Let’s start with the obvious: no matter what the Royals did in Game 5, no matter how well they played defense or how well Ned Yost pushed buttons, they probably weren’t going to win. Madison Bumgarner made sure of that. The Royals didn’t get a runner to third base all night. The only runner to reach second base was Omar Infante, who was credited with a double when Travis Ishikawa misplayed his looping fly ball and let it bounce past him when he dove fruitlessly. Bumgarner showed no signs of fatigue all night, retiring the last nine batters of the game.
That said…they sure did their best to eliminate what little chance they had of sneaking away with a win. Early on, it was the players who killed the Royals’ margin for error, or more specifically, the defenders. In the second inning, Hunter Pence led off with a scorching ground ball to the right of Alcides Escobar – but it was the kind of scorching ground ball that Escobar has been picking and turning into outs his entire career. This time, it skated just past his glove.
Brandon Belt followed with a perfectly placed bunt against the shift, which the Royals weren’t expecting – and given that Belt had one sacrifice bunt and no bunt hits in his career, I can’t come down too hard on them. With the shift on, Escobar fielded the ball – something a shortstop almost never has to do – and Belt beat it out by an eyelash.
But there was a defensive mistake made on the play, one that was missed by almost everyone (including myself). As C.J. Nitkowski points out here (with an assist from Eric Karros), Hosmer had his foot on the wrong spot on the bag, and was lined up in the wrong direction – if he had his foot on the corner and was pointed straight at Escobar, Belt might have been out. I continue to be unconvinced that Hosmer is the Gold Glove caliber first baseman that is his reputation, and the numbers continue to dispute this characterization as well.
Travis Ishikawa then hit a deep fly ball to centerfield, allowing Pence to tag up and move to third…and when Jarrod Dyson’s throw was off-line, Belt moved up to second as well. All credit to the Giants, who do the little things extremely well, but a better throw and Belt might have been out or retreated to first base. That would have kept the double play in order, but instead the Royals could only get one out on a ground ball.
Yost then decided to play the infield back, one game after he had played the infield in during a similar situation. I understand the thinking – with a runner on second base as well as third, a grounder that gets by the drawn-in infield would have scored two runs instead of one – but I thought it was curious that, facing Madison Bumgarner, the Royals wouldn’t put a premium on preventing the Giants from scoring first. Brandon Crawford grounded out to second base, which would have held the runner or likely been an out at the plate if the infield were in, but instead was an RBI groundout.
In the fourth, Pablo Sandoval led off with a single, but Shields struck out Pence and Belt. Ishikawa then hit a ground ball to Escobar’s right, and this time he was there in time to field the ball, and…it just went under his glove. He pulled up too soon, misjudged the bounce, whatever. It was a play he should have made easily.
And then Crawford blooped a pitch that Shields almost buried in the dirt and blooped it to centerfield. Dyson made one questionable decision and one undeniable mistake. The questionable decision was to lay up and play it on a hop instead of diving for it. He might have had a shot at it, and last night he made a brilliant catch on a similar bloop. Then again, the fact that he made that catch should give him the benefit of the doubt here, that he knew he didn’t have a shot at catching this one and didn’t want to let the ball get by him and two runners to score.
But the mistake was that, as Dyson seems to do about once a month, he bobbled the ball on the bounce. Sandoval had inