Players say it's confidence in their ability to overcome any deficit
By Paul Hagen
NEW YORK -- The Royals are one victory away from winning the World Series for the first time in 30 years. It seems like there's a number for everything in baseball these days, and here are two for Kansas City:
The Royals have scored 44 runs in the seventh inning and beyond, a postseason record. And they've scored 22 of those in the eighth inning, more than all the other postseason teams combined this October.
They did it again Saturday night in Game 4 of the World Series against the Mets at Citi Field. Down by one going into the eighth, they sent seven batters to the plate, capitalized on a crucial error by Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, scored three times and won, 5-3.
Those are just after-the-fact measurements, though. It's not an explanation. How do the Royals so consistently come back? What's their secret?
Outfielder Jonny Gomes arrived in Kansas City from Atlanta in an August trade. He played for a Rays team that went to the World Series in 2008 and a Red Sox team that won it all in '13. He went to the playoffs with the A's twice ('12 and '14) and the Reds once ('10).
And while he doesn't like to compare teams -- "You're champions. Or division title winners. They're winners. That's plenty. Let's not split hairs here." -- he is really impressed with the way the Royals construct late rally after late rally.
"First, that's really hard to do. It's one of those things that, when you scratch the surface and you check it off, then it becomes an option. It's, 'Let's go, let's go' versus 'Let's do it again,'" he said. "You can't practice that. You've got to do it. You've got to check off the impossible and these guys 100 percent have."
Gomes believes he was present at the beginning. He was with the A's in the American League Wild Card Game last year. Oakland led, 7-3, entering the bottom of the eighth at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals scored three in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it. The A's scored one in the top of the 12th to take the lead, Kansas City scored two in the bottom of the inning to win.
Saturday night was the Royals' seventh come-from-behind win of the postseason. And they've won six times when trailing by two or more runs, tying the record set by the 1996 Yankees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"These guys kicked it off last year at the Wild Card Game, created that identity against the A's," Gomes said.
Now it has almost become part of their DNA. A dominant bullpen and the confidence that they'll score late has carried them to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series.
"We're in the driver's seat," said first baseman Eric Hosmer, and the numbers back him up.
Teams holding a 3-1 edge in a best-of-seven series are 68-12. In the World Series, teams that jump out 3-1 are 35-7. No team has done it since the Royals rallied against the Cardinals in 1985.
But even the Royals can't fully explain how they do it.
"There's just a belief amongst the guys that it doesn't matter," said starting pitcher Chris Young. "It doesn't matter what the score is, what the lead is, what the deficit is. They just believe they're going to find a way to get it done. That's a big part of it.
"We don't really care how it happens. We just try to take care of the opportunity. It's tough to get this lineup out three times in an inning, much less four or any more than that. So if teams give us a break, the guys just do an incredible job of jumping on it."
Added Hosmer: "You could really see the momentum shift to our side [after Murphy's error]. We just took advantage of it. That's what we've been doing all postseason long, really. Just putting together a big inning. Any time they make a mistake, we capitalize on it. That's what championship teams do."
Mets manager Terry Collins said what hurts the most is giving the opportunistic Royals openings because of how relentless they are.
"We've certainly talked about it before. They truly don't ever stop," he said. "They have a very good lineup from top to bottom. They can do a lot of things. They're athletic. So you've got to make pitches and you've got to get outs when you have the opportunity."
Royals manager Ned Yost has come to expect his team to come back, but still finds himself a little taken aback by how well his players do it.
"That's what our team does," he said. "We feel like if we can keep the game close, we're going to find a way to win it. Our bullpen is so dynamic, they give us a chance to win those types of games. And it's a team that just looks for a little crack. If they find a little crack, they're going to make something happen. It's amazing how they do that.
"It's a group of guys that has the utmost confidence in themselves. I don't think at any point these guys thought they were going to lose. That's just their mindset. That's just the way they play the game. We're on the biggest stage that you can be on and these guys are totally confident in their abilities. It's just something in their hearts they believe they can accomplish."
Paul Hagen is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.