Monday, November 2, 2015

Royals Rally to Win Championship

Three of Kansas City's four wins in this series were come-from-behind (CNN)
It is easy to envision a scenario in which the New York Mets, and not the Kansas City Royals, were the ones celebrating their first championship in three decades yesterday.

In Game 1, the Mets took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. After Jeurys Familia, who had been lights-out all year, got Salvador Perez to ground out, New York's chances of winning stood at 89 percent. The Mets were two outs--two stinking outs--away. They should have won this game. Alex Gordon homered, however, and the Royals ultimately prevailed in 14 innings.

In Game 4, the Mets looking to even the series at two games apiece after winning Game 3. They led 3-2 through seven. After Alcides Escobar grounded out to lead off the eighth, New York's odds of victory improved to 82 percent. Then Tyler Clippard (a mess all playoffs) issued two consecutive walks, bringing Familia into the game, and since Familia was clearly cursed this week of course things went south from there.

Familia got Eric Hosmer, the other hero of Game 1, to tap a slow-roller towards Daniel Murphy at second. Murphy came charging in, reached down to scoop it with his glove...and came up with nothing but air. Ben Zobrist scored, a sure out had been lost, and the game was tied. Back-to-back singles followed, giving Kansas City a 5-3 lead. The Royals, in case you hadn't noticed, don't blow 5-3 leads in the eighth inning or later. Like, ever. And they didn't.

As painful as those two losses were, both paled in comparison to the gut-wrenching defeat New York suffered in Game 5. With the Mets one loss away from elimination and Edinson Volquez throwing gas, they needed a gem from Matt Harvey. They got one, as he fired eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out nine. In the biggest game of his life, a game his team absolutely had to win, he'd been almost perfect.

Harvey walked off the mound after needing just nine pitches to get through a 1-2-3 top of the eighth. Citi Field's roaring applause followed him to the dugout, where he exchanged handshakes and high-fives with his teammates and coaches before collapsing onto the bench. Though the temperature had dropped into the 50s by that point, his face was covered in sweat.

While the Mets were batting in the bottom of the eighth, pitching coach Dan Warthen came over to inform Harvey that he was coming out of the game.

"No way," Harvey said. "No way, no way, no way."

Warthen was still talking, trying to tell the pitcher what a great job he did, but Harvey wasn't listening.

"No way," he repeated. "No way." In this moment, Harvey's vocabulary had been reduced to two words. He wouldn't take no for an answer.

Warthen hadn't finished talking yet when Harvey walked away, down the bench in search of Terry Collins. When he found him, he repeated what he'd said to Warthen.

"No way," Harvey said again. "No way am I coming out of this game."
Collins lets Harvey convince him to remain in the game (NY Post)
When Murphy struck out to conclude the eighth, Harvey hopped out of the dugout and strolled back to the pitcher's mound, much to the crowd's surprise. This was his game to win, or lose. He had gotten the Mets 89 percent of the way there, recording 24 of 27 outs. He only needed to get three more.

Players will say the last three outs of a ballgame are the toughest to get. History says otherwise, but against the Royals that is 100 percent accurate. For whatever reason, Kansas City has a knack for late game heroics. Just when it looks like you're about to finish them off, they jump back from the ropes and deliver a haymaker to the temple. Or, more appropriately, straight to the stomach.

It also helped that this time, Terry Collins was having a Grady Little moment. He'd sent a tired ace back out after throwing 102 pressure-packed pitches, not to mention 216 innings--postseason included--in his first year back from Tommy John surgery (the recommended limit is 160-180). The situation called for Collins to bring in his closer to finish out he game, which entailed facing Kansas City's 3-4-5 hitters, but Collins let Harvey have his way. Maybe he was spooked by Familia's meltdowns in Game 1 and Game 4. Maybe he was as mesmerized by Harvey as the Royals had been. Maybe he was swayed by Harvey's passionate plea to let him stay in. All we know is in that moment, he did not make the move he would have made in any of the 175 games that preceded this.

In all likelihood, it wouldn't have mattered. These Royals were a team of destiny, and they would have rallied no matter who Collins chose to pitch the ninth. But their odds were greatly improved by the presence of a gassed Harvey as opposed to a fresh reliever out of the 'pen. While their odds of winning were technically only six percent, they suddenly seemed much greater.

Any Red Sox fan could tell you what happened next. Harvey lost Lorenzo Cain on a full count and walked him, driving his pitch count up to 109. On pitch number 110, Cain stole second. On pitch 111, Hosmer launched a double down the left field line, scoring Cain and cutting New York's lead in half.

Collins had seen enough, and did what he should have done two batters beforehand. He took the ball out of Harvey's hands and summoned Familia.

The decision to let Harvey stay in looked even worse when Familia got three consecutive groundouts, the second of which scored a run only because there had been a man on second when he entered the game. Had he been allowed to start the inning, obviously, that would not have been the case.

And so the last game of the World Series, like the first one, went to extra innings. Not surprisingly Kansas City, with its superior bullpen, came out on top again. For the third time in a week, the Royals had come back to win a World Series game where they'd trailed in the eighth inning or later. For the third time in a week, the Mets had blown a game they had at least an 80 percent chance of winning.

And that is how we'll remember the 2015 World Series. The Mets faltering late in games, committing costly errors and not getting the big outs when they needed to, and the Royals, once again, proving they are impossible to kill.

Unless you have Madison Bumgarner.

No comments:

Post a Comment