(Reuters) - One of Major League Baseball’s wildest postseasons heads into its final chapter as the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants tangle in an unlikely World Series matchup.
The American League champion Royals return to the World Series for the first time in 29 years when they host the National League pennant-winning Giants to open the best-of-seven Major League Baseball championship on Tuesday.
Both teams bucked the odds to book their spots in the Fall Classic by battling their way to tense, tight wins by whatever means necessary -- using bunts, stolen bases, sensational defense, clutch hitting and sterling relief.
Kansas City, starved of postseason baseball since the George Brett-led Royals won the 1985 World Series, spun a Cinderella story, becoming the first team to win four extra inning games in a postseason in making a best-ever 8-0 start to the playoffs.
Royals manager Ned Yost said America had “fallen in love” with his underdog club, the first team since the 1959 White Sox to reach the postseason after finishing last in the American League in home runs.
”They love our athleticism,“ Yost said about his band of no-name contributers. ”They love our energy. They love the way these guys play hard and enjoy each other. And they love the way that they stand up and get clutch hits and make fantastic plays.
“I think they just love the way we play the game.”
The Royals and Giants will contest the first all wild card Series since the win-or-go-home wild card play-in game was established in 2012 to put extra pressure on playoff teams that failed to win a division title.
Their clash marks the first World Series between teams that failed to win at least 90 games in a non-shortened regular season, though both clubs have been red-hot with the Royals unbeaten and the Giants 8-2 so far in the tournament.
Kansas City, fueled by the brilliant all-around play of outfielder Lorenzo Cain and the sudden power generated by Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, swept the top-seeded Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles after overcoming a 7-3 deficit to beat the Oakland A’s in the do-or-die wild card game.
“We know what a roll they’re on,” said Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. “They’re so talented. They have great athletes and pitching.”
Yet the Giants have an unshakeable belief in themselves, finding an wide assortment of ways to win, scoring on wild pitches, taking advantage of miscues and relying on a shut-down bullpen.
“We keep saying, ‘Keep winning. Have a chance, have a chance,'” Bochy said. “That’s all we can ask, and we look forward to being there playing them.”
While the Giants are no strangers to the postseason, winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, they began the playoffs as longshots after finishing six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
After pounding the Pirates 8-0 in the wild card showdown, San Francisco advanced past the top-seeded Washington Nationals and 2013 National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in a string of nail-biters, dropping just one game in each series.
Giants starter Madison Bumgarner said the team’s winning background could be a trump card.
“You don’t necessarily have to have (experience), but it certainly don’t hurt when you do have it,” said Bumgarner, the league championship most valuable player.
Including this year’s wild card game, the Giants have won nine consecutive postseason series since 2010.
Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry