Tenacious hitting, unwavering defense, and stout bullpen leads Royals to series win over Mets in five games
The Royals came into this 2015 Fall Classic, having been here before — last year coming as close as possible to beating the San Francisco Giants. Since the moment the final out landed in Pablo Sandoval’s glove last October and hordes of Giants players mobbed Madison Bumgarner in the infield to celebrate, the Royals knew that they had to make it back to the World Series the following year. They knew their 2014 season wasn't a fluke as many claimed, they knew they belonged with the best in the game.
Fast-forward to present day, and it’s the Royals' turn to celebrate with a champagne shower and the Commissioner’s Trophy, even without so much of the team that came oh-so-close last year. James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki left as free agents, Omar Infante and Greg Holland were hurt. But it didn't matter. The Royals utilized their superior athleticism, relentless hitting approach, and great base running to win their first World Series title since 1985.
Matt Harvey took the mound for the Mets in Game 5 and was absolutely brilliant. Harvey struck out nine over eight beautiful shutout innings. After an impassioned conversation with manager Terry Collins in the dugout, Harvey was allowed to go back out for the ninth to finish off the game up 2-0, needing just three outs to keep the Mets' series hopes alive for one more game.
In an epic at-bat and pitch sequence, Harvey walked the first batter of the ninth inning, Lorenzo Cain. That should have been it for Harvey. Collins should have pulled his young ace that very instant with a two-run lead intact, but Collins, “going with his heart,” stayed with Harvey.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer stepped to the plate hitting just .190 in the series, without a single extra-base hit. Hosmer took the 0-1 pitch from Harvey and sent it the other way towards left field. Cain scored easily from first, as Hosmer's RBI double but the lead in half just like that.
Collins’ questionable decision-making with his pitching staff may be remembered as the worst collection of managing gaffes in a postseason since Dusty Baker in the 2003 NLCS. All series long Collins continuously waited too long to pull his starters, allowing the Royals to score multiple runs in Games 1 and 2 in the middle innings, as the Kansas City lineup turned over for the third time. But he also overused his best bullpen arms needlessly, calling on Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia in Game 3 even though New York had a comfortable six-run lead.
Back to Sunday night. With one out and Hosmer on third, Collins brought in Familia, for the third straight night, with the stakes even higher. Salvador Perez hit a routine grounder to third baseman David Wright. Wright checked Hosmer at third and threw to Lucas Duda at first. But as Wright threw to get Perez at first, Hosmer — right or wrong, insane or brilliant — broke for home. The gutsy (crazy) move caused Duda to toss a hurried throw towards home plate. A good throw and tag would have likely gotten Hosmer by a step, but Duda’s throw went scorching to the backstop. Tie game.
Hosmer’s daring (or stupid) decision to try and, in essence, steal a run was certainly unconventional, but in a game currently overrun with dominating power pitchers and free-swinging sluggers, the Royals would classify as unconventional. The Royals don’t have an ace, nor do they have notable sluggers. They play great defense, they run the bases with vigor, they don't strike out, they don’t let up. From start to finish, the Royals were unrelenting, leading the AL Central for 164 calendar days this season.
Even in the face of elimination, twice in the ALDS against the Astros, the Royals kept clawing their way back, “kept the line moving” at the plate, waiting for their opponent to show a small crack, give an inch, and exploit it. The Royals would win seven times this postseason in games in which they trailed by multiple runs. They would win three games in the World Series that they were losing entering the eighth inning. If that isn’t tenacity, then it just doesn’t exist.
After the Mets failed to answer in the bottom of the ninth, the second game of this World Series went into extra innings. In the top of 12th, Collins called upon Reed, also pitching for a third straight game, to keep the game tied. Perez, who wound up being World Series MVP, started the inning with a leadoff single and was promptly removed for pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson. The entire ballpark knew Dyson was going to try and steal second. The fans knew it, Collins knew it, Reed knew it, catcher Travis d’Arnaud knew it, but it didn't matter as Dyson easily swiped second to move into scoring position with no outs.
After Dyson moved to third on a groundout by Alex Gordon, Royals manager Ned Yost called on Christian Colon to pinch-hit for pitcher Luke Hochevar. Colon hadn’t had an at-bat in the entire postseason, but October has an almost paranormal way of turning the most overlooked and forgotten players into folk heroes. On a 1-2 pitch, Colon hit a line drive into left field. His first base hit, in his first at-bat of the postseason resulted in the World Series-clinching RBI single — a perfect example as to why sports are the best reality television program — no script necessary.
After the Colon RBI single, the flood gates opened and Mets fans departed Citi Field in droves. After another Daniel Murphy error, the Royals tacked on three more runs thanks to RBI doubles from Cain and Alcides Escobar. Wade Davis, arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball, needed just 20 pitches to garner three strikeouts and send the Kansas City Royals into a championship frenzy in the brisk, New York City autumn night.
One calendar year after the they watched in silence as the Giants celebrated on the Kauffman Stadium turf, the Royals had their own championship party at Citi Field as the Mets could only watch in dejected quietness. The Mets kept giving the Royals inches and inches, and Royals took a world championship.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)