The Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series on Sunday night, their first title since George Brett was rocking a powder blue uniform 30 years ago. Their post-season run could have ended in the ALDS. In fact, it probably should have ended then and there, when the Houston Astros, nursing a 2-1 series lead, went up 6-2 in the 8th inning of Game 4. But the Royals came back. A single here and a single there, and suddenly the bases were loaded. Two more singles and it’s 6-4. A grounder, leading to an error by the Astros shortstop, and the game is tied. Another grounder, this time for an out, and KC takes the lead.
This sequence is important, because it is essentially how the Royals won the World Series. Not with power, not with extra-base hits, but with singles, stolen bases and base running the likes of which we’ve rarely (if ever) seen.
The Toronto Blue Jays used power as a weapon. Once the middle of their lineup got going, from Josh Donaldson to José Bautista down to Troy Tulowitzki, they could bury you in an avalanche of runs before you could blink. Conversely, the Royals, who took out the Blue Jays in the ALCS, pushed their momentum forward by simply getting someone on base.
We learned last year about how the Royals became such a nightmare on the base paths, and how switching from an even stance to an open one when leading off from a base helped their acceleration when they darted around the diamond. That technique and ability were on full display in both the bottom of the ninth and the top of the 12th of World Series Game 5.
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With the New York Mets up 2-0 in the top of the ninth inning, three outs away from pushing the World Series back to Kansas City for Game 6, Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk off starter Matt Harvey, who had demanded to come out and finish the gem of a game he’d started. You can probably guess what happened next. Cain stole second, then scored when Eric Hosmer blasted a double down the left-field line. A grounder pushed Hosmer to third base.
Another grounder, hit to Mets third baseman David Wright, should have kept Hosmer right there. But when Wright made the mistake of turning his back on Hosmer to throw the ball to first, Hosmer took off for home. Mets first basemen Lucas Duda, after getting the out at first, panicked and threw the ball wide of his catcher. The game was tied, just like that.
The pressure the Royals apply to opponents just by getting a runner on base is palpable. Ignore that runner, and he’ll swipe a bag. Pay too much attention to him as a pitcher, and you’ll lose focus on your main objective of throwing strikes. It’s a no-win situation, and that’s precisely how the Royals like it.
In the top of the 12th, catcher Salvador Perez singled and was immediately replaced on the base paths by speedster Jarrod Dyson.
“He is built to accelerate,” former Royals strength and conditioning coach Joseph Potts told us last year. “He’s not real tall, and he’s got good upper-body strength and is explosive. He’s built to steal bases.”
The whole stadium knew he was going to swipe second. Mets reliever Addison Reed knew it too, and he threw over a couple times to try and keep him honest. But a few pitches later, Dyson was gone. He moved to third on a grounder to the right side of the infield. Finally, he came home on a single by Christian Colón, who hadn’t had an at-bat since June. The Royals scored four more runs to blow it open, but Dyson’s base running was the catalyst, the gust of wind that started spinning the Royals’ windmill.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Dyson’s lead foot is dropped back slightly behind him, the exact technique Potts told us about, which turned the Royals into base-stealing demons. For the second straight season, the Royals didn’t need to blast home runs to become the team of destiny.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re not smacking two or three balls over the wall every game,” Potts said. “If you can get on base and utilize that speed to advance, you’re going to put yourself in a position to ultimately win these games, and that’s what you’re seeing. It’s a very holistic approach to winning.”