First off, I’d like to apologize for the lame title to this post. Because there isn’t a proper adjective for last night. It just doesn’t exist.
This one is going to take some time to process. I sat in the parking lot at The K after the game for an hour. Gridlocked and exhausted. Got home. Attempted sleep. Woke up. Started typing. And there’s absolutely no way I can do this game justice. No way.
Enough happened last night you could write a book. A Robert Caro sized book. And I don’t even know how to construct this post. Do I go inning by inning? Player by player? Stream of consciousness? After watching a game like that, the one thing I understand is there are no rules. Only postseason baseball.
(Before I get ripped in the comments for an inaccuracy or mistake, Rex Hudler would like you to know that this is not an excuse, but I’m working on about four hours of fitful sleep. I haven’t read any other game recaps. Nor have I seen highlights. I’m relying on my scorebook and my memory. Both are 100 percent unreliable.)
Let’s start with Ned Yost.
Last night absolutely was like a sadistic dream of his come to life. So many bunting opportunities. So many bullpen options. So many chances to completely screw everything up. #Yosted, right? And he teetered on that line all night long. So much disaster. Yet he comes out smelling of champagne.
Turn back the clock all the way to the first inning. I’m convinced the “pick off” of Billy Butler from first base was a set play. Hosmer was on third after drawing a walk. Butler on first after singling home the Royals first run. Alex Gordon was at the plate and was down 0-2. Butler then walks – walks – what looked like 30 feet or so to second base. He gets in a rundown, the A’s wait until Hosmer breaks for the plate, they throw home and Hosmer is out and the inning is over.
On the surface, it’s interesting strategy. On the execution, it’s really kind of dumb expecting Butler to stay in a rundown long enough to get Hosmer home.
However – and this is the way things are going for Yost – as Hosmer gets tagged out at home, Giovany Soto injures his thumb on the play. Soto was in the game to control the Royals running game. He had thrown out around 50 percent of attempted base stealers this year, much better than his catching counterpart Norris who had only gunned down 17 percent.
Of course that matters later.
Not much for Yost to do through the middle innings. The Royals score two in the third to take the lead. Mike Moustakas dumps a single to left, advances on a sacrifice bunt and scores on a Lorenzo Cain double. Cain then scores on a Hosmer single.
— Time for a side note on some individual performances. Moustakas came up three times. I believe he hit the ball to left field all three times. Simply amazing. Two fly outs and the single. Cain had two massive hits, driving in two runs. I really don’t want to call a particular performance “clutch,” especially in the third inning, but that’s how it felt. It’s cliche to say, but the Royals needed to capitalize on their opportunities. It’s relevant to write that because it’s something they haven’t consistently done all year. And Cain came through.
Yost changes the game in the sixth inning. James Shields gives up a single to Sam Fuld and a walk to Josh Donaldson. At 88 pitches, Yost pulled him. I still haven’t seen or heard anything from Yost this morning, so I can’t react to his reasoning for pulling Shields. So I’ll just write how I reacted to the moment: I couldn’t believe Yordano Ventura entered the game at that point. The A’s lineup was so lefty heavy, I thought the better choice there was Brandon Finnegan. And if Jonny Gomes – the guy who slayed the Royals in Boston with a sixth inning pinch-hit home run – comes up, I don’t really care. I have faith in Finnegan to get guys out, no matter the platoon split.
Of course that matters later.
Ventura gives up a laser shot to Moss to dead center and the A’s retake the lead. A single and an out later and Kelvin Herrera comes in and gives up a couple more hits. Five runs. The K turns dark.
This isn’t a second guess on my part. I don’t like bringing in Ventura at that spot for a couple of reasons. For one, he threw 73 pitches just two days prior. For another reason, I don’t like bringing a starting pitcher out of the bullpen with runners on in the middle of an inning. Especially a young starter like Ventura. For Yost and all his push-button managing, he goes outside the box and comes up with something really bizarre and misguided. I just didn’t understand the move. And it really backfired.
