Intangibles Matter

A year ago, the Kansas City Royals were six outs away from elimination in their first playoff game after a 29 season playoff drought. Down four runs heading into the eighth inning, they completed one of the most improbable comebacks in MLB playoff history, winning 9-8 in 12 innings. In that game, they came from behind three times (including the bottom of the 12th) to defeat the Oakland Athletics. The win propelled them to the American League title.

This week, the Royals again found themselves six outs away from elimination in their first playoff series (the American League Division Series) against the Houston Astros. Ironically, they were also down four runs heading into the eighth inning. Down two games to one in the best of 5 series, the Royals completed a historic comeback to force Game 5. Statistically, they had a 1.6% chance of winning that game. They went on to win Game 5, winning yet another elimination game.

The Royals have won 10 of their last 11 postseason games when facing elimination. They are one of just nine baseball teams to overcome a four-run deficit to avoid elimination. No other MLB team has come back from four or more runs that late in a playoff game while facing elimination, according the Elias Sports Bureau, and the Royals have now done it twice in consecutive seasons.

There’s something special about this Royals team. This team has an extraordinary defense, incredible speed, and a shut-down bullpen. But all playoff teams have talent. It takes more than talent to perform at the level they have, especially when it has mattered the most, such as these elimination games.

Look closely, and you can see it.

It’s in the way they are always flashing smiles.

It’s in the team’s infatuation of using “1738” in interviews.

It’s in the multi-step handshakes they have with each other.

It’s in the Gatorade cooler dumps post-victory.

It’s in the clubhouse shenanigans and crazy celebrations.

It’s that they’re having more fun than anyone else. It’s the team chemistry. The culture. The joy of playing together. The trust they have in one another. The belief. All intangibles. But it’s made the difference.

Baseball is unpredictable. Anything can happen in the postseason. The team with the best record during the regular season has already been eliminated. But I also won’t be surprised if the Royals end up as World Series Champions. I know this much: Even if they’re down, don’t count them out.


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