KANSAS CITY — You could have relived your childhood in the time in took the ball to make up its mind. It was long and high and rising down the left field line, with 40,000 people screaming their guts out — STAY FAIR! STAY FAIR! — and there, at home plate, the man who hit it, Darryl Motley, forgetting to even run the bases, just standing with his fists clenched near his checks, praying. Please, God. Get it out of here! Ah, but the little white ball teased everyone and hooked left of the foul pole at the last second.

“Damn!” Motley screamed, his anger visible to every American with a TV set. He returned to the plate, the count 3-2, his Royals no richer than before, the seventh game of the World Series still tied at zero.

Fate had been the guest of honor at this World Series, but until that point, no one knew what color it was wearing this night. Royal blue? Cardinal red?

The next pitch told everything.

Who doesn’t love a Cinderella story? Who doesn’t root for the underdog? Should it surprise anybody then, that Motley, the weakest World Series hitter in the Royals’ starting lineup (.143 average) would step back to the plate and drill the very next pitch to the exact same spot, only this time delaying his swing a fraction of a second, so that it stayed fair, right of the pole.

Home run.

Hah! For what was this World Series if not a story of comebacks, of turnarounds, of the last suddenly becoming the first, the rags turning to riches, the dead returning to life.

Of the Kansas City Royals delivering one of the greatest comebacks in the history of baseball, returning from a 3-1 deficit to win it all, the World Series, seventh game. Theirs was a Cardinal sin

Once Motley’s ball reached the stands it was essentially decided, although his team would score oodles more. George Brett would get four straight hits. Steve Balboni, a prior candidate for slump-of-the-year, would deliver clutch hits, drive in runs. Young Bret Saberhagen, a new father, would pitch as brilliantly as everyone expected, shutting out the Cardinals, 11-0, and winning the MVP trophy. The game would become a romp. A Royal romp.

And a Cardinal sin.

For nine days, destiny was the truck driver that had picked up these two teams on the I-70 interstate and carried them back and forth across Missouri. It had been kind to St. Louis early, but Sunday night it screeched to the shoulder, turned to the Cardinals and said: “You get out here, son. End of the road.”

For the Redbirds, the series became everyone’s worst nightmare, the one where the monster is coming for you, coming for you, and you go to scream but nothing comes out. The horror is the silence. And so it was with the Cardinals’ bats. A team known for its hitting and running did little of either

in the three most important games of their year. In the final one, their pitching disappeared as well.

The horror is the silence.

And the horror is the noise. The screaming curses of Joaquin Andujar, who had been brought in as a relief pitcher with the score a ridiculous 10-0, and who promptly showed the world why he doesn’t deserve to wear a major league uniform, sparking a fracas that left him and St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog ejected from the game, the latter calling an umpire an SOB — the last words he would speak on this World Series field.

Shameful. But then, this Series was also about the rich turning poor, the princes turning to frogs, the gold turning back to straw.

The Cardinals turning to dust.

You saw it beginning when John Tudor, their ace, walked in a run with the bases loaded in the third inning, and exited shortly thereafter — his earliest departure of the season.

The Andujar-Herzog performance was simply mud on the cake. Finally, fate had its way

Because of their behavior Sunday night, there’s a temptation to wish 1,000 plagues on the Cardinals’ heads. But remember, they played well enough to come within one game of the World Series crown. They are not all Joaquin Andujar. Thank God.

Concentrate, instead, on the Royals. What a comeback! What a barrage of hits — “We wanted to win big,” Lonnie Smith would say later. What a performance by Saberhagen — no runs, five hits. “I’ve never been with a team that has more heart than this,” said KC manager Dick Howser, who showed a good bit of his own as well.

From Motley’s home run, to Balboni’s resurgence, to Saberhagen’s mastery, to Andujar’s disgrace. This was the way fate wanted it.

Do frogs turn to princes, does straw turn to gold, can a baseball team rise from the ashes of everyone’s predictions of doom and win the World Series?

Yes, yes, and yes. Kansas City is the answer. To all of the above.

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