The Zombie Kings of Baseball

The Kansas City Royals finished their World Series run by stealing yet another game at the very end.

Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports

To score their first World Series title in 30 years, the Kansas City Royals had to win 11 playoff games. They completed the feat on Sunday night in Queens, beating the New York Mets 7-2 in a 12-inning game.

But like most of their 11 post-season victories, this last one was seemingly summoned from the ether. The Royals were losing 2-0 as the game went into the 9th inning. Facing Mets’ ace Matt Harvey, who had limited them to four harmless singles all game, the Royals somehow scratched out two runs to tie the game before pouring on five more runs in the 12th inning. Next came the champagne.

It was the eighth time that the team had come from behind to win a playoff game this year. That includes all four wins in the World Series.

In baseball, conventional wisdom gets chewed and scattered across dugouts like so many sunflower seeds or clods of tobacco dip. Likewise, there is probably no data set that can explain how the Royals managed to get their hitting and pitching on track at the very moment that the team seemed all but dead.

Of its eight come-from-behind wins, the team was trailing by at least two runs in seven of those games. The New York Yankees previously held that playoff mark with five such wins in 1996.

As Jayson Stark notes at ESPN, no playoff team had previously ever won so many games by staging late-inning comebacks. The Royals won six games despite being behind as late as the sixth inning. “And just in this World Series,” he writes, “the Royals not only trailed in all five games but won three games in which they trailed in the eighth inning or later.”

The result, if you’re a fan of the three teams the Royals bested on their way to winning the World Series, has been some serious heartbreak. My beloved Houston Astros were six outs away from eliminating the Royals in the American League Division Series when Kansas City stormed back from a 6-2 deficit to win the game 9-6, on the road. Down 2-0 in the decisive next game, the Royals scored seven unanswered runs to advance.

Less than a week later, in the American League Championship Series, the Royals were down 3-0 to the Toronto Blue Jays heading into the seventh inning. A loss would have squandered Kansas City’s home-field edge in the series. Final score: Royals 6, Blue Jays 3. “I’m still not ready to talk about that,” one Blue Jays fan wrote in an email on Monday.

The World Series started much as it ended. Down 3-1 in the first game, the Royals eventually tied the Mets on a ninth -inning home run, which sent the game to extra innings. The Royals scored the winning run in the 14th inning. My colleague David Sims, a forlorn Mets fan, declined to contribute to this article.