The game stays 7-3 as the Royals come up in the bottom of the eighth. Escobar singles. He steals second – at that point, the Royals second steal of the night. After an Aoki groundout, Cain gets his second clutch hit, driving home Escobar.
Cain steals second – the Royals third steal of the night. Hosmer walks. Butler lines a single, scoring Cain and moving Hosmer to third. Butler was another key contributor with two run-scoring singles.
Terrance Gore pinch runs. Gore steals second – the Royals fourth steal of the night. Luke Gregerson uncorks a wild pitch and Hosmer scores with Gore going to third.
Gordon walks. Gordon steals second – the Royals fifth steal of the night.
This is the point where I told anyone who would listen, you have to pinch hit for Sal Perez. Perez to that point, looked like the Perez of the last couple months at the plate. That means he looked awful. Yost sticks with his catcher and Perez strikes out.
Of course that matters later.
Infante also goes down on strikes, but the Royals pull within a single run. The summary of the inning reads like this: Three singles, two walks, four steals, a wild pitch, and three runs.
Yost managed the late innings with his bullpen as if he had the lead. That was always going to be the plan. No matter what, Herrera was going to throw the seventh. Wade Davis had the eighth. And Greg Holland was taking the ninth. This was the script written well in advance. Yost wasn’t going to ad lib.
Holland wobbles in the ninth, walking the bases loaded. After the first walk to Fuld, Perez commits a passed ball, allowing Fuld to go to second. Moss gets the intentional ball four and Reddick walked behind him. Fortunately, Lowrie flies out to right to end the inning.
The obvious – and correct – move was to lift Moustakas for a pinch-hitter to lead off the ninth. Yost sends up Willingham, who was acquired for exactly this kind of situation. Willingham follows the plan and dumps a single to right. Jarrod Dyson enters as a pinch runner. Escobar bunts him to second. Dyson steals third – the Royals sixth steal of the night.
Nori Aoki clubs one to right field that was plenty deep for Dyson to score.
Do you remember the Royals post game celebration in Chicago after they clinched a postseason spot? Rex and Ryan told Joel Goldberg to tell Aoki, “Kanpai” which is Japanese for “cheers.” Aoki screamed it several times. I loved it. I am particularly proud of this tweet I sent after Aoki’s sac fly to tie the game.
This is where the insanity level gets pushed to the red zone. Finnegan finally enters the game in the tenth. And the kid was nails. Three strikeouts and one single in the tenth and eleventh. After Yost threw his Three Relievers of the Apocalypse, he still needed some shutdown relief. He got it from a kid who was on a college campus when the 2014 season began. What a draft pick.
On the bottom half of the innings, the Royals twice got their leadoff man on with singles. Twice the next batter bunted the runner to second. Twice the runner on second advanced to third on a ground ball to short. Twice the Royals stranded the runner on third.
In the Oakland half of the eleventh, Coco Crisp fouled off a pitch and strained his hamstring. He went to the field for the bottom of the inning, but decided he couldn’t continue. Gomes entered the game in left and Fuld moved to center.
Of course that matters later.
To the twelfth…
Finnegan returns to the mound and walks Reddick to start the inning. Yost replaces him with Jason Frasor, his last short reliever in the bullpen. At this point, only Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie remain. Reddick moves to second on a sac bunt. He goes to third on a wild pitch. Not the best night for Sal. Alberto Callaspo steps to the plate. Callaspo worries me. Not because he owned a .290 OBP, but because I’ve seen enough of him to know he can handle the bat. He rarely gives anything away. And he got a good pitch and lined it for a single.
Gut punch. 8-7, Oakland.
Bottom of the twelfth, Cain grounds to first. Hosmer crushes a ball to the left-center gap. This is my slow-motion moment of the night. The ball kept going, going… I looked to the outfielders. I realize they are going to probably collide. I hope they drop the ball…
They did collide. It turns out the ball hit off the top of the wall. I don’t think anyone got a glove on it.
Return to slow motion… I think to myself, there’s no way someone caught the ball. It seems like an eternity, but the ball appears… Rolling away from the outfielders. Pandemonium. Hosmer with a triple.
Remember, Crisp was out of the game with a hamstring issue. Gomes and Fuld isn’t the same as Fuld and Crisp. Does a healthy Crisp make that catch? I don’t know, but maybe he plays it off the wall, holding Hosmer to two bases instead of three. Who knows? Baseball, man.
Colon steps up. I’m surprised we aren’t seeing Raul Ibanez, who was on the roster for the game. Something about needing a professional at bat runs through my brain that clearly can’t focus because the decibel level is punching through the clouds. Colon hits a chopper that goes about 45 feet in the air. The ball travels 45 feet down the third base line. Hosmer runs on contact. Donaldson can’t barehand the ball.
What just happened? Jeremy Guthrie starts to throw in the Royals bullpen. I’m hallucinating, seeing visions of an 18th, a 19th, a 20th inning. The stadium is vibrating.
The A’s manager goes match-up and brings in his left-hander to face Alex Gordon. Gordon had a difficult night, a walk the only time he reached. He fouls out on the first pitch.
Up steps Perez. The guy I wanted removed from the game in the ninth. The guy who is swinging at anything in both the 816 and 913 area codes.
Melvin goes to his bullpen and brings in Jason Hammell. What did I say earlier about bringing a starter into a game with runners on base? Oh, yeah…
Colon steals second. That’s the Royals seventh steal on the night. Remember how the A’s wanted Soto behind the plate to neutralize the running game as much as possible? Granted, with these track stars, that’s probably not going to happen. But the A’s and Melvin clearly thought their best chance was with Soto behind the plate. When Soto exited the game in the third that was a potential game changer. Obvious in the twelfth when Colon steals on a pitch out that Norris doesn’t handle. It’s a good pitchout, but he takes his eyes off the ball, it pops out of his glove and Colon gets to second without a throw. Seven steals by seven different players. Six steals of second. One steal of third. Run, run, run.
With Colon on second and Perez at the plate, I don’t need to tell you what happened next. From Mark Simon at ESPN:
I’m not sure, but I think the stadium lifted off the ground. Just to be thorough, we broke every single law of physics known to man.
The most insane game I’ve ever witnessed. Many Yost moves and non-moves backfired at the moment, but they all – all – ultimately formed the recipe for victory. What happens if he brings Finnegan into the game in the sixth? What happens if he pinch hits for Perez? What happens if he doesn’t steal or bunt all night? (Forget that last one. That’ll never happen.) What happens if he brings Ibanez up in another crucial situation? Some moves were #Yosted at the time they happened. But everything – everything – came up perfect for the Royals and Yost. If you see him walking by a casino, grab him, pull him inside and roll some dice. At this point it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll win.
A couple of personal notes that I would just like to share. My six year old nephew was at the game with his parents. His dad caught him a foul ball off the bat of Eric Hosmer. He stayed up way past his bedtime and thinks last night was the most awesome night of his life. I’m pretty sure it was. Also, today would have been my grandfather’s birthday. Answer Dave at Big League Stew was kind enough to link to my story about him just before the Wild Card game. I absolutely thought of my grandfather when the Royals walked it off.
Another note: I will not compare this game to Game 6 (or Game 7) of 1985. Apples and oranges. Different scenarios, different players, different eras. What happened last night stands on it’s own. We don’t need perspective. We saw it. We cheered. We cried. We high-fived and hugged total strangers. It was brilliant. That’s more than enough.
Finally, there are so many trivia factoids from this game. I can’t digest them all at the moment. So much has been made about the A’s and their playoff record in elimination games with Billy Beane as GM. Whatever. How about the Royals going 7-0 in their last seven postseason elimination games? Chew on that for a little bit.
Then here’s my favorite trivia from the night:
That was the second post season winner-take-all game that went 12 or more innings.
Welcome back to October, Kansas City.