Just when it appeared that the New York Mets were going to make a run at the Kansas City Royals and tie the series at two games a piece, the game of baseball proved, once again, just how cruel it can be. Perhaps it was the spirit of Halloween night or just the Mets’ magic running out when it was needed most.
The Mets made it to the World Series thanks in large part to Daniel Murphy's bat and a core of young power arms. One of those fantastic, budding arms was Game 4 starter Steven Matz. Matz, making just his ninth career MLB start, was great over five innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits.
But the Met bullpen that had proven to be such a weapon over the last half of the season, turned into a liability in Game 4. But the bullpen wasn’t the only culprit in the Mets' 5-3 loss, as poor late-inning defense and base-running blunders proved to be too much for New York to overcome.
On the other side, Kansas City, in typical Royal fashion, found ways to win. Most nights, stellar defense and great back-end pitching get the job done. In Game 4, the Royals took advantage of several Mets mistakes and made the most of them.
The Mets, once five outs away from tying the series at two, are now just nine innings away from elimination.
1. The Michael Conforto Show
Conforto was drafted in the first round from Oregon State just 16 months ago, and now, he is doing his best Daniel Murphy impersonation in the World Series. Conforto took the first pitch from Royals starter Chris Young in the bottom of the third inning and promptly put it in the upper deck in deep right field. An absolute no-doubt shot. The blast was just Conforto’s third hit of the postseason, but his second home run. His first home run was against Dodgers’ ace Zack Greinke in Game 2 of the NLDS.
But Conforto wasn't done. In the bottom of the fifth he took a 2-2 pitch from left-handed reliever Danny Duffy and sent it over the right-center field fence, giving the Mets a 3-1 lead. At 22 years, 244 days old, Conforto became the third-youngest player in World Series history with two home runs in one game, behind only Andruw Jones and Tony Kubek.
2. Big Innings Pay Big Dividends
For the second straight night, the big inning — the dreaded big inning, struck again. In Game 3 it was the Mets scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth off of Franklin Morales. In Game 4, it was the Royals' turn.
After Mets reliever Tyler Clippard walked Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain with one out in the top of the eighth, manager Terry Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia for a presumed five-out save with the Mets leading 3-2. Familia, who had pitched the night before with a six-run lead, first squared off against Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. With runners on first and second, Hosmer hit a high chopper to second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy’s only play was going to be to get Hosmer at first, but in a Buckner-like moment, the ball rolled under the charging Murphy’s glove, allowing Zobrist to score from second, tying the game and allowing the speedy Cain to take third.
With runners on the corners and the score now tied, Mike Moustakas swung and connected at the first pitch he saw from Familia, hitting it hard on the ground to — you guessed it, Murphy. Isn’t baseball cruel? Murphy dove hard to his left, but had no play as the ball squirted by him. In comes Cain to score, breaking the tie and giving the Royals the lead.
It gets worse. Salvador Perez, the next batter, took a 2-2 Familia pitch and sent it to right field, scoring Hosmer and giving the Royals a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. Citi Field fell silent in horrifying astonishment.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost called on arguably the best relief pitcher in the game, Wade Davis, for the six-out save, and he delivered as the Royals stole Game 4 from the stunned Mets.
3. Bullpen Mismanagement Continues
In Game 3, both Yost and Collins misused their bullpens. Yost called on two of his top three relievers, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson, for a total of one inning — down six runs. It turns out that using them in Game 3, while useless and perplexing, could prove to be a problematic factor in Game 5.
The Royals now have a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with Edinson Volquez returning to take the mound just days after the passing of his father. Volquez’s potential performance is a great unknown, and understandably so. But now, a healthy portion of the Royals' bullpen has been used in consecutive nights in Games 3 and 4, including Madson, Daniel Duffy and Luke Hochevar. So if Volquez gets the early hook, Yost will be limited in who he can call upon from the bullpen for middle innings relief.
While Yost’s bullpen mismanagement could be semi-problematic, Collins' gaffe could be unforgivable. In Game 3 —with a six-run lead, mind you — Collins called upon his three best relievers in the seventh (Addison Reed), eighth (Tyler Clippard) and ninth (Jeurys Familia). Instead of throwing, say Bartolo Colon or Jonathon Niese for a couple of frames, Collins wanted to keep his best relievers ready. All three pitched one inning each as the Mets went on to win Game 3, 9-3.
Game 4 saw a similar script, but entirely different results. While Reed did his job in the seventh, Clippard and Familia couldn't keep the Royals off of the bases or from scoring. The end result was Familia blowing his second save in as many chances during the World Series while Clippard was tagged with the loss after putting the eventual tying and winning runs on via walks.
Now, facing elimination, Collins will more than likely have to turn back to his bullpen arms in Game 5, the same arms he has used the past two straight nights. Unless Matt Harvey can go the distance or Jacob deGrom is available out of the bullpen in a pinch, the Mets’ late-inning options could be limited. deGrom coming out of the ‘pen is extremely unlikely, but with the Mets’ back against the wall, it could be Collins’ best play.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.