It was Kansas City Royals second baseman Frank White who first uttered the unthinkable thought three days ago: "We've never had a miracle here," he said. "Maybe this is the year."
For the Royals, this is the year and tonight was the night.
Laughed at in this city nine days ago after being stomped in Game 1, they turned the seventh game of the American League Championship Series into a laugher of their own, shocking the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-2, before 32,084 in Exhibition Stadium.
The victory earned the Royals their second American League pennant and made them the fifth team in baseball history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a postseason series.
Now, the World Series will take place in the state of Missouri between the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals as the two cities at opposite ends of Interstate 70 begin play for the world championship Saturday in Kansas City.
"They talked about a freeway series in California or a subway series in New York, but no one even thought about an I-70 series," said George Brett, voted the series most valuable player. "When we beat the Yankees in '80 it was sweet. But this is the best -- the best.
"After we got down, 3-1, I said the pressure was on the Blue Jays -- what a stupid statement that was. But maybe I'm not as stupid as I thought. Nobody on this team ever gave up. It took 25 guys, but we did it."
This final game was, truly, a team effort. The hitting heroes were catcher Jim Sundberg, who came into the game with two hits in 20 at-bats in the playoffs, and rightfielder Pat Sheridan, who was two for 16 coming in.
Tonight, Sundberg drove in the game's first run with a single and the runs that sealed the Blue Jays' fate with a bases-loaded triple off the top of the right field fence in the sixth. Sheridan bunted his way on to help produce the first run and homered to produce the second.
The pitching heroes were the trio that led the Royals all season: Bret Saberhagen pitched three struggling shutout innings before having to leave with a bruise on his pitching hand. Charlie Leibrandt kept Toronto in check until the ninth, and finally, Dan Quisenberry came in to get the last two outs.
"I never said we were a dominant team, but I said we're a good team," said Manager Dick Howser. "I always felt that our pitching was going to keep us in ball games, and that's just what we did the last three games. We hung in and got the hits when we had to have them."
While the Royals joyfully drowned one another in Canadian champagne, the Blue Jays sat in front of their lockers in their almost silent clubhouse in a state of apparent shock.
Lloyd Moseby, normally the most easygoing of the Blue Jays, screamed angrily at photographers who tried to take his picture. George Bell sat and stared straight ahead. Dave Stieb, who tried to shut the Royals down for a third time but failed, hid in the training room. Manager Bobby Cox stood in a corner and tried not to let the hurt show.
"We just didn't get the breaks and they did," he said. "In a series this close, that's what matters. The first three innings I thought we hit the hell out of Saberhagen, but nothing fell in. Then in the sixth Sundberg hits a windblown pop-up and it goes for a triple.
"Nothing you can do about that."
It was the Royals who had reason to panic early. Saberhagen, who admitted to a bad case of the jitters prior to the game, walked Rance Mulliniks with two down in the first. The next hitter, Willie Upshaw, lined a one-hop shot that scorched Saberhagen's pitching palm and ricocheted away for a base hit.
Saberhagen was in pain. He hopped up and down, shaking his hand, for a moment in a scene reminiscent of Game 3 when Lloyd Moseby lined a shot off his leg.
Saberhagen insisted on staying. He then hit Al Oliver on the ankle with an 0-2 pitch and Kansas City hearts nudged north toward the throat as the dangerous Bell came up. But Saberhagen hung in, getting Bell to fly to right, and the Blue Jays had left three more men on.
Moments later, the Blue Jays were behind. With one out in the second, Sheridan laid down a perfect drag bunt toward second just past a groping Stieb. Sheridan went to second on Steve Balboni's ground out and scored a moment later on Sundberg's flare to right. That made it 1-0.
It stayed that way until the fourth, when Sheridan launched a Stieb fastball high into the moonlit night and the left-to-right wind blew it well over the wall in right-center.
In the fourth, Saberhagen's hand, hit just below the thumb, began to throb and Howser went for Leibrandt. "I had figured to do it at some point anyway to get a lefty in against their lefties," Howser said. "I just hadn't figured on doing it that early."
The Blue Jays got one run back off Leibrandt in the fifth. Damaso Garcia singled and moved to second on Moseby's ground out. Garth Iorg, pinch-hitting for the lefty Mulliniks, crushed a line drive to left-center, but the wind kept it in the park and Willie Wilson ran it down.
The catch loomed large a moment later when Upshaw doubled down the line to make it 2-1. Cox, platooning all the way, then sent Cliff Johnson up to hit for Al Oliver, the hero in two Toronto victories. Johnson struck out on a 3-2 Leibrandt curve and the fans sat down, unnerved, while Oliver sulked in the dugout.
No one knew it then, but that was the Blue Jays' last gasp. In the sixth, Stieb, who had allowed just three runs in 19 2/3 playoff innings to that point, fell on his sword.
He walked Brett with one out and then plunked McRae. With two outs, he walked Steve (three-for-27) Balboni on a 3-2 pitch. That brought up Sundberg. At 1-0, Stieb threw a fastball . . .
"As soon as I hit it I knew it was hit well," Sundberg said. "I didn't even feel it coming off the bat. I thought (right fielder Jesse) Barfield might get to it but then I saw it pop up in the air."
Barfield, off with the pitch, arrived at the fence and the foul pole almost as the ball did. He stretched his body and leaped, but the ball hit on the very top of the fence, bouncing off the wire that runs above the blue padding.
All three Kansas City runners scored, Sundberg chugged to third, and it was 5-1. Cox glumly came to get Stieb while the Royals began hugging one another in the dugout.
Frank White greeted Jim Acker with a bloop hit to center to score Sundberg, and it was only a matter of time.
By the ninth, the ballpark had become a zoo. Fans tossed debris on the field. Several ran onto the field. One tried to leap out of the stands, tripped and knocked himself out almost at Quisenberry's feet as he tried to warm up in the bullpen.
Quisenberry came in to get the last two outs, the final one a weak Moseby grounder to White. "I kept saying, 'Come to me, baby, come to me, baby,' " White said. "I wanted to run it over myself. What a fabulous feeling."
A well-earned feeling. Jokingly, someone asked Brett for the 1,000th time who the pressure was on now.
"The pressure's on the Royals," Brett said. "There ain't no more pressure on the Blue Jays. It's all on us."
With that, he threw his champagne-soaked head back and let out a shriek filled with unspeakable joy. The Miracle of Kansas City had finally happened.