Jeremy Guthrie walked onto the field in the middle of the first inning, got behind the mound and saw what he described as a "sea of orange."
After pitching for two colleges, three minor league teams and four major league clubs, after finishing with a losing record in five of his first six big league seasons, after enduring four consecutive last-place finishes, he had made it to baseball's pinnacle: the World Series.
"It felt like I was doing something that I didn't even dream of," he would say later. "A lot of people say they dreamed of playing in the World Series. I don't think I had that dream. But now to live it, it feels right, and it feels like a moment that I'll never forget."
On Friday night at age 35, the end of his baseball career far closer than the beginning, he pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning and got the win in Kansas City's 3-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants, which gave the Royals a 2-1 Series lead.
He also accomplished a first: No starting pitcher in the 111-year history of the World Series had ever before gotten a win without any strikeouts or walks.
"What you saw tonight is what I've seen just about every time he goes out on the mound in the last three years," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He does his homework. He's prepared physically. His work ethic is tremendous. He's a tremendous competitor. He's not scared when he steps on the mound."
Like many big leaguers, Guthrie pitched in college, starting at Brigham Young in 1998, where he went 5-5 with a 6.54 ERA as a freshman. And then he quit to become a missionary in Spain with the Mormon Church.
"When I left, baseball was not something that I foresaw in my future, at least long-term," he recalled this week. "I loved the game. I enjoyed playing it, but I was burned out. I had pitched poorly as a freshman, and quite frankly it was not fun."
He didn't pick up a baseball for two years.
"When a missionary leaves, they're asked to leave everything behind that could be a distraction to them," he recalled this week. "At the time, that was my girlfriend who is now my wife, Jenny. That included baseball. That included family. It included my interests: shoes, chess, and every other thing that could distract me from what the goal was, which was to find people that were truly interested in listening to the message that we shared as missionaries. So I did that."
When his missionary work ended, he transferred to Stanford, where he developed into one of the nation's top college pitchers. Just before Cleveland drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in 2002, he threw a 147-pitch, 13-inning, nine-hitter to beat Cal State Fullerton in an NCAA regional.
He made it to the majors for a total of 16 games with the Indians from 2004-06, then was claimed by Baltimore off waivers in January 2007 and finally stuck in the big leagues. He was dealt to Colorado just before spring training in 2012 and traded again to Kansas City that July for Jonathan Sanchez, who had helped San Francisco win the 2010 World Series.
His record is ordinary — 83-100 with a 4.23 ERA. He's never been an All-Star.
But against the Giants, he pitched like, well, a giant.
Guthrie retired his first four batters, then allowed an infield single to Hunter Pence, who was caught stealing second. Brandon Belt singled, and Guthrie retired 10 straight batters before Belt singled leading off the sixth and pinch-hitter Michael Morse hit an RBI double over third base and into the left-field corner.
Morse wound up scoring on a pair of groundouts, but the Royals hung on with four hitless innings from their ballyhooed bullpen.
"What a gutsy performance," teammate James Shields said. "He went out there and pitched his heart out."
When Guthrie walked back on the field for a postgame interview, Royals fans behind the first-base dugout chanted his name. His mind was filled with emotions.
"Happiness, excitement, gratitude. I think those describe it as best I can do it," he said. "A number of guys play a long time and don't get a chance to do this."