MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

Royals resemble a past surprise team -- the Miracle Mets

Royals resemble a past surprise team -- the Miracle Mets

You watch the Royals shock reality these days, and you recall 45 years ago, when America featured everything from the dramatic to the improbable.

"You had the Vietnam War and protesters everywhere, and the economy was booming," Ron Swoboda said, sounding like the definitive voice for 1969 over the phone from his home in New Orleans. "There was the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ongoing Civil Rights movement. You had Woodstock, and you even had a man walking on the moon."

Swoboda chuckled, and then he added, "You know what? During that time, when it seemed as if anything was possible, probably the longest shot was the Mets winning the World Series, so we did that."

  Date     Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 21     SF 7, KC 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 22     KC 7, SF 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 24     KC 3, SF 2 video
Gm 4 Oct. 25     SF 11, KC 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 26     SF 5, KC 0 video
Gm 6 Oct. 28     KC 10, SF 0 video
Gm 7 Oct. 29     SF 3, KC 2 video

Yes, the Mets did. With Swoboda making one of the catches of the ages during that 1969 World Series, the Mets rose out of nowhere to crush the Orioles of the two Robinsons (Brooks and Frank), Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver with four straight victories after losing Game 1. Before that, the Mets swept the powerful Braves out of the National League Championship Series.

There was no Wild Card Game or League Division Series back then. Otherwise, the Mets would have dominated them, too. Just like these Royals, who are the 21st century version of those Mets.

Swoboda sees the comparison. While spending the last few years working in various capacities for the New Orleans Zephyrs (the Triple-A team for the Marlins), he watched many of the current Royals come to Bayou country as members of Kansas City's Triple-A team in Omaha.

"It was real obvious they were packing the organization with quality young players, so this is not an accident," Swoboda said. "Most of those guys were homegrown, and for the most part, the Mets were homegrown."

Actually, when it comes to comparing those Mets to these Royals, there is something more striking.

"They have that whiff of destiny about them," Swoboda said, of a Kansas City bunch in the midst of a Major League-record winning streak of eight games to start a postseason after surviving the A's in the AL Wild Game before sweeping the Angels in the ALDS and the Orioles in the ALCS.  

The Royals will open the World Series Tuesday night at home against the Giants, and consider this: As the NL's Wild Card team, the Giants also have done wondrous things. Not as many as the Royals, though. This is a Kansas City team that trailed the A's by four runs at home in the eighth inning of the AL Wild Card Game before recovering to win in the 12th.

In fact, the Royals have won four times in extra innings during this postseason. They've also taken the lead three times after the ninth with home runs despite finishing the regular season last in the Major Leagues in homers.

Mostly, the Royals have prospered in October with stifling pitching and a slew of improbable defensive plays, especially from outfielders.

Like the '69 Mets.

"Cleon Jones was a solid left fielder, and Tommie Agee could go get them in center field," Swoboda said. "You saw it in the World Series. Tommie made two great plays. One running from right-center to left-center and one running from left-center to right-center. He made those catches with five guys on base total. So those runs all score if he doesn't make those plays."

Yeah, but "The Play" of that World Series belonged to Swoboda in right field. With the Orioles threatening to rally in the ninth of Game 4, Brooks Robinson ripped a shot toward the right-center-field alley. Swoboda dove and snatched the ball centimeters from the top of the grass.

"I broke on a line drive, and 99 percent of the way there, I thought that ball beat me," Swoboda said. "It was only the last one percent when it hit up into the web of my glove that I knew it was staying there. I knew I had made a [great] catch, but it takes 45 years before you find out what history really thinks about it."

History thinks a lot about it.

At this rate, history will have several catches by Kansas City outfielders during the World Series to challenge Swoboda's gem.

"Their outfield is spectacular," Swoboda said. "Alex Gordon was a guy who was failing in the infield, and then he goes to the outfield and wins [three] Gold Gloves. Jarrod Dyson is a speedster in center field, and [Lorenzo] Cain is a legitimate center fielder who goes to right field and makes really good plays. Just like our Mets team, they all go and get everything that comes their way, so their outfield is where fly balls go to die."

In contrast, the Royals' bullpen has put to death the batting averages of opponents. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland leading the way, Kansas City relievers have a 1.80 ERA during this postseason. If you exclude the AL Wild Card Game, that ERA drops to 0.96.

What the Royals are doing with relievers is what the '69 Mets did with a starting rotation led by future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.

"It was a different time back then, when starters such as Seaver, [Jerry] Koosman and [Gary] Gentry were out to finish games," Swoboda said. "The bullpen was where you went when you had to. Now the bullpen is where you go when you hit the seventh inning, with the setup guy for the setup guy, then the setup guy and then the closer."

Whatever works. On offense, what worked for those Mets is the same thing that works for these Royals -- smart hitting.

"The Royals are contact hitters, and they are so pesky," Swoboda said. "They make you pitch to them. They make you throw strikes all the time, and they're always out there making things happen, because they know the [strike] zone, they swing at strikes. They throw so many good at-bats at you that it always feels like your pitching is working so hard."

Which is what the '69 Mets did.

Which is why Swoboda knows who will have their fingerprints on the Commissioner's Trophy at the end of this season.

Swoboda laughed, saying, "You have to pick the Royals, but I tell you what. [The Giants] will be ready for them, because what's been delightful for me to watch during these playoffs is that the intensity and the emotion have been so legitimate and absolutely authentic from all of these teams. But nobody has shown all of that more than the Kansas City Royals. That's why it's going to be hard to take destiny from them."

Not hard . . . impossible.

Well, if these Royals really are those Mets.

Terence Moore has covered a variety of sports for more than three decades and contributes columns to MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.