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KANSAS CITY – Had Jeurys Familia not thrown a quick pitch to Salvador Perez in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, perhaps that series plays out differently.
The Mets may have been the ones being honored down the Canyon of Heroes. The Royals could have been defeated in the World Series in back-to-back years.
And Alex Gordon may not have delivered one of the most clutch hits in Royals history.
Despite all the film that Gordon and the Royals had pored over leading into that game, they really were not all that aware of the quick pitch in Familia’s arsenal.
Then, with the Mets leading by one run and needing three outs to steal Game 1, Familia threw a quick pitch to Perez, the leadoff hitter in the inning.
And Gordon quickly noticed.
When he got in the batter’s box to face Familia, he made sure he wouldn’t be caught sleeping.
“I called it the Joey Votto where you don’t get out of the box, you stay in there,” Gordon said. “I was standing in there getting ready for it, and sure enough, he did it.”
Familia quick pitched in a 1-1 count, Gordon stayed on the pitch and drove it to deep center, tying the score and sending the crowd at Kauffman Stadium into euphoria.
The Royals went on to win that series in five games, claiming their first title in 30 year and cementing Gordon’s hit as one of the greatest in franchise history.
A royal moment for one of the greatest Royals, and the only position player from that team who still plays for the Royals and is not on the injured list.
Gordon is the link between the championship team and this current rebuild, one of the few who stayed and can help usher in a new generation of Royals.
“When you go through something like ‘14-15 that we did and you still have the same people in the front office, the same coaches, you kind of want to grind with them and go through the tough times with them and help them get back to where they were,” Gordon said of the rebuild. “The Royals have been nothing but good to me, and for me to be mad or upset we were rebuilding again was not at all on my mind. It was all about that we need to get back to where we were.”
While Gordon took the field Friday and Saturday against the Mets, flanked by a crew of mostly unestablished players trying to make their mark in the majors, most of his former teammates from that title team are instead playing for contenders.
Like all teams that don’t support a large payroll, the Royals were always eventually going to break apart, no matter how much the players wanted to stay together.
Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto both departed as free agents after the title run.
The Royals later shipped Wade Davis to the Cubs after the 2016 season, turning their closer into multiple years of control of their current home run leader, Jorge Soler.
The biggest blows came after the 2017 season.
Lorenzo Cain, who spearheaded the Game 5 rally with a walk against Matt Harvey, left for Milwaukee. Eric Hosmer, who scored the game-tying run in that clinching game with his wild dash to the plate, signed a lucrative contract with the Padres.
Mike Moustakas re-signed before being shipped to Milwaukee last July.
“It’s been tough. We wanted a lot of guys to stay and we had that good group that kind of gelled together and was really good together,” Gordon told Yahoo Sports. “It was kind of just like one piece after another kept going away.”
He added: “We’ll be friends for life. We communicate all the time. We have jokes I probably can’t share with you. We had a good group. Everyone loved one another.”
As the other departed, Gordon had already chosen to stay, re-signing with the Royals on a four-year, $72 million deal following the 2015 championship run.
Gordon had his questions about whether the Royals could keep their group together and remain contenders, but he knew this is where he wanted to be.
The left fielder grew up in Nebraska as a Royals fan. The midwest is home.
“I really had no desire to go anywhere else,” Gordon said. “It’s been a dream of mine to be a major leaguer, and fortunately close to home.”
Gordon’s re-signing did play a factor in starter Danny Duffy – who pitched in that World Series and is currently on the injured list – re-signing with the team.
Duffy wanted to know that Gordon would be here for the long haul, and one year later, he signed a long-term extension.
Catcher Salvador Perez also signed an extension in 2016, but like Duffy, he is currently sidelined after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The only other player from that World Series team still with the Royals is infielder Adalberto Mondesi, who – you guessed it – is on the injured list.
“I wanted to know he was going to be here,” Duffy said Friday afternoon. “The fact he came back was enormous for us. Me, personally, the allure was there to play with Alex Gordon for as long as I can. He’s a great guy, a great leader and great teammate and a really huge part of this organization’s history.”
