KANSAS CITY — The meteorological term is "pop-up shower." But the weathermen gave it only a 10-20 percent chance. Below the Mendoza line of storm predictions.
At 6:37 p.m., when Yordano Ventura fired a laser for the first pitch of Game 1, the sky above Kauffman Stadium was mostly blue. Forty thousand fans erupted.
They had waited 343 days for another taste of the postseason. They had waited through August, when the Royals opened up a 14-game lead in the AL Central. They had waited through September, when the Royals went 11-17. They had waited all afternoon Thursday outside Kauffman Stadium, the sunsplashed parking lots smoking with charcoal.
Inside, Ned Yost fielded a pregame question about the Royals' postseason opener.
"To finally get here," the manager said, "it's a little bit like Christmas."
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Then, in the bottom of the first, it started sprinkling. In the bottom of the second, it started pouring. By the time Alex Gordon came to the plate for his first swings, half the crowd had taken cover.
A 49-minute rain delay? On baseball Christmas? How dare ye?
Three hours later, the Royals dropped Game 1 to the Astros, reinforcing what their fans feared entering October. They have a better baseball team than they did in 2014 — the 95-67 record is no fluke — but this postseason is going to be harder. Much harder.
The Royals swept the American League en route to last year's pennant. After the nutty, 12-inning, wild-card win over Oakland, they played 68 innings against the Angels and Orioles. They trailed after only two innings.
Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore swiped bases. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas crushed home runs. Alex Gordon slammed into walls and the bullpen, time and again, slammed the door. It was almost like Kansas City discovered a cheat code that nobody (except Madison Bumgarner) could crack.
In April, the Royals picked up where they left off. The defense and bullpen were still elite. And the bats came alive, thanks largely to the free-agent acquisition of Kendrys Morales.
It's amazing how fast a franchise changes. In the parking lot before Game 1, Nebraska native John Fuller described how last year he tailgated like every playoff game was his last. This year, he's pacing himself.
Last year, Fuller didn't even really care if the Royals won — it was just a thrill to be back after 29 years. This year, fans will be disappointed if Kansas City doesn't win the World Series.
Meanwhile, the Astros are playing the role of the 2014 Royals. A young, athletic team that plays great defense. A once messy franchise suddenly with nothing to lose.
The Royals waited two months for Game 1; the Astros didn't even think about it until Tuesday night, when they were partying on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium. Which team has more pressure?
"Pressure's what you make out of it, all right?" Yost said Wednesday. "Pressure's kind of like your imaginary friend you had when you were 4 years old, right? If you think it's there, it's there. If you don't, you don't. That kind of the way we go about it."
A year ago, most baseball analysts considered Yost a dunce.
He's a much better strategic manager than he was in 2014, but strategy only goes so far. He can't control Yordano Ventura's fastball. He can't deliver clutch hits.
The Royals' big chance came in the eighth inning. Two on, two out, Hosmer at the plate. One swing could tie it.
Hosmer is the man who crushed a triple off the wall in the 12th inning of the 2014 wild-card thriller, starting the game-winning rally. He's the man who hit the two-run blast in Anaheim to steal Game 2 of the 2014 ALDS.
On the third pitch against Astros lefty Oliver Perez, Hosmer swung again, lifting the ball up, up, up into the night. ... and down, down, down into Luis Valbuena's glove for the third out.
Another pop-up shower on a Christmas night without presents.
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