The World Series tends to give fans instant amnesia.
Take, for example, the 1991 Fall Classic, a seven-game affair widely considered one of the best Series of all time. At the time, it was historic – a "worst to first" matchup that featured the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins – and the Game 7 pitching duel between Jack Morris and John Smoltz has become the stuff of legend.
But aside from that game, or Kirby Puckett's Game 6 heroics in the field and at the plate, chances are there's plenty you don't remember about that Series, which only reinforces my initial point. Fans generally bask in the exhilaration of accomplishment. Players are an entirely different breed. They reflect on what it took to get there. It makes sense. After all, they're the ones who put in the work.
Just listen to Smoltz recount the 1991 World Series – the first of five he'd appear in with the Braves. Sure, he remembers who won, but he recalls the path his team took to get there just as vividly.
"The euphoric feeling of getting into the playoffs back then, because you had to win your division, was pretty incredible," Smoltz says. "Then going seven games again to get into the World Series – and I was lucky enough to pitch that seventh game and go nine innings – was even more of an incredible feeling."
Smoltz, currently working as an analyst for the MLB Network and Fox Sports, is talking about the complete-game shutout he hurled in the decisive seventh game of the NLCS against the Pirates that year, a victory he celebrated with catcher Greg Olson, who leapt into his arms. It was a scene that had hearkened back to baseball's past – and one that's been repeated time and time again in postseasons since.
Which brings us to the 2014 World Series, which pits the San Francisco Giants against the Kansas City Royals. It's a matchup that nobody could have predicted – kind of like that Braves/Twins battle in 1991. And Smoltz sees other similarities between this Series and the one he cut his teeth in.
"You could probably say [we were] pretty similar to Kansas City, in the sense that no one in the world thought we could have got there," he says. "Let alone the team we were playing in Minnesota."
With both teams, "getting there" seems to be a pervasive theme. The Giants are experience-laden, having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. A win this time would make them a dynasty, one built to sustain success for years to come. Then there are the Royals, who haven’t been to the Series – or even the postseason – since 1985. For them, this could be their only shot at winning it all. Small-market teams usually lose out to bigger markets (and bigger payrolls) in the end.
Of course, attempting to predict the Royals' future is as futile as picking a winner of this World Series. At least, it is for Smoltz:
"If there’s one prediction that should come true," Smoltz says, “it’s this series was made to go seven.”
Hopefully by the end of that Game 7, everyone will still remember how both teams got there.