STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The San Francisco Giants are in Kansas City tonight to play the Royals. It's game one of a best-of-seven series. NPR's Tom Goldman is there. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So the Giants are among baseball's elites, have been for many years. The Royals haven't been in the Series in 29 years. Why watch this?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Why watch? Well, what else are you going to do?
INSKEEP: (Laughter) I don't know, get some rest. Maybe you're not aware that I get up very early in the morning, but go on, go on, go on. Tell me what I'm missing.
GOLDMAN: Forget it. This is so enticing, you have to watch - two teams at the peak of their powers playing great, creative, fun baseball. They almost seem like carbon copies during this postseason. Both were wild-card teams, meaning they didn't win their divisions, but still got into the playoffs. It's only the second time wild-card teams have faced off in the World Series.
They both mowed down favorite teams along the way. In fact, the Royals are the first team in history, Steve, to begin the playoffs with eight straight wins.
GOLDMAN: And the way they are both winning - with great pitching and defense and taking advantage of opponents' mistakes and hitting timely home runs - it's an old cliche. But they really have found a way to win repeatedly, even when all seems lost. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy called his team, lovingly, cockroaches; you can't kill them.
INSKEEP: I can't wait to hear what kind of chant the fans make out of that in the stands as we go through this series. So how did they build to this moment, build to those spectacular postseasons during the regular season?
GOLDMAN: This is where they diverge a bit. Four of the Royals current players - Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler - they were highly touted first-round draft picks between 2004 and 2008, but year after year, they failed as a group to meet expectations until now.
Now, San Francisco had some important first-rounders, too - pitching ace Madison Bumgarner in 2007; he's starting tonight - catcher Buster Posey in 2008. But they gelled much quicker and have been critical to the Giants' recent success. And the Giants have made very wise free-agent moves, bringing in players who've contributed a lot.
INSKEEP: Apparently they contribute every other year. A title in 2010, one in 2012, now they're in the World Series again in 2014. Let's set aside the odd years for a moment. What are they doing right in the even years?
GOLDMAN: Well, it's basic numerology, Steve, baseball mysticism, or if you like more practical reasons, Buster Posey probably is the best catcher in all of baseball. And you break down the seasons since 2010 when he was rookie of the year and the Giants' even-year success coincides with Posey's best work. And, you know, also in general, the even-number years are the years that the Giants were healthier injury-wise than the odd number years. That's another practical reason.
INSKEEP: Now let's just talk about the managers, Tom - the guys we'll see on screen standing in the dugout, hands in the pockets of some kind of jacket, looking down at the ground, maybe sometimes spitting.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're hearing from Giants players even why Bochy gives the Giants a real advantage. Hunter Pence told the San Jose Mercury News if your leader is as sharp as he is, it leaks into the team. Bochy is praised for the way he manages his pitchers, choosing the best times to take them out of a game or leave them in, the way he shows flexibility in key moments, putting in his best players for that one moment. He's an excellent baseball strategist.
On the other hand Ned Yost of the Royals, has been roundly criticized for mistakes like the one against Oakland in the wild-card game to start this postseason. He put in the wrong pitcher at the wrong time, and Oakland pounced and seemed to put the game away. But of course Kansas City came back, won that game, the first of eight straight, which is Ned Yost's best defense. I mean, can a manager be that bad if his team hasn't lost at all in the postseason?
INSKEEP: Well, we'll find out in the next few days. That NPR's Tom Goldman in Kansas City where the World Series starts tonight. Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You bet.
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