The best player on the field this World Series was not a Kansas City Royal. That, my friends, pretty simply sums up why the Giants won and the Royals lost.
You are not supposed to be able to do what Madison Bumgarner did. Maybe in 1924, but not in 2014. It is not a criticism of the Royals’ players at all. Bumgarner was the best player on either team and the team with the best player won the World Series.
Last night’s Game Seven really came down to a pretty mundane fourth inning two strike flair off the bat of Michael Morse with Panda Sandoval and Hunter Pence on base, because, well, they were always on base. It came off one of the Royals’ big three relievers, Kelvin Herrera, who turned in an outstanding performance nonetheless.
Both teams were firmly in their bullpens by then: a situation generally thought to be an advantage for the Royals. We just didn’t realize that the Giants had some sort of android named Bumgarner that can throw for apparently days on end.
Once Bumgarner was in, the game really came down to two moments in time. The first was immediately upon his entrance into the game.
Omar Infante singled and Alcides Escobar came to the plate. Escobar immediately looked to bunt, but took two pitches for balls (he really had not choice – even Salvador Perez thought those were well out of the zone). A 2-0 count, with Bumgarner not yet settled in? I don’t give up an out there. Escobar remained steadfast in his belief that a bunt was in order, laid one down and moved Infante to second.
After the game, Ned Yost said that Escobar was bunting on this own. Okay, fine, except Yost had two pitches to give whatever sign the Royals have that means ‘cut that the hell out!’. But anyway…
Nori Aoki followed the bunt by lashing a ball to left. Baseball is all about second guessing and speculation (see below), but I can pretty much guarantee that Travis Ishikawa does not catch that ball and the game would be tied. Problem was, Bruce Bochy didn’t start Ishikawa and instead opted for his more defensive minded left-fielder: Juan Perez. You know what happened and you also know that Bruce Bochy has managed a few games in his lifetime.
The Royals only other real chance came with two outs in the ninth. Up comes Alex Gordon (my GOD, he comes up a lot with two outs in the ninth, doesn’t he?), who had driven in one Royal run and scored the other almost my sheer force of will. Gordon had looked hopeless against Bumgarner the other 4,000 times he had faced him in the World Series, but not here. A sinking liner to left-center.
I was pretty sure the ball was going to get down, but it was either going to be a clean single or a nice running catch by Blanco. Gordon would be on first and hope, however small, would still be alive. Except suddenly the ball skips by Blanco and bounces to the wall. Gordon turns and heads to second and rounds the bag as the ball is fumbled once more. He will easily make third. Mike Jirschele has the stop sign up well before Gordon is to the third. The ball is in cut-off man Brandon Crawford’s glove as Alex hits the bag.
Without question and without debate, stopping Gordon at third makes all the sense in the world. In that situation, sending him home probably means he is out by 25 feet. Except…Bumgarner.
Here’s the thing, if Jirschele is giving him the go sign as Gordon is on the way to third, Alex is likely three or four steps past the bag when the ball hits Crawford’s glove. Sending him is still a likely out. Chances are, Crawford makes a good throw – even an okay throw is probably good enough – and Posey probably makes the catch and applies the tag. Even with Gordon further around third than he actually was, he’s still out nine times out of ten.
That said, the Giants had just fumbled the ball twice on that play and Perez’s throw to Crawford nearly short-hopped the Giant shortstop. Bad plays have a tendency to perpetuate themselves and the very risky move of sending Gordon would have, at minimum caught the Giants by surprise. Crawford has to make the throw from the outfield, Posey has to catch it and get the tag down. Nine times out of ten, they’ll get the out easily.
One time out of ten, something happens and Gordon scores. About the same odds of Perez getting a hit off Madison Bumgarner, in my opinion.
Listen, this is not saying the Royals did anything wrong here. In fact, they handled that play the right way. Still, Bumgarner was pitching and let’s face it, taking a stupid, crazy risk with the very final out of the World Series might have been Kansas City’s best shot.
Don’t agonize over it, because there is no right or wrong on that play. Hell, don’t bemoan Salvador Perez’ swinging at the same pitch out of the strike zone over and over to end the season: the Royals would not have made it past Oakland without Sal (or been there in the first place).
Have a beer, debate the play with your friends and think about next year.
This year, by the way, was one hell of a ride.