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After 29-year wait, Royals return to playoffs

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler celebrate after Cain scored on a single by Eric Hosmer during the third inning of the AL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: AP / Charlie Riedel

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - This city, starved for postseason baseball for 29 years and long ready to explode, finally did.

It started Monday night when Chiefs fans, more than a few wearing Royals blue, screamed themselves hoarse at neighboring Arrowhead Stadium, setting a Guinness World crowd decibel record of 142.2 during a 41-14 beatdown of the Patriots.

"I was there last night and saw the eruption they had. That was impressive just to be a part of that,'' Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said late Tuesdayafternoon, three hours before a frenzied crowd of 40,502 twirling blue towels jammed Kauffman Stadium for the American League wild-card game against the A's.

"But they were giving us some nice Royals cheers in the middle there, so I understand the excitement that's in the fan base. It's incredible.''

About 5,000 fans watched a Monday afternoon workout. Many seemed to have stayed overnight, beginning to congregate in the stadium lots in the early afternoon Tuesday. "This fan base is amazing,'' he said.

Butler, a Royals draft pick back in 2004, smiled.

"They've put up with a lot more pain than I have,'' he said. "I've only been a part of a third of , and it feels like an eternity.''

The 29 years was the longest active dry spell in North American sports, and there weren't many close calls. Since winning the World Series in 1985, the Royals have had only nine winning seasons. After 84 wins in 1993, they finished above .500 only once (2003) in the next 19 years.

The man credited for much of the turnaround, general manager Dayton Moore, hasn't been seen taking any victory laps recently, though he would be entitled. Lampooned for many of his moves since replacing Allard Baird in 2006, Moore has seen his blueprint for producing a winner in a small market pay off.

There were signs last year in a strong second half that led to an 86-76 record. Then came this season's breakthrough.

"It's very rewarding for our fans, and I'm just very proud of all of our people who have worked very hard,'' Moore said before the game. "It's a long process when you try to build something from within with scouting and development.''

The Royals have been led by homegrown talent such as Butler, Alex Gordon (2005 draft), Mike Moustakas (2007), Greg Holland (2007) and Eric Hosmer (2008) and undrafted free agents Salvador Perez (2006), Kelvin Herrera (2007) and Yordano Ventura (2008).

Player development has become an overwhelming strength for the Royals, but the last two seasons might not have been possible without the kind of move typically reserved for bigger market, "go for it now'' teams.

In December 2012, Moore dealt two of baseball's top prospects, outfielder Wil Myers and pitcher Jake Odorizzi, along with two other minor leaguers, to the Rays for pitchers Wade Davis and Shields, Tuesday night's's starter.

Shields went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA last season and 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA this year. Davis struggled last season (8-11, 5.32) before finding a home in the bullpen this year. He became one of the AL's dominant relievers, posting a 1.00 ERA in 71 appearances. Davis, Herrera and Holland, the closer, form perhaps the best seventh-eighth-ninth-inning combo in the sport.

"This is what you live for,'' Royals manager Ned Yost said Tuesday. "This is something that is special. It's a special time and everybody knows it.''

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