Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Game 1: Royals Rally as Mets Melt Down

The Royals celebrate their walk-off win in Game 1 (ABC News)
Well, the World Series is certainly off to a great start.
I have to admit, I wasn't too excited about this year's Fall Classic. I didn't read the standard previews or carefully compare the two rosters. I simultaneously want both teams to win while not caring deeply about who ultimately prevails. I just don't have a dog in this fight.
But after last night, I think I might be getting sucked in. I was in New York yesterday on business, and I could feel the electricity in the air as I traversed downtown Manhattan. I passed throngs of New Yorkers donning blue Mets caps, wrapped in Mets jackets, and walking a little taller knowing their team is possibly championship-bound. I also noticed the kind of nervous faces and hurried walks that only manifest themselves when your team is on the eve of its biggest game of the season.
I'm sure the Mets and Royals were in a similar state as Game 1 approached. After spending all day watching rain fall on Kaufmann Stadium, they had no idea if they'd get to play. Thankfully they did, as the Mets and Royals proceeded to play one of the most thrilling World Series games of my lifetime.
Seriously, it was some game. An instant classic from the start.
We should have known we were in for a special night four batters into the game. Leading off the bottom of the first, Alcides Escobar launched Matt Harvey's first pitch of the evening into the left-center field gap. Yoenis Cespedes--a corner outfielder moonlighting in center--caught up to the ball but did not catch it. Left fielder Michael Conforto was converging on the play as well, creating some confusion as to whose ball it was. Neither called for it so Cespedes didn't get his glove up until it was too late, allowing the ball to land at his feet.
Still running full speed towards the wall, he compounded his mistake by kicking the ball, which bounced off the fence and skidded away from both Mets outfielders. By the time Conforto caught up to it in left field, Escobar was already rounding third and heading for home. He made it in standing up, without a throw, and when he crossed home plate he'd completed the 12th inside the park home run in World Series history--the first since 1929.
If you're the Mets, that's the worst possible way to start the World Series. After not trailing once in the NLCS, you find yourself down after one pitch and a play that should have been made. Plus you're on the road, and now 40,000 Royals fans are up and cheering before they've even had time to settle into their seats.
But New York didn't panic, didn't unravel after committing such a costly mistake to start the game. Harvey settled down, keeping Kansas City off the board until the sixth, by which point the Mets had gone ahead 3-1.
After five, New York appeared to be cruising. Not only were they winning, but Harvey had thrown just 62 pitches. He was on a roll, having retired the last 11 Royals in a row, and appeared to have a few more innings in him. In the Mets dugout, Terry Collins was hopeful he wouldn't have to call upon his shaky middle relievers in this one.
Escobar flies around the bases on his historic homer (NBC Sports)
That dream quickly came to an end, however, as Harvey immediately got himself into trouble. Ben Zobrist drilled his first pitch of the inning for a double, and Lorenzo Cain followed with a single that put runners on the corners. Hosmer hit an 0-2 pitch deep to center, and while it stayed in the yard it was still plenty deep enough to plate Zobrist.
Then, on what might have been the biggest play of the game, Cain stole second to put himself in scoring position. That proved huge when, after Kendrys Morales grounded out to Harvey, Mike Moustakas roped a single back up the middle to score Cain and tie the game.
It didn't look like it would matter when the Mets re-took the lead in the top of the eighth, pulling ahead 4-3 on Eric Hosmer's untimely error. That set the stage for a dramatic ninth inning, another showcase for Kanas City's incredible resilience.
The indomitable Jeurys Familia had already recorded two outs, needing just two more to nail down the victory for New York.  The Royals' chances of winning the game had been reduced to 11 percent.
These numbers apparently mean nothing to Kansas City, however, because the less likely they are to win the better they play. No matter how dire the situation gets, they always find a way to come back from the dead.
Fortunately for the Royals, they had their best player up in this critical moment--Alex Gordon. But Gordon is not really a slugger--he had just 13 home runs this year and 19 last year--and the Royals hadn't cleared the fences all night. They seemed unlikely to do so now, against a pitcher who had not allowed a run this postseason after posting a 1.85 ERA during the regular season.
But nobody's impenetrable come playoff time, not even Mariano Rivera. Gordon put a good swing on Familia's third offering of the at-bat and drove it out to center field, the deepest part of the ballpark. At first it looked like defensive replacement Juan Lagares might have a play, but the ball kept carrying, and carrying, until it carried right over the wall. Just like that, it was a brand new ballgame. Kansas City was still alive.
The game went into extra innings, and both teams began emptying out their bullpens. The 10th inning passed without any score, and so did the 11th. Nobody scored in the 12th, either. The 13th came and went, and still the score was knotted at 4-4.
By the middle of the 14th, both teams appeared to be dragging. The game was nearing the five hour mark, which meant both teams had exhausted their adrenaline supplies long ago. They'd spent their top relievers, too; Bartolo Colon was in the game now, ready to pitch until sunrise if he had to. It was after one in the morning, far too late (early?) to be playing baseball.
So the Royals ended it, right then and there. They got an assist from David Wright, whose throwing error allowed Escobar to reach safely with nobody out. Zobrist knocked a single--his third hit of the game--into right field, sending Escobar to third. Colon intentionally walked Cain to load the bases, setting up a force play at any base.
That brought up Hosmer, who'd helped key Kansas City's sixth inning rally but also made the miscue that nearly cost them the game. Now he had the chance to be the hero, the guy who finally ended this thing once and for all.
Thankfully he did, lifting a fly ball to right that scored Escobar easily. Curtis Granderson, with his noodle arm, never had a chance. Had it been Cespedes out there (Collins had moved him to left), there would have been a bang-bang play at the plate. Both teams might still be playing.
Based on the box score's symmetry, they probably would be. They scored the same amount of runs through 13 innings and wound up with equal numbers of hits and errors. Both teams hit one out-of-the-park home run. Matt Harvey and Edinson Volquez produced nearly identical pitching lines. Both bullpens performed admirably, but in the end Kansas City's superior relievers won out.
Going into this series the two contestants seemed evenly matched, and that's even more true today. The Mets will look to even the Series behind Jacob deGrom tonight, while the Royals will try to take a 2-0 lead to New York with Johnny Cueto on the hill. In a matchup of aces, we should be in for another nailbiter, but it will be tough to top last night's game.
I can tell you one thing; I'll be watching to find out.

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