Not long after his team finished a three-game sweep Sunday night of the league-best Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie received a text message from one of his former teammates.
When the Orioles and Royals meet in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night at Camden Yards, no player from either team will be able to put the unlikely matchup in perspective quite like Guthrie.
He pitched five years in Baltimore and then was traded to the Colorado Rockies for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom before the 2012 season, the year the Orioles broke their stretch of 14 losing seasons and made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Guthrie's time with the Rockies was a disaster, and he was eventually traded to the Royals, for whom he became a key member of a quality starting rotation that helped Kansas City reach the playoffs this year for the first time since 1985.
"The way I look at it is in some ways, it's very ironic," Guthrie said Tuesday night in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun. "I got my feet wet and my opportunity to establish myself as a player with the Orioles. For the five seasons I was there, we weren't a very good baseball team and didn't win a lot of games. Then, I was traded for a couple of players who helped them end that drought. Now, the Orioles have had a chance to go to the playoffs twice in the last three years. And I'm in the playoffs for an organization that had a longer drought and had even more difficulty winning."
Guthrie, who has yet to pitch in the playoffs, had considered the possibility that the Orioles and the Royals could match up in October several times during the season. But the reality started to set in Friday, when he watched on television as pinch hitter Delmon Young cleared the bases with an eighth-inning double, the decisive hit in the Orioles' come-from-behind 7-6 victory over the Tigers in Game 2 of their series.
Hours later, the Royals beat the Angels to take their own commanding 2-0 series lead. Two days after that, players from both clubs were dousing their respective teammates with champagne, an opportunity to play in the World Series now four victories away.
"In a short amount of time in Kansas City, I've seen the organization turn the corner and make big strides. Now, we're going against an organization that I really know," said Guthrie who said that he's gotten numerous congratulatory messages from Orioles fans via social media.
He and the rest of his teammates are due to work out Thursday afternoon at Camden Yards.
"It's a pretty cool thing for me. I'll be pitching against former teammates and friends and very familiar fans for an opportunity to go the World Series."
Guthrie went 13-11 with a 4.13 ERA in 32 starts for the Royals this season, doing his best work in the final month as Kansas City was fighting for a playoff spot. He went 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA in five September starts and was the winning pitcher against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 26, when the Royals nailed down a postseason berth.
In parts of three seasons with the Royals, Guthrie, who agreed to a three-year, $25 million contract extension with the team in November 2012, has gone 33-26 with a 3.92 ERA in 79 starts. Kansas City's win total went from 72 in his first season there to 86 last year to 89 this season.
Such steady improvement from a ballclub was elusive in Guthrie's time with the Orioles, as they never won more than 69 games from 2007 to 2011. Guthrie was the team's Opening Day starter in three of those seasons and went 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA with the Orioles.
Before he was traded, he was optimistic that the Orioles were headed for better days; he just didn't know how soon. He had seen first-hand some of the growing pains that young pitchers including Matusz, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman were working through. He knew that the team had a talented mix of position players, from younger guys like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters to solid veterans such as J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis.
Guthrie maintains that he has no bitterness that he was traded before the organization really started to turn things around. He keeps in contact with a handful of Orioles and was effusive in his praise of the team's fan base, which he says, like the Royals' faithful, deserves to enjoy long-awaited postseason success.
As of Tuesday evening, he wasn't sure what game he'll start in the series. However, Royals manager Ned Yost indicated earlier this week that the veteran right-hander likely would pitch when the series goes to Kauffman Stadium for Games 3 through 5.
Guthrie is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five career starts against the Orioles. Come Friday, he'll likely be out in the visiting bullpen at Camden Yards, soaking in a scene that seemed so improbable not too long ago.
"It's been an excitement that I've never been able to experience playing major league baseball up until this year," he said. "To have games that meant something to us as a team late into September and then to see the way this city and these fans have erupted in support for us has been something that I don't think any of the players, myself included, expected us to experience so far in four playoff games. It's been very gratifying. I'm really fortunate to have this opportunity having pitched for the better part of nine seasons and this being my first playoffs."