When the San Francisco Giants stumbled to a losing record in 2013, the empty seats at AT&T Park were quite visible on television broadcasts, despite the team's claim it was still selling out games. It became a running joke that ghosts were filling the seats at the ball park.
Now, of course, with some winning ways reestablished this October, the Giants' stadium always looks full. The pressure is back on the team to keep winning, or else it might lose its fickle fan base.
But what about the Kansas City Royals and their fans? Kauffman Stadium has been rocking for the 2014 postseason, of course, but it obviously hasn't always been that way during the 29-year hiatus from the playoffs for the team.
How much pressure is Kansas City under for Game Six on Tuesday night? Their fans aren't as fickle as the Giants fanbase; you might say the Royals fans are just happy to be there after all this time.
Each team wants to win, of course, but the Giants have to be under more pressure than the Royals. San Francisco is the big-payroll team, and it has the lead in the Series right now. If the Giants lose, it will be considered a "choke," whereas if Kansas City loses, they were the "little team that could" and just came up short.
Pressure on Giants? Yes
Those ghost sellouts in San Francisco last season remind everyone that Californians have better things to do than support a losing ball club. That's why the Giants have such a high payroll, over $160 million: the financial pressure on the team.
Of course, with the home games at AT&T Park already this season, San Francisco has surely made enough money to cover the payroll, but the club has built its marketing campaign on winning in October over the last few seasons (when they get there).
Historically, it's a mixed bag for San Francisco right now: Teams in the Giants' position — heading on the road for Game Six with a 3-2 lead in a World Series — have won 16 times in 29 such situations. That's just above 50%, of course. In fact, teams like San Francisco have won Game Six just seven times in those 29 situations.
The Giants do not want a Game Seven — they learned the hard way in 2002 what can happen when you don't close the door as soon as possible. And sending a veteran starter to the mound in Game Six who has never made it out of the sixth inning in his postseason career doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in their chances.
If there is a Game Seven, the Giants still have the edge, but having risen off the mat themselves a few times in 2012, the San Francisco players want to end this series Tuesday night. That's pressure, especially on the road in raucous Kauffman.
Pressure on Royals? Barely
As noted previously, seven of the last eight teams in the Royals' position have returned home and won both Games Six and Seven to claim a World Series win — including the 1985 version of the Kansas City ball club. The one exception, the only club to lose in this situation dating back to 1981 is the 1992 Atlanta Braves, done in by a suspect bullpen.
The Royals bullpen usually is pretty good at home.
But Kansas City is loose and young; they know they're not "supposed" to be here, with their inexperience and small payroll. They have nothing to lose; the Royals have already outdone expectations and become the story of the year, even if the Giants end up winning. The Royals have captured the hearts and imaginations of broader America (outside the west side of the San Francisco Bay Area, at least).
There might be little pressure on the Royals, other than what they put on themselves. And this is a team that fought back from two deficits in the American League Wild Card Game to launch their postseason run in the first place.
Kansas City isn't feeling anywhere near the pressure the Giants are, and how that impacts the game remains to be seen.
Outlook for Game Six
Historically, the number six stands outs. The Giants' position is weak, and they won't have the pitching edge at all — plus they're on the road.
Of course, San Francisco's postseasons in 2010, 2012 and 2014 have been marked by relatively unheralded players suddenly having the performances of their lives: Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Marco Scutaro, Barry Zito, Joe Panik, Travis Ishikawa, Brandon Crawford, Juan Perez, et al. These were all players no other team wanted, who suddenly became October heroes and legends for the Giants.
Who's to say one of those guys won't do it again? Maybe it'll be Gregor Blanco this time or Matt Duffy; that would fit the San Francisco "pattern" and "formula" for success in October this decade.
We picked the Royals in six games for the Series overall last week, and that can't happen now. Kansas City had the distinct edge in three of the four starting-pitcher matchups in this Fall Classic, and they didn't convert one of them into a win the first time through the rotation. They need to convert that edge the second time through this week to win it all. Can they?
There is something in the water at AT&T Park that has made these Giants into every-other-October winners. San Francisco will find another random and improbable way to win Game Six on Tuesday night, because that's what the club does these days — with no rhyme or reason to it.
They just win.
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