Road to playoffs can be long, brutal grind _ or rapid ride
Oct. 10, 2015
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Rios bounced through four organizations and played nearly 1,700 games before he finally appeared in a postseason game with the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.
It hasn't taken Kyle Schwarber or Carlos Correa nearly as long.
The Cubs slugger and slick-fielding Astros star headline a wave of youngsters making their playoff debuts this year. But there are also plenty of players that are finally getting a taste of October baseball after years spent toiling on losing clubs.
Rios spent most of six seasons with Toronto, and even made a pair of All-Star appearances, but never reached the playoffs. He failed to accomplish it in parts of five seasons with the White Sox, and while playing for the Rangers over the past couple of years.
Ironically, the Blue Jays and Rangers are playing each other in this year's postseason
"Finally," Rios said before the Royals played Houston in Game 1. "This was one of the things I considered when I was about to sign my deal. So I think I made the right choice."
The Royals rolled to the World Series a year ago, and returned most of the key pieces from that club. So, Rios figured the one-year, $11 million deal he signed with Kansas City would give him a good chance of playing truly meaningful games — he played 1,691 contests in the regular season before this postseason.
That total is by far the most of anybody making his playoff debut this year.
"He's a big part of why we're here, and what he was able to do for us was huge," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "Last year, (Josh) Willingham hadn't made it to the postseason and this year it's Rios. It's pretty cool. We're happy for him."
Joe Bautista played in 1,403 regular-season games, and Edwin Encarnacion in 1,353, before the Blue Jays finished as AL East champs this year. Chase Headley played in 1,122 before reaching the wild-card game with the Yankees, where he went 0 for 2 in their 3-0 loss to Houston.
Meanwhile, guys such as Schwarber and Correa are relishing their rapid rise.
The Cubs called up the 22-year-old Schwarber in June, which means he played in a whopping 69 games before his club reached the playoffs. Chicago second baseman Tommy La Stella has appeared in 126 over two seasons, and rookie Kris Bryant in just 151 regular-season games.
The trio combined? Just 346 games or about a fifth of what Rios has played.
"Coming out to the ballpark there are butterflies, and listening to the national anthem and listening to the crowd roar, there's going to be butterflies," said Schwarber, whose two-run homer helped Chicago beat Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game. "But once that first pitch happens, it's game time. It's time to go. Everything starts to slow down."
That professional approach is a big reason why so many young players are playing on such a big stage. None of them seem to be intimidated by the magnitude of the moment.
Perhaps they don't know any better.
"I mean, this is obviously a hard game," said the Astros' George Springer, a veteran of 180 big league games. "But you have to do anything you can to kind of slow it down and just enjoy the game, and not get stuck on, I guess, the stage or who you're playing, stuff like that."
Besides, it takes some players a decade to finally reach the postseason.
Might as well enjoy the ride.