Even with Gordon, Duffy and Perez re-signing, it hasn’t kept the Royals atop the American League.
The Royals won 81 and 80 games after their title, and bottomed out last year with 58 wins. This year’s team is projected to win roughly the same amount of games.
The rebuilding years that Gordon endured when he first joined the Royals in 2005, just two years after being selected fifth overall, are upon him again.
“It just kind of happened really quick,” Gordon said of the Royals shifting to a rebuilding stage. “It’s always fun and exciting to see young guys come up and you try to help them and get better so this team can get back to where it needs to be. It’s fun in that aspect to help mature and watch these kids grow.”
Setting an example
With his average sitting around the Mendoza Line in mid-June, Royals rookie shortstop Nicky Lopez sought out a veteran for advice.
Gordon had been quite helpful to Lopez during spring training, and the youngster wanted to know how Gordon dealt with the speed bumps in 2005.
“He told me the struggled first time he got called up too, and every rookie goes through those struggles and it takes you a couple years to get established, but you’re going to have good days and bad days,” Lopez said. “It’s coming to the yard, ready to work every single day with an open mind, knowing everything is going to be alright. He struggled when he got called up but 10 years later he’s still playing.
“That’s something I eventually want to do.”
Gordon’s work ethic and leadership skills are lauded by those around him, and he sets an example for a team that is trying to groom young players the right way.
While Duffy knows that the term “leading by example” can sound like a cliche, he swears that Gordon is the definition of that phrase. He said Gordon’s work ethic is “second to none”, and he’s never encountered someone who can outwork Gordon.
During Duffy’s first spring training in 2010, the southpaw showed up one day to the team’s complex around 6 a.m. believing he was the first in the building.
He only missed that honor by about 90 minutes.
“The guy was already an hour and a half into his lift when I got there. That raised my eyebrows. So that’s what it takes?” said Duffy, who is close to returning. “He’s been that type of guy every day for the last 15 seasons now.”
Whit Merrifield, a 2019 All-Star, noted that it speaks volumes that a veteran like Gordon is still busting it behind the scenes every day for a team out of contention.
There’s never a moment when he sees Gordon taking it easy. It’s not flashy. It’s not to grab headlines. It’s just the right way to go about the game.
“What he represents to this organization is he’s an example of what hard work can provide for you and your team,” Royals manager Ned Yost said before the Royals’ 4-1 win Friday. “He’s a diligent worker. Works harder than anybody we have. He’s a great example in that respect and everyone looks up to him for it.”
Finishing a career
Gordon has only certainty about 2020: It’s Royals or bust.
“I’m not going to play anywhere else,” Gordon said. “If I play, it’s going to be for the Royals.”
Whether he plays, though, is the big question.
His contract has a $23 million mutual option for next year with a $4 million buyout, and the Royals could always buy him out and then sign him to a new deal.
Or, Gordon could choose to hang up the spikes.
Gordon said there are some days when he feels an overwhelming sensation to return. There are others when his body is sore and he misses his family of five. Those are the days when the 35-year-old feels it may be that time.
Gordon is enjoying his best offensive season since he re-signed although he’s scuffled as of late, posting a .258 average and a .737 OPS.
He is hopeful he can finish strong.
“I just want this season to be over with and step back and see if I still have the drive and motivation to come back and play again,” Gordon said about making a decision on his future. “And if they want me back too.”
If Gordon chooses to retire, he leaves behind a memorable career that will go down as one of the best in Royals history, especially since he’s a Royals lifer.
Gordon is also a six-time Gold Glove winner, and a three-time All-Star.
He’s one of the few that stayed after the title, and, on most nights, the only link back to the championship team.
A championship that would not have been won without some quick thinking on a quick pitch, a moment that altered history for two franchises.
“Winning the World Series is great, but as a personal moment, what you do on the field, that’s definitively the top one,” Gordon said. “I remember the at-bat, I don’t remember running the bases too much because of the adrenaline and excitement. I just remember kind of going around a little bit and celebrating with my teammates.
“After that, kind of the celebration, walking down the stairs, taking a deep breath and saying, ‘holy crap, that was pretty cool.’”
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