Kansas City, Mo. — Luke Hochevar was a member of the Kansas City Royals who advanced to the World Series a year ago. He was in the dugout for every playoff game, took part in all the champagne celebrations, got an American League championship ring after the season.
He never threw a single pitch, though.
That makes this year’s return to the Fall Classic so much sweeter. Now recovered from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him last season, Hochevar has been able to contribute to the success of the club that made the reliever the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2006.
“It feels great. There’s no other way to explain it,” Hochevar said. “To experience it last year was unbelievable. To have the opportunity to come back and do it again is even better.”
The easy argument is the Royals are back because they’re the same team of a year ago. Their core players that became household names against the San Francisco Giants, such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and outfielder Lorenzo Cain, are still doing their thing in Kansas City.
The reality is the Royals are back largely because of all their new faces.
There were only 12 players on their 25-man roster for the AL Championship Series against Toronto that were on the roster against the Giants. Just four of those were pitchers, and the only starter was Yordano Ventura, who helped Kansas City to victory in the decisive Game 6.
The Royals used the same roster in the divisional round against Houston, and figure to have a similar makeup when they open the World Series on Tuesday night against the New York Mets.
“This is a different team,” Royals manager Ned Yost acknowledged, “but we play the same.”
By that, he means the Royals still rely on pitching and defense. They still win by making fewer mistakes than the opponent. They still cause havoc on the basepaths, rarely strike out.
It’s just that the cast of characters doing it is slightly different.
The Royals walked on an expensive option on designated hitter Billy Butler, signing Kendrys Morales to replace him. The move proved to be brilliant: Morales hit 22 homers during the regular season and has hit four more during the playoffs.
“He’s been the middle-of-the-order bat from the first day,” Yost said. “He put up tremendous numbers, power numbers, RBI numbers, he’s been great from both sides of the plate.”
In the field, the Royals moved on from right fielder Nori Aoki by signing Alex Rios, who is hitting .333 in the first playoff appearance of his 12-year career. Second baseman Omar Infante has been hurt, so deadline-acquisition Ben Zobrist has taken over, hitting .326 while driving in six runs this postseason — including two homers against Toronto.
The backup catcher has been Drew Butera rather than Erik Kratz. The utility men have been Paulo Orlando and Christian Colon, rather than Josh Willingham and Jayson Nix.
But it’s among the pitchers where the differences are most stark: Along with Ventura, the rotation now consists of Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Chris Young, while last year it was James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas in the postseason.
Volquez was the Royals’ big offseason signing after Shields left in free agency. But Young was signed at the start of spring training after spending time away from the game, and pitched his way into the playoff rotation, dominating the Blue Jays in Game 4 of the ALCS.
All games on Fox
Tuesday: N.Y. Mets (Harvey 13-8) at Kansas City, 8:07 p.m.
Wednesday: N.Y. Mets (deGrom 14-8) at Kansas City, 8:07
Friday: Kansas City at N.Y. Mets (Syndergaard 9-7), 8:07
Saturday: Kansas City at N.Y. Mets (Matz 4-0), 8:07
x-Sunday: Kansas City at N.Y. Mets, 8:15
x-Tuesday, Nov. 3: N.Y. Mets at Kansas City, 8:07
x-Wednesday, Nov. 4: N.Y. Mets at Kansas City, 8:07