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Royals Fall Just Short, Drop Game 7

Jeremy Bernfeld

Just two hours before midnight Wednesday, autumn magic ran out of juice. The coach turned into a pumpkin. The Kansas City Royals’ magical postseason run ended a win shy of a championship.

Behind a dominating relief appearance by usual starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giants beat the Royals 3-2 to win Game 7 and capture the crown.

From the first out, a flyball to center, the crowd at Kauffman Stadium exploded with energy, venting years of pent-up frustration. The capacity crowd roared with every out the Royals recorded and from the first pitch barely used the blue seats as intended.

Fans without tickets crammed in front of TVs throughout the area – from packed bars in the downtown loop, to Johnson County living room watch parties to catching the game on the big screen at Liberty Hall in Lawrence – after catching Royals fever.

Fans crowded in to Walsh’s Corner Cocktails in Waldo. Longtime Royals fan Laura O’Meara said she visited the gravesites of Kansas City baseball legends Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil. She knew Buck O’Neil and wanted to be close to Kansas City baseball history on a day when this year’s team could have made its own.

“Last week, before the game I went to say hello to the boys,” O’Meara says. “Then tonight I had to go again. I asked Satchel, ‘Please to channel the pitching for our pitchers.’ And I always salute him for everything he’s done for the city.

“But when I go to Buck, because he’s my buddy, I asked him to help our hitters. I said ‘These are your boys, these are your Kansas City kids. Help ‘em with the hitting, baby.’”

Only able to scratch out two runs, the Royals bats didn’t pack enough punch to overcome great pitching from Giants pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Jeremy Affeldt, in relief of Tim Hudson.

The season’s final game was played on a tightrope, with bloop singles, smart base runnning and slick fielding on both sides. The Royals this season depended on speed and great defense. In Game 7, the Giants beat them at their own game, if just barely.

The Giants drew first blood, scoring twice on sacrifice flies in the top of the second. But the Royals returned fire in the bottom of the inning, plating Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.

The Giants scored again in the top of the fourth-inning on a broken bat single by Morse. Starting pitching ace Madison Bumgarner took the mound in the fifth-inning on just two days rest and kept the Royals off the board for 5 innings, cementing his status as World Series MVP.

While it’s city leaders in San Francisco planning a World Series parade, the Royals plan to hold a celebratory rally at Kauffman Stadium Thursday at 11 a.m.

Despite coming up just short of a World Series title, fans won’t forget this season any time soon. For more than a month, Kansas City was swept up in a playoff baseball fervor. And more than once, the Royals roared back from near-dead.

Down 7-3 in the sixth-inning of the team’s first playoff game in 29 years, the American League Wild Card game against the Oakland A’s, the Royals looked as if they’d bow out as quickly as they came in to the playoffs. Two comebacks later, Kansas City won it in the 12th-inning.

After sweeping the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Baltimore Orioles, the Royals found themselves in their first World Series since 1985. And tied at three games apiece, the Giants and Royals battled to a deciding Game 7.

This season was the Royals’ most successful in decades. After winning the World Series in 1985, just the franchise’s 12th season, the team quickly fell off a baseball cliff. For years, the franchise was lost in the wilderness of 90- and 100-loss seasons and didn’t sniff a competitive season. Before this year, 1995 was the last time the Royals finished in even second place in the American League Central. The ‘90s and the early 2000s were largely lost decades for the franchise. And a generation of fans grew up seeing just three winning seasons in 20 years.

The 2014 Royals, though, brought the franchise back not just from mediocrity, but from irrelevance. In spring training, few picked the team to make the playoffs and almost no one thought they’d make the Fall Classic. Yet here they were, playing with the season on the line on October 26.

Walking out of Kaufmann Stadium, fans were deflated, but proud. Cindy Morehead of Grain Valley, Mo., says this playoff run could be the start of another love affair with the team.

"I hope Kansas City just keeps on supporting the Royals because we've been here, we've got a wonderful team,” she says. “They've just come so far this year."

Ultimately, the Royals finished closer to a championship than every team but one.

"You know what? We're not losers,” Morehead says. “We're still winners. We're proud of them."

At Charlie Hooper’s in Brookside, fan spirits remained high, even after the loss. As the Royal’s final rally was extinguished in the ninth-inning, Royals fans lit up fireworks outside.

Brookside resident Cori Culp has been getting together all month with her neighbors to watch the game. They watched Game 7 at Charlie Hooper’s.

“It has been an incredibly exhausting month of baseball for the whole city, but I can’t believe how proud I am of our city,” Culp says. “That’s what’s been the best part – seeing all the fountains blue, seeing our city at its best, it’s been the best weather. I mean, it’s just been pretty awesome, glorious month.”

KCUR's Peggy Lowe, Sylvia Maria Gross, Elle Moxley and Sam Zeff contributed to this report.

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