At this point, if you decided to forgo the first five or six innings of a Royals postseason game, no one in their right mind would criticize you.
The Royals rode the singles (and error) train once again, waiting until the later innings to fire up the engine, and now stand one victory from their first world championship in 30 years.
The first 16 innings or so of their Citi Field odyssey had been underwhelming. The bats, aside from a good start on Friday night, had been silent. The pitching, generally solid, but not solid enough to keep the Mets off the board. The fielding, curiously inconsistent.
It left the Royals just five outs away from dropping their second consecutive game and allowing the Mets to even the series while guaranteeing a return trip to Kauffman. Make no mistake, as comfortable as home has been this October for the Royals, not a single member of that club wants to have a home game there in November.
Funny how all this works. Roughly 24 hours after coming in for some criticism on how he managed his bullpen and bench, Ned Yost seemed to push the right buttons. Meanwhile, his counterpart Terry Collins failed at the most crucial moment of the game. Although with the way these Royals rally, Collins could have thrown the love child of Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Let’s start with Yost. He lifted his starter Chris Young after four innings when his spot in the order came around with a runner on first and two outs. Conventional wisdom says that’s a little early. Conventional wisdom goes on to scream that you shouldn’t use Kendrys Morales in that situation, rather save him for a higher leverage moment. (Literally, it screams. At least the beats on Twitter do.) I disagree. Fire your best bullet at the first opportunity. Morales is capable of the home run or the double, both of which would have scored Alex Gordon from first. After the Royals had broken through with a run to cut the deficit in half, it was the right call. Morales singled to move the line, but the inning was over when Alcides Escobar grounded out.
In the next frame, Collins made his first blunder of the night, allowing Stephen Matz to return to the mound to face the top of the order for the third time. Matz doesn’t have much big league experience, only making his fifth home start of the year, and was on a short leash as far as pitch count. The signs were there in the previous inning that he was tiring. Plus, Collins had the opportunity to remove his starter for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Never mind. Mistake recorded. Ben Zobrist doubles and Lorenzo Cain singles to add another run to the tally. Collins goes to his bullpen to stop the bleeding, but the Royals scratched back another run.
Forward to the eighth. Collins goes to Tyler Clippard, who has been his normal eighth inning guy. Confidence in Clippard is low, but Collins needed someone to bridge to the closer after Jeurys Familia threw the night before in a blowout win. We know exactly what happened.
Zobrist and Cain – those two again – work back to back one out walks. Cain’s plate appearance was especially impressive as it came after he fell into an 0-2 hole. With the pressure on, Collins finally summons Familia. He gets a weak grounder to second off the bat of Eric Hosmer. As Royals fans, we’ve seen this millions of times where Hosmer rolls over and hits a harmless grounder to the right side of the infield. Except this one was a little different in that it was weaker than his usual 4-3. Second baseman Daniel Murphy charged, but the ball scooted under his glove. The floodgates open. The Royals tie the score.
Who knows what happened to Murphy. I thought for a moment he may have been shielded by Cain running to second, but that doesn’t seem likely. Murphy may have been wondering if he could get Cain at second, which perhaps caused him to speed up the play. Or maybe Royals Devil Magic arrived in the nick of time. Whatever the reason, the Mets middle infield has been a defensive playground all year. Sometimes, it just takes a ball put in play. The Kings Of Contact, indeed.
Mike Moustakas and Sal Perez fire up the singles train to plate two more. With a two run lead, Yost trumps Collins by going to his closer, Wade Davis, for the final six outs. It’s the second time Davis has done it in the postseason, and really, you get the feeling if Davis was called upon to get a 27 out save (relax, I know there’s no such thing) he could do it. That’s how great Davis is.
A minor blip in the ninth as the Mets string together back to back singles with one out. Sometimes, you receive an unexpected gift from a stranger. It just shows up on your door. You may wonder why it’s there, or who sent it, but you generally just smile, say thank you and accept the gift.
Thank you, Yoenis Cespedes.
Lucas Duda hits a soft line drive to Moustakas, who looks up and is surprised to see Cespedes went on contact. Throw to Hosmer and ballgame.
The Royals stand on the brink of a championship.
It rests on the shoulders of Edinson Volquez, who made his return following the funeral of his father in the Dominican Republic. Volquez will be pitching for his dad, and will have the entire Royals Universe lifting him up. It sounds trite, but that’s what this team does to us. We root for them as ballplayers, but we support them as people. These are our Royals. Since they reported to spring training last February, they have been part of the fabric of our daily routine. It’s been a helluva ride. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s mostly been fun. They now need just one more win. The finish line is in sight. The goal has almost been reached.
The Big Blue Machine rolls along.