MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Home is sweet: All-Star win looms large for Royals

Home is sweet: All-Star win looms large for Royals

The Royals are back home with the faithful at Kauffman Stadium to finish their remarkable October saga. For this, they owe a hearty thank you to their American League brethren -- notably Mike Trout, Derek Jeter and Miguel Cabrera. They were the primary figures in the AL's 5-3 All-Star Game victory over the National League in Minneapolis that gave the eventual AL champion Royals home-field advantage for the World Series.

With a happy ending to Game 6 on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. CT on FOX; 7:07 first pitch), the Royals will force a seventh game on Wednesday night in front of their wildly supportive fans. If that happens, Trout, Jeter, Cabrera and the rest of the AL stars can take a measure of satisfaction in assisting the wildest of Wild Cards in their quest.

While Trout, the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award winner, Jeter and Cabrera were the big boppers, a pair of Royals All-Stars played instrumental roles at Target Field on July 15.

  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

Closer Greg Holland had a hand in it, pitching a scoreless seventh inning. Salvador Perez had both hands involved as the AL's starting catcher. Alex Gordon was chosen, but an ailing wrist prevented him from lending his bat, glove, arm and legs to the cause.

The Giants didn't have much of an opportunity to alter the game's course in the NL's favor. Their lone contribution was an at-bat by Hunter Pence, who grounded out in the seventh inning against Holland after replacing Yasiel Puig in right field.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson were selected to the NL pitching staff, but neither appeared in the game.

Here we are, 14 weeks later, a pair of Wild Cards giving us a thrilling Fall Classic. This certainly was not viewed as a likely World Series matchup when all the stars gathered in Minnesota.

The Giants were 53-43, a half-game behind the front-running Dodgers in the NL West. And the Royals were a mere 48-46, 6 1/2 games off the pace of the Tigers in the AL Central.

Kansas City would fall to eight back, at 48-50, on July 21 before finding its mojo and rolling into the postseason with a closing kick that has carried the club through an astonishing October run.

With the pregame focus in Minnesota on Yankees captain Jeter, the AL bolted to a 3-0 first-inning lead against Cards ace Adam Wainwright. In his final All-Star Game appearance, Jeter doubled to right leading off and trotted home when Trout launched a triple to right-center. Cabrera, after Robinson Cano struck out, unloaded a two-run homer to left.

The NL drew even with two runs in the second inning and another in the fourth, with Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy driving in a pair of runs. Trout, the Angels' brilliant young center fielder, delivered the decisive blow with a go-ahead RBI double down the left-field line off Cards reliever Pat Neshek in the fifth after singles by Derek Norris of the A's and Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox.

Returning for the second half, Trout talked about the thrill of winning the game and the MVP trophy in the company of his youthful role model, Jeter. Trout also grasped the potential implications for his Angels, who finished with the Majors' best record.

"This can give us home-field advantage all the way through the postseason if we win the division and get the best record," Trout said. "Winning the game was great, but that would make it even better."

The Royals had other ideas, sweeping the Angels in three games in the AL Division Series after claiming a classic AL Wild Card Game showdown against the A's.

Holland can look back to July 15 and recall how his perfect seventh helped seal the victory with Sean Doolittle, Fernando Rodney and Glen Perkins taking care of the final six outs.

Holland set down Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison, Colorado's Charlie Blackmon and Pence, his fastball hitting 97 mph on the radar gun. He struck out Blackmon.

"The last time I came in the game in the seventh inning was last year's All-Star Game," Holland said in the afterglow. "But I just tried to carry myself as if it was the ninth inning anyway. For me, the biggest part was coming into the dugout after a 1-2-3 inning and getting to relax, take a deep breath and say, 'OK, I got through it and I can enjoy the last couple innings.'"

It would have been a serious stretch at the time to imagine this victory giving his Royals the opportunity to close the World Series at home.

Perez had a busy four innings behind the plate, catching Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Chris Sale. His only at-bat came against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the second inning. With two down, Perez hit a slow-roller to third base and was narrowly thrown out by Aramis Ramirez.

Nursing a right wrist sprain, Gordon made the trip with his teammates and savored the opportunity to witness Jeter's grand finale in the Midsummer Classic.

"I was cheering like a little kid on the bench for Jeter," Gordon said. "And when he came out [of the game], he came and sat next to me. I was like, 'Wow, Derek Jeter's last All-Star Game, and he was sitting next to me.' He's just so special as a person and as a ballplayer."

Perez took to social media after leaving the game, tweeting, "Back to back, my first two All-Star Games. Mariano [Rivera] retires, now Jeter. So happy to be part of both."

This All-Star Game, it turned out, had a much deeper meaning for the big catcher and his Royals.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.