KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It had been 29 years since the Royals had last been to the postseason — nearly three decades spent mostly in baseball's backwater, a small-market organization on a shoestring budget trying in vain to compete with the big boys.
Tuesday night, they returned to the game's grand stage in dramatic fashion.
Salvador Perez singled home the winner with two outs in the 12th inning, capping two late comebacks that gave Kansas City a thrilling 9-8 victory over the Athletics and sent the Royals to a best-of-five Division Series against the Angels.
The Royals will meet the AL West champions in the opener tonight in Los Angeles. LHP Jason Vargas will start against Los Angeles RHP Jered Weaver.
"We're going to enjoy this one," said Eric Hosmer, who sparked the final Royals rally with a one-out triple. "We realize we're playing a team that had the best record in baseball, but it's a five-game series and anything can happen."
After Tuesday night, there is no disputing that.
Making their first postseason appearance since winning the 1985 World Series, the Royals fell behind by four only to race back with their speed; they led the majors with 153 steals this season. Kansas City swiped seven Tuesday to tie a postseason record shared by the 1907 Cubs and 1975 Reds.
The biggest steal came in the 12th.
Hosmer scored the tying run on a high chopper to third by rookie Christian Colon, who reached on the infield single then stole second with two outs.
Perez, who was 0-for-5, reached out and pulled a hard one-hopper past diving 3B Josh Donaldson. Colon scored easily, and the Royals rushed out of the dugout.
"It was unbelievable," Perez said.
For the A's, it was a stunning and heartbreaking finish.
"It's a one-game deal. You know coming in that anything can happen," said Brandon Moss, who drove in five runs with two homers for Oakland. "I don't think many of us will go over things in our head very much at all."
RYU HEALING: Dodgers LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, who hasn't pitched since leaving after one inning Sept. 12 with shoulder irritation, pitched three innings of a simulated game on the mound at Dodger Stadium.
WACHA IN PEN: RHP Michael Wacha, who starred in the postseason as a rookie last fall, will be in the Cardinals bullpen for the start of the NL Division Series against the Dodgers. Also, St. Louis left backup C A.J. Pierzynski and former closer Jason Motte off the postseason roster.
AROUND THE MAJORS: Teams will be limited to three trips to the mound by managers, coaches and catchers during a game, except for pitching changes, under experimental speedup rules to be used during the Arizona Fall League. … Former manager Jim Tracy and former Diamondbacks INF Jay Bell are among seven candidates identified by Arizona to be interviewed to replace the fired Kirk Gibson. Others are Sandy Alomar Jr., Andy Green, Phil Nevin, Turner Ward and Joe McEwing.
AL division series
Angels vs. Royals
Tonight: at Los Angeles, 9:07, TBS
Friday: at Los Angeles, 9:37, TBS
Sunday: at Kansas City, 7:37, TBS
Monday*: at Kansas City, TBD, TBS
Wednesday*: at Los Angeles, TBD, TBS
Orioles vs. Tigers
Tonight: at Baltimore, 5:37, TBS
Friday: at Baltimore, 12:07, TBS
Sunday: at Detroit, 3:45, TBS
Monday*: at Detroit, TBD, TBS
Wednesday*: at Baltimore, TBD, TBS
NL Division series
Nationals vs. Giants
Friday: at Washington, 3:07, FS1
Saturday: at Washington, 5:37, FS1
Monday: at San Francisco, TBD, MLBN
Tuesday*: at San Francisco, TBD, FS1
Oct. 9*: at Washington, TBD, FS1
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Friday: at Los Angeles, 6:37, FS1
Saturday: at Los Angeles, 9:37, MLBN
Monday: at St. Louis, TBD, FS1
Tuesday*: at St. Louis, TBD, FS1
Oct. 9*: at Los Angeles, TBD, FS1
* If necessary