(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) By Jason Miller
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 31: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals hits a sacrifice fly in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) By Ed Zurga
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — They endured it together, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. All those years with 90 losses, the managerial changes and youth movements and empty seats come late September.
Empty seats in July and August, too.
They were supposed to be the two players who led the Kansas City Royals back to the playoffs. Butler was the standout high school prospect who couldn't run well and struggled with his glove, but my, how he could hit. And Gordon was the best player in college baseball when the Royals plucked him out of Nebraska, a sure-fire All-Star one day.
Well, that day has finally arrived. After seven years of building and rebuilding, Butler and Gordon are reveling in the Royals' first postseason appearance since 1985.
"For the fans, 30 years without feels like a lifetime. It's an eternity to me," Butler said. "Kansas City deserves everything they're getting and we want to give it to them."
The Royals open the best-of-seven AL Championship Series on Friday night in Baltimore having already given thousands of fans plenty of postseason thrills.
There was the 12-inning walk-off win over Oakland in the wild-card game at Kauffman Stadium. There was the pair of 11-inning wins against the Angels in Los Angeles. And there was the clinching game back in Kansas City, an 8-3 romp that kicked off a citywide party.
Butler and Gordon have been gleefully in the midst of it all.
"This is personal for us," Butler said. "It started all the way back when we got drafted. That's what they envisioned when they drafted us. Going through some bad times, I've been with this team for 10 years, building toward this."
It's been a challenging road filled with pitfalls and potholes, and more than once it looked as though neither Butler nor Gordon would see the fruits of their labor.
Butler established himself as a solid hitter early in his career, but his limited ability on the base paths and in the field hampered his value. Butler finally made an All-Star game in 2012, when it was played in Kansas City, but the past couple of seasons have been a struggle.
He was hitting just .235 in late-May, a disaster by his lofty standards. And late in the season, Butler found himself sitting on the bench for critical games in a pennant chase.
Of course, he would rise to the occasion when the postseason rolled around.
Butler had a pair of hits in the victory over the A's. And while he went 0 for 9 against the Angels, he managed three walks and even stole a base, his first in two years.
"We've believed in Billy all along," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
The same could be said of Gordon, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft — one year after Butler went in the first round. He was rushed to the majors two years later as the heir to George Brett at third base and soon fizzled out, spending the next couple years vacillating between the majors and minors while trying out a variety of positions.
He finally stuck when he landed in left field, and in 2011 hit .303 and earned the first of three consecutive gold gloves. He made his first All-Star game last year, and his second this season, when he hit .266 with 19 homers and again played a masterful left field.
Gordon atoned for a 0-for-5 performance against Oakland by beating up the Angels, going 3 for 10 with a pair of doubles and scoring twice. It was his bases-loaded double in the first inning of Game 3 on Sunday night that spurred the Royals to the series clincher.
"Gordo, hands-down leader of this ballclub," third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "For him to go out there in a huge situation like that, after we're down one, drive in three runs, it just gave us so much confidence going into the rest of that game."
Gordon has slowly evolved into the face of the franchise, yet he's a reluctant star who speaks quietly but carries a big stick. He rarely gets too excitable, nor does he ever get too down. And when he is asked about his personal performance this postseason, he quickly defers the credit to general manager Dayton Moore for sticking with him all these years.
"Dayton has done a great job molding this team to where it is now," Gordon said. "He really got the right pieces in through the draft and through the trade with James Shields and Wade Davis. Things are really starting to come together. Give a lot of credit to Dayton."
Give a lot of credit to Butler and Gordon, too.
"We're about now," Gordon said. "It's been a struggle, but we're here now. It doesn't matter who does it as long as someone does it and we get the win."