The Kansas City Royals may not have baseball's best record. They may not have baseball's best hitting or defense or pitching.
But they have a flair for the dramatic. And, each fall, they seem to have a knack for winning when they have to.
Tonight, the Royals won their sixth American League West title in the past 10 years by coming from four runs down to beat the Oakland A's, 5-4, in 10 innings. The pennant-winning run scored when Willie Wilson smacked a shot through the box that tipped off pitcher Jay Howell's glove and skipped into center field.
Wilson's two-out hit scored Pat Sheridan, who had doubled with one out and moved to third on an infield hit by Greg Pryor. And, in a moment of poetic justice, the first man to greet and bear-hug Sheridan as he touched the plate was George Brett, whose two-run home run in the sixth inning ignited the Royals' comeback -- the first time all season they have come from four runs down to win a game.
"I saw George running at me and I thought he was going to cross the plate before I did," Sheridan said. "I knew I was excited, but not like George."
Brett's leaping two-man jig with Sheridan concluded a remarkable six days for him. Starting with the opening game of the crucial four-game series with the California Angels, Brett, who hit .226 in September, was nine for 19, five of the hits home runs. He drove in 10 of the Royals' 22 runs and scored nine.
"There's no way to explain it," Brett said. "You hit or you don't hit. Tonight, when Willie got the hit I was so relieved I can't tell you. I'm exhausted right now -- emotionally, physically, you name it. I need a day off. Now, I'll get it."
The Royals, 91-70 and two games ahead of California with one game to play, will open the American League championship series Tuesday in Toronto against the Blue Jays.
"This is special because we're the only division champion to repeat," said Manager Dick Howser. "I think that tells you something about a ball club. I think tonight showed you something about the ball club, too."
Tonight, the A's began as if they intended to make the Royals go down to the final game of the season with the race still alive. They pecked away at Royals starter Bret Saberhagen for four runs on a night when the 20-game winner didn't have his best stuff.
The A's got a run in the fourth on Dave Kingman's double and singles by Dwayne Murphy and Jose Canseco. They got two in the fifth on a towering home run by Bruce Bochte, and they picked up one more in the sixth on Murphy's double, Canseco's single and Mike Heath's sacrifice fly.
That made it 4-0, and the festive crowd of 32,949 that had come to Royals Stadium on a cool autumn evening expecting to see a celebration was quiet.
But they didn't stay quiet long. In the bottom of the sixth, Oakland starter Tim Birtsas gave up an infield single to Wilson. Up came Brett. Birtsas threw one pitch -- a fast ball -- and Brett hit it into the waterfall behind the right field fence to make it 4-2.
"We got behind four, but we didn't stay that way long," Howser said. "Once George hit the home run, we knew we could catch them."
They caught up in the seventh on a single by Lonnie Smith, a walk to Brett -- the A's wanted no part of pitching to him -- a single by Frank White and a game-tying single by Steve Balboni.
"They pitched around George and pitched around George, but sooner or later someone had to do something," White said. "I'm glad we finally did."
Once tied, the Royals felt to a man it was their game. "We just couldn't believe how long it took," Brett said. It took a while because Howell (8-9) pitched tough in his longest stint (four innings) of the season. But with Dan Quisenberry (8-9) on the mound from the eighth on, Oakland didn't seem likely to score anytime soon.
It never got to that point because the Royals, after leaving the go-ahead run on in the seventh, eighth and ninth, finally ended it in the 10th.
Sheridan started it with his line double to the right field corner. Pryor hit a bouncer just off Howell's glove to put men on first and third. But Lonnie Smith lined to short and it was up to Wilson.
"I thought they would walk Lonnie to create a force at any base, but they didn't," Wilson said. "I just wanted to hit it hard, somewhere. I got a good pitch to hit (fast ball) and when I saw it go through, I was the happiest guy in the place."
Make that second happiest. The happiest was Brett. "I've played 156 games," he said. "It wasn't nervous city but it was tense. I wanted this over."