KANSAS CITY, Mo. - If one play summarized the 2015 Royals, it was how they scored the run that sent them to the World Series -- the winning run in their dramatic 4-3 win over the Blue Jays in ALCS Game 6.
With Lorenzo Cain on first base and none out in the bottom of the eighth, Eric Hosmer singled down the rightfield line.
Blue Jays rightfielder Jose Bautista charged it and -- perhaps seeing Hosmer take an aggressive turn around first -- threw to second base rather than toward the cutoff man. Cain, roaring toward second on contact and then around it, was waved home by third-base coach Mike Jirschele and scored easily ahead of Troy Tulowitzki's throw.
"Jirsch always tells us to continue to hustle, continue to come in hard,'' Cain said.
It was yet another example of the Royals beating a team with their legs, not to mention their heads. Jirschele had noticed that Blue Jays outfielders typically throw right to second on hits, adding: "I've seen Bautista do it this whole series.''
He was waiting for the right runner on first to try to take advantage of that, and the speedy Cain gave him the opportunity.
"He was waiting and waiting and waiting for that play to happen the whole series,'' said Hall of Famer George Brett, now the Royals' vice president of baseball operations. "[On a] hit, they throw to second. When Jirsch saw him throw that ball to second, he just said, 'Keep going!' But if Cain's not running hard, that play doesn't happen.''
The Royals did not hit the ball out of the park like the Blue Jays, who led the majors in scoring and home runs. The Royals went deep 139 times, next to last in the big leagues. But they nonetheless ranked sixth in runs scored with 724.
How is not a mystery. Because of their speed, the Royals put a premium on putting the ball in play. They struck out the least of any team in baseball (973 times). They also were second in the AL with 104 stolen bases.
"We don't rely on the home run as much,'' Cain said. "We try to do it all. We can hit home runs but we don't rely on them. We know we can win in other ways. A very solid team top to bottom.''
Blue Jays pitchers talked about how difficult it was to navigate the Royals' lineup 1 through 9. They lacked home run threats like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but there were no breathers, either.
"They try to string hits together, put the pressure on the defense with their team speed, steal bases, produce runs with outs, and that's what they've done really well,'' said Blue Jays lefthander David Price, who had a 5.40 ERA in two starts in the series. "That's how they won the Central. That's how they got to the World Series last year.''
Royals general manager Dayton Moore used a word that gets a lot of play in describing his club's lineup. "Our guys just have a relentless attitude,'' he said. "A relentless commitment to having good at-bats, a relentless commitment of executing the fundamentals, a relentless commitment of continuing to make pitches and prepare and just overcome the things that happen in a baseball game that perhaps could go against you. They just keep playing.''
And, in the end, the Royals outhomered the Blue Jays 7-6 in the series.
"If you took Kansas City and put them in our ballpark, you could add a share of home runs to all those guys,'' Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said before Game 6. "They play at a park that is going to give you a few more doubles, maybe a couple of triples, but it's going to take away some home runs. They have legitimate power over there . . . Sometimes I think they approach it differently, because they're looking to put that ball in play and use their speed. It's a good lineup.''