Friday, October 31, 2014

Poor Royals

While the San Francisco Giants are basking in the glory of their third championship in five years (which I guess makes them a dynasty), the Kansas City Royals are surely reeling from such a heartbreaking defeat. Losing Game 7 by one run is tough, especially when you're on your home field and especially when you last made the playoffs in 1985. It's tougher still when the game ends with the tying run standing on third base.

With Alex Gordon 90 feet away after Gregor Blanco misplayed his two out single, Salvador Perez needed only a single, just a little single, to tie the game and possibly chase Madison Bumgarner from it. All he needed was for a blooper to fall in, for a ground ball to find a hole, and it would have been a brand new ballgame.

Bumgarner, well aware of Perez's aggressive tendencies, fed the catcher a steady diet of high fastballs. Perez couldn't resist. On the sixth one, he popped up.

Pop ups, at least in my opinion, are the most disappointing type of out a player can make. The ball goes up, and right away you know nothing good can happen. The best case scenario is that it lands in the seats--foul--or that the fielders can't get to it in time or they miscommunicate and it falls harmlessly to the ground. By the time it's reached its apex you can usually tell whether it's going to be caught or not. And then you wait, wait for it to drop into the fielder's mitt below.

A pop out is perhaps the easiest out to predict before it happens, because so much time passes between the ball leaving the bat and settling into the fielder's glove. It allows time to think, and more importantly to recognize what is about to transpire. When Perez popped up and Pablo Sandoval chugged under it, we knew the game was over. The series was over, and with it the season. The Royals had lost. The Giants had won. Game, set, match..

Other teams have come closer--the 1986 Red Sox and 2011 Texas Rangers come to mind, one strike away from victory. But man, the Royals were right there. If only they'd held on to win Game 4. If only Eric Hosmer hadn't dived into first base. If only Gordon sprinted out of the box on that soft single to center. If only.

The 1967 Red Sox couldn't overcome Bob Gibson. The Yankees were helpless against Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, then Josh Beckett two years later. And the 2014 Royals couldn't figure out Madison Bumgarner. Better luck next year.

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