Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Game 7.

Game. Seven.

If you’re a baseball fan, there are no sweeter words in the English language. There’s a World Series every year, but a Game 7? In the last 25 years, there have been just five: 1991 (Jack Morris goes ten innings, Lonnie Smith gets deked by Chuck Knoblauch); 1997 (Jose Mesa blows save in ninth, Edgar Renteria hits walk-off single in 12th); 2001 (Mariano Rivera blows the save, Luis Gonzalez hits walk-off single); 2002 (Angels roll over Giants, 4-1, behind John Lackey), and 2011 (Cardinals roll over Rangers, 6-2, behind Chris Carpenter).

And now, 2014. A World Series Game 7 involving the Royals. At Kauffman Stadium.

The last two Game 7s weren’t particularly memorable, but they both followed legendary Game 6s – the Angels came back from a 5-0 deficit in the seventh inning against San Francisco, and the Cardinals were one strike away from losing to the Rangers in the ninth and tenth inning before David Freese hit the walkoff in the 11th. The other three Game 7s all involved a walk-off hit, two of them coming in games where the home team trailed entering the bottom of the ninth.

This has been a great series, but we haven’t had any great games yet. Game 3 is the only game that wasn’t decided by five or more runs, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. But I have a feeling – or maybe it’s just a fear – that Game 7 could make up for all the drama we haven’t seen yet. I’m not sure my heart can take it.

Because if you’re a fan of one of the teams involved, Game Seven is torture. It’s the sweetest kind of torture, maybe, but it’s still torture. Speaking as a Royals fan that just watched all the drama get sucked out of Game 6 by the end of the second inning, let me say: boring is HIGHLY underrated. Give me Game 7 of the 1985 World Series any day.

There’s not much to analyze about Game 6, except to say that it could not have gone better. I mean, I suppose it could have gone better, but I can’t really think of how. The Royals won. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland didn’t so much as stir from their seat in the bullpen until the ninth, when Holland got up and started warming up, threw a few pitches at what appeared to be max effort, and then sat down while Tim Collins was still pitching. It appeared to me that Holland needed to get a little bit of work in just to keep from being too rested – he hadn’t pitched in three days – and waited until he was sure he wouldn’t be needed before getting a couple of pitches in.

The upshot of this is that I see no reason why Herrera, Davis, and Holland can’t each throw two innings tomorrow. Herrera and Davis have already done this in the same game (Game 1 of the ALCS). Holland hasn’t gotten more than three outs – or entered a game prior to the ninth inning – since September 2012. But, again: IT’S GAME SEVEN. They are all fully rested. Before the game begins, you go to them and say: tonight, Kelvin, the fourth and fifth innings are yours. Wade, you pitch the sixth and seventh. Greg, you got the eighth and ninth. That’s six innings from the Triborg, six innings from three pitchers that all had ERAs under 1.50 during the season. Make that the plan, and the rest will figure itself out. If Guthrie is going well, he can pitch three innings – but as we saw in Game 6, if you don’t pull your starter at the first sign of trouble, you could get burned very quickly. I stand by this idea: tell Guthrie he’s facing five batters – he’s pitching through Hunter Pence. Or maybe seven batters, if Mike Morse bats seventh. Finnegan then takes over to face Ishikawa, Crawford, Blanco, and Panik – four left-handed batters in a row. At that point, well, you might be through three innings.

Really, the only bad thing about Game 6 was that the second inning rally went so well that after bringing in Yusmeiro Petit, Bruce Bochy quickly realized that the game was so out of hand that he was better off pulling Petit (who threw only 17 pitches) and saving him for Game 7. So now he has both Petit and Bumgarner to deploy. The Royals have the Triborg. It looks like the game could simply come down to which manager is more aggressive about pulling his starter and turning the game over to his immensely capable relievers.

I feel like we’ve reached a tipping point in the last couple of years. In previous Game 7s, managers would generally leave their starting pitcher in at least until he hit a spot of trouble. But the evolution of the game, and the importance of each team’s bullpens, means tonight could be the first time we see both managers name starting pitchers with a plan already in place to pull them after no more than two or three innings. Or maybe not; maybe one or both of these managers will play it straight, and Guthrie or Tim Hudson will be allowed to pitch five or six or even seven innings. But for the first time ever in a Game 7, I feel like both managers may have some trick up their sleeve.

The Royals seem to have all the little edges on their side. They have home field advantage, and they have recent history on their side – the last nine Game 7s were won by the home team. They have Herrera, Davis, and Holland at full rest. The Giants have Bumgarner and Petit available, but Bumgarner’s effectiveness on two days’ rest is a bit of a wild card, and Petit probably can’t go more than two innings given that he threw last night.

But what makes Game 7 so magical is what makes it so unpredictable: it’s just one game. It’s one game that decides an entire season, that separates the World Champions from the team that gets remembered simply as the best also-ran. It’s cruel. It’s brutal. It’s harsh and unforgiving. It’s everything. It’s baseball.

Don’t ask me to analyze it. Analysis with this team went out the window a month ago. Don’t ask me to enjoy it, or at least don’t expect me to enjoy it. If the game goes like last night’s did – or like the Royals’ last Game 7 did – then yes, I imagine I will enjoy it very much. But enjoyment of a Game 7 are for the fans who haven’t spent a lifetime rooting for one of the teams playing in it, for the fans who don’t have to deal with the knowledge that a win means a championship – and a loss means starting all over again next season, still staring at the very real possibility that their team will never again win a championship in their lifetime.

So I probably won’t enjoy Game 7 all that much. But if the Royals win, words may not adequately express how much I will enjoy the moment of victory, or the long, sleepless night to follow, or tomorrow, or November, or the winter to come.

There’s nothing left to analyze. There’s nothing left to say. There’s only one thing left to do.


Win.

25 comments:

Scott D. Simon said...

Rany,

Thanks for writing the blog. I hope you get to go out on top.

Yonkers said...

Great post, and great blog. As a Mets fan, I haven't experienced the feeling you speak of since game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals. It's a sad state of affairs how far the metsies have fallen that I'm now incredibly jealous of Royals fans.

Anyway, KC has always been the team I rooted for in the AL for many years, for reasons unbeknownst to me. As with anyone else with a conscience in America, I'll be rooting for the underdog Royals to finish off their dream season with victory.

Jon Alan Schmidt said...

Apparently Perez is starting in left field, rather than Ishikawa, and batting ninth. Maybe Bochy thinks that he has found a secret weapon against Davis.

More seriously, this means that the only consecutive Giant hitters on the same side of the plate are Blanco and Panik. Maybe Guthrie gets one time through the order, then Finnegan takes over for the first four of the second cycle, since he would turn Sandoval around to his weaker side. Actually, I hope that Guthrie somehow manages to get the job done for four or five innings; HDH certainly can throw two innings each, but it would be preferable if that ended up not being necessary.

Is it 7:07 yet?

brhalbleib said...

Rany:

Thank you so much for your blog. It has been enjoyable following the Royals through your eyes (I live in Chicago too, so only see them in person once or twice a year at the Cell)

tookee said...

This is exactly how you drew it up, Rany. Goad Dayton Moore into building a contender. Take many seasons to tease fans with one step forward, two steps back strategy. Temper expectations with moderate performance, surviving to Wild Card game, then busting loose with Cinderella post-season, ending with Game 7 win and championship. This is the perfect way to end the blog. I will miss your Royals musings (looking forward to your other writings elsewhere). Honestly, if you had told me a Game 7 is certain just a few years ago, I would have thought it impossible. So for all the Quisenberry's and Howser's and suffering fans, this one's for you. And us.

AmishElectrician said...

You captured everything I feel at the moment, just want to extend my thanks to you for writing this blog. As a lifetime Royal fan, you're my go to source and I truly appreciate your perspective. I have enjoyed every moment of it.

My emotions today have ranged from pure excitement to horrifying terror and nausea. Although, I did have a moment of humor this morning while getting ready for work as I thought, "I wonder what Ervin Santana is doing tonight"?

I am going to do my best to enjoy the ride, with the current knowledge that in hindsight, October 2014 will be the sports fan highlight of my life.

Dan England said...

I'm very late to your game here. Out in Colorado there wasn't enough hubbub to discover you until you wrote that brilliant story for Grantland. But thanks for what you've done. I have a delicious/horrible feeling that the score is going to be 0-0 or 1-1 to the bottom of the Ninth. I may die.

Stephen Raymond said...

I am rooting for the Royals Rany only because of you. The blog. The podcast. Way back to Prospectus. I want this tonight for you. (and maybe a little selfishly for us as I hope a WS victory will mean more blog, more podcast, more Rany). Fingers crossed. I hope we get a great game. I hope Ned does not mess it up!
Enjoy the ride!

Kid Charlemagne said...

I've been reading since back in the Rany & Rob days, and I have to say this: I find it immensely amusing when Rany's analytical side goes flying out the window. It's like Halloween, or that Star Trek episode where everyone goes nuts at the strike of noon, only to act like nothing happened five minutes later, while Kirk and the away team are trying to figure out what the hell just happened...

Ryan Balsiger said...

I will be absolutely shocked if Yost has any plan other than "let Guthrie pitch until he's in trouble"; unless an obvious situation lines up like he goes 6 innings scoreless or 5 innings and 3 of the outs are shots to the warning track in the 5th. If he really does deploy the bullpen before Guthrie is going through the lineup a 3rd time or a 2nd time OR before the lineup is through ONCE, I will do a double back flip from a sitting position. Honestly, would anyone bet any amount of money on him managing as Rany said?

David Nicol said...

In SF on holiday from Scotland, and cheering on the Royals because of your blog - which I stumbled on years ago [some of your more political posts!]

Go Royals go ....

Mark LaFlamme said...

I'm with you on this one, brother. I'm only going to enjoy this in retrospect unless the Royals manage to score ten in the first three innings. I expect it's going to be brutal, which is great for fans with no investment in either team. Gah. My heart! My biggest fear in all this: Ned Yost. But it's not a big fear. I mean, it's pretty simple, right? Let a guy pitch until he gets into trouble and then go to somebody fresh. So and on so on until we're hoisting the trophy.

jwrite55 said...

I'd like to add my thanks and appreciation to everyone else's here. While I came to the blog a bit late, I've been rooting for the Royals from afar ever since the '85 World Series - the first WS I watched as a kid. Look forward to reading more of your stuff, whether at ESPN or wherever else. Good luck to us all tonight.

DJ said...

Rany - I hope they follow your advice and just "win". Best of luck from a Red Sox fan who has experienced both the agony and the mountaintop! Happy climbing!

John said...

No fanbase deserves a championship more than the Royals' fans do. It's one thing to be a Red Sox fan (as I am too) and watch good teams just blow it for years. It's another to keep supporting a team that used to lose 100 games a year. Good luck tonight. Take the trophy back to KC for the first time in 29 years.

jmarsh123 said...

This is the hardest I can remember rooting for a team that is not my own or playing a team I despise.

You and Joe Posnanski are two of my favorite baseball writers and I wish the Royals the best of luck tonight.

Tampa Mike said...

I'm really going to miss this blog next year Rany. So much good stuff over the years. Your story also inspired me to get the book about Abd El Kader. I hope we will see your writing on occasion. Go Royals!!

Longtimefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HomeRow said...

Hell of a season, KC. I enjoyed, with anxiety, all of it. Its just too bad they seem to roll over and die when Bumgarner comes out to the mound. Maybe next year!

Steve N said...

Sigh. Close but......
Anyway, as the Kid said, I have been with you since back in the Rob and Rany days. Enjoyed every day of the trip.

Many thanks.

I'll still check in occasionally on the off chance that you should ever decide to do the occasional article, that would be fine with me.

Kansas City said...

Makes this Royals fan sick, but now new information that if Gordon hustled to first and rest of way he could have scored.

http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/heat-index/2014/10/30/alex-gordons-late-start-costs-the-royals-in-9th-inning/18176123/

This indicates he was more than a second slow reaching third (compared to his prior time of 11.03) last night and, if he had run hard, he would have been a full second past third base by the time Crawford got the ball and, therefore, probably safe at home. Ouch.

Chris Esch said...

Rany, I am hoping for a final posting here. I am hoping you cover the meaning of the run in general and a few thoughts about Game 7 itself, but mostly I want a reflection on what the blog has meant to you, what you think your role has been in the evolution of baseball thinking, and where you think we go from here. Essentially, what I am saying is that I hope you give us, your readers, some closure with you. You OWE us NOTHING! But I do think this blog existed as a sort of relationship. Sure, it was one-sided, but I think good bloggers (and you are one of the best) connect with their audience. Or maybe I am just trying to squeeze out one last post.

Also, I just want you to know the void you will be leaving in my life! I know nothing about baseball, but I sure did sound smart whenever I would talk about something you wrote. (Don't worry, I USUALLY gave you credit. "Well, Rany says...".) Thanks for making me sound good in front of friends and co-workers!

David W. Lowe said...

Wish we would have traded Yordano Ventura for Howie Kendrick, as you suggested here:

http://www.kansascity.com/sports/mlb/kansas-city-royals/article326903/Royals-must-make-playoffs-in-2014-and-here%E2%80%99s-how.html

Then, we would never have made the playoffs in 2014 and been able to witness the Game 6 gem he pitched.

Dan Lester said...

Rany, I'm 44, and a life-long Kansas Citian. I have lived and died (a lot in the past 20 years) with OUR Royals. Your blog has been my Kansas City Royals dessert, a refreshing take on the 2nd love of my life, filled with both heart-fueled passion, and mind-numbing statistics - both of which I cannot get enough of.

I will certainly follow your written word at Grantland, as well as your Twitter input. This journey the past two years, and especially the past three or so months has seen some of the proudest moments of my life as a Royals fan, and to watch and read your experiences along the way has only amplified to the max, my own experience. I was blessed to see to clinching games (ALDS Game 3, and ALCS Game 4) as well as WS Game 1. I knew from the start the journey would end in tears either way for me, but while the sadness is profound, so is the hope for a continued bright future for OUR Royals. DM is the right man for that job, and who knows, perhaps someday you will find yourself in KC's analytics department??

Thank you SO much, and best wishes!
Dan

Unknown said...

I will miss your great writing about the team that I have followed since '69. It was comforting to know there were other kindred spirits who, otherwise rational, continued to care about this franchise throughout the "dark ages." I always learned something when I read your posts. Thank you.