in that moment -- and after the craziness with catcher Russell Martin's error and the Rangers taking the lead in the top of the inning -- Bautista let his emotions out. He's also one of the great pros in the game, respected on every level.

Must C: Bautista's go-ahead shot

But if he violated one of the game's unwritten rules regarding etiquette codes, then the rules ought to be examined. When Astros manager A.J. Hinch was asked recently about bat flips, he offered an answer right down the line.

"I realize how things used to be; I realize how things are going," Hinch said. "We're in an entertainment business; there's certainly a fine line. You never want to disrespect the game or disrespect your opponent.

"But you got to live it up a little bit. You got to enjoy it a little bit. Otherwise this game will really beat you down with the amount of failure that's there.

"I get the bat flip stuff; we're pretty good at it. Be careful though, because you don't want to cross that line. Obviously, some of the celebrations in the dugout that go on, that's on your territory and it's more about celebrating your own than it is about disrespecting somebody different."

If nothing else, this ALCS reflects the changing face of baseball with players from every corner of the planet. Eight countries will be represented, including the United States with 32. The Dominican Republic (six), Venezuela (five), Canada and Mexico (two) and Brazil, Australia and Cuba (one) also have players in the series. This is a proud moment for baseball and a reflection of its deep roots around the world.

U.S. vs. Canada

Yeah, there's that. That storyline may not have legs in the United States, but national pride is a huge part of the appeal of the Blue Jays. They proved that every day down the stretch with a sold-out ballpark and soaring television ratings (1.6 million average September audience). The Royals have some of that same vibe. They've methodically built one of the great followings in sports. Every Kansas City home game has become an event, and television ratings are the best in baseball, scoring over a 13 in the Nielsen books many nights.

Royals' celebration party hits home with fans

The Royals were constructed methodically, with a relatively tight budget and a great blueprint. They added one or two bricks at a time, believing that once they arrived, they had a chance to be a postseason presence for years to come.

Here's a tip of the hat to Royals owner David Glass for pushing every right button, especially in hiring general manager Dayton Moore and sticking with him when it wasn't popular.

Since July 22, 2014, the Royals are 150-96, including the postseason. That's the best record in baseball, and all that winning breeds swagger and confidence.

The Blue Jays were built a different way by adding waves of talent from other organizations the last three offseasons. They've also got an assortment of hard-throwing young homegrown pitchers. They're here, though, with a club that won 48 of 61 games down the stretch.

Mostly, though, this is about two teams with passionate fans and rich histories trying to finish the deal. Toronto hasn't won a World Series since 1993. Kansas City hasn't won one since '85.

ALCS: Position-by-position breakdown

The Royals made their first postseason appearance in 29 years last season. The Blue Jays made their first in 22 years this year.

The Royals already understood that postseason baseball is unlike any other time of the year. The Blue Jays surely are starting to get that part of it. To lose two in a row at home against the Rangers, then reel off three straight victories says plenty about their composure and talent.

In short, this is an ALCS that features two teams that have surprised no one by getting this far. On the first day of this postseason, it was easy to see it playing out this way. Both were tested mightily in the first round. Both survived nicely. Both believe the best is yet to come.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.