Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 29, 2015

Never Say Die Royals Take The Lead

It seems entirely appropriate that the World Series and Halloween are sharing the late October calendar. For just like vampires and various other undead creatures, the Kansas City Royals are proving exceptionally hard to put away. As the action shifts to Queens for the weekend, Royals fans have plenty of reasons to cheer. But the only good news for the faithful followers of the New York Mets is that no team ever won a Series after just two games.

The growing reputation of the Royals as a team that just won’t quit was born last year, when Kansas City returned to the postseason for the first time in three decades. In the 2014 AL Wild Card game the Royals trailed the Oakland A’s 7-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning. With their season seemingly about to end the Royals manufactured three runs in that frame and plated the tying score in the 9th. Oakland again took the lead in the top of the 12th, only to have Kansas City come back one more time in the home half of the inning to win 9-8. Even though the Royals then swept the Angels in the ALDS and the Orioles in the ALCS, they went to extra innings in three of those seven games and won a fourth in the 9th. Against San Francisco in the World Series Kansas City trailed three games to two before rallying yet again. In the end it took a five inning Game 7 save by Series MVP Madison Bumgarner to deny the scrappy Royals.

In this year’s ALDS Kansas City trailed Houston two games to one and fell behind the Astros going into the 8th inning of Game 4. In a reprise of their 2014 comeback against Oakland, the Royals plated seven runs before recording their final six outs; and then went on to pull away in Game 5 to advance. Then against Toronto in the ALCS, Kansas City answered a tying 8th inning Blue Jays rally in the decisive Game 6 with a run of their own in their next run at bat.

As they beat the Dodgers in five games in the NLDS and then swept the Cubs in the NLCS, the Mets relied on their sublime starting rotation and the sudden emergency of second baseman Daniel Murphy as a slugging terror. Through their first two round Mets pitchers posted an ERA of 2.81 while averaging more than ten strikeouts per nine innings. While New York as a team batted just .235, Murphy hit .421 with seven home runs. He hit four in as many games against the Cubs in the NLCS, with an OPS of 1.850.

But at least in Games 1 and 2 of the Series Murphy has been held in check, as has almost the entire New York lineup. The second baseman has but two singles in nine at bats, although that .222 average is the third best on the team. Just one of the Mets thirteen hits has gone for extra bases, that being Curtis Granderson’s 5th inning solo shot in Game 1 that gave New York a rare lead. The two teams have played twenty-two innings so far, and the Mets have led at the end of just three.

Of greater concern for the members of the 7 Line Army who will no doubt help to create an electric atmosphere at Citi Field from their seats in the outfield on Friday night is that New York’s moundsmen, so dominant against both Los Angeles and Chicago, have been unable to put away Kansas City’s hitters.

Alcides Escobar hit the first pitch he saw from Matt Harvey to deep center field in Game 1, where a misplay by Yoenis Cespedes turned a likely double into an inside the park home run. A game in which Escobar scored standing up to tally the first run ended some five hours later with the speedy Kansas City shortstop again crossing the plate without having to slide on a game-winning sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer in the 14th inning. The two teams were playing into the early morning hours because New York’s closer Jeurys Familia surrendered a long home run to Alex Gordon with one out in the bottom of the 9th, when the Mets were on the verge of scoring a Game 1 victory on the road. Gordon’s game-tying shot was the first homer allowed by Familia in five weeks and resulted in his first blown save since July 30th, one day before the Mets acquired Cespedes and began their amazing second half run.

In Game 2 Jacob deGrom, who beat both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the Division Series, did not appear to have his best stuff, but the New York right-hander held Kansas City in check through the first four frames. Then in the 5th he walked Gordon leading off, then yielded back-to-back singles as the Royals tied the game at one. He retired the next two hitters, but just when it looked like deGrom might get out of the inning, the Royals produced three straight singles and suddenly it was 4-1 Kansas City. With Johnny Cueto retiring sixteen of the final seventeen men he faced, the Royals were well on their way to a two game Series lead.

The inning epitomized Kansas City’s offensive approach. Gordon was in a two strike count before eventually walking, Escobar was down 0-2 to deGrom before hitting the single that plated Gordon, Hosmer and Kendrys Morales were both behind in the count when they singled home runs, and Mike Moustakas worked an eight pitch at bat before stroking his RBI single. The Mets pitchers who struck out Dodgers and Cubs at a rate of better than one per inning are averaging less than half that punch out rate against the Royals. Kansas City batters have seen 330 pitches through two games and have swung and missed just twenty-five times.

New York had four of the hardest throwing pitchers in the Great Game this year. In a ranking of those with the most pitches over 95 M.P.H. Harvey was fourth, deGrom twelfth and Familia eighteenth. Noah Syndergaard, who will start Game 3 for New York Friday evening, was second only to Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. But Harvey and deGrom each recorded just two strikeouts in six and five innings respectively, and Familia fanned no one in an inning and a third.

Mets fans will proclaim that the World Series is far from over, and rightly so. The last time they celebrated a championship their team also lost the first two games; and in 1986 they lost them at home. Perhaps on Friday night Syndergaard will start the process of righting New York’s listing ship. New York fans can count on him bringing the heat. But they might also hope he brings along a silver stake.

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Responses

  1. I have to admit that I had a bad feeling after the first pitch of Game 1, and didn’t even bother to watch Game 2. I’ve already decided that I’m very happy with the fact that the Mets won the N.L. Pennant, and everything else is just free baseball.
    Nicely done, man, and Happy Halloween!
    -Bill

    • Happy Halloween to you as well Bill. Portsmouth has a big parade every years, hundreds of costumed creatures marching down State Street last night right past my window!

      The Mets are in a big hole now; but you are absolutely right. It was a tremendous and quite unexpected run to the NL title. Fans have plenty of reasons to be happy and presumably a lot to look forward to in seasons to come.

      Thanks,

      Mike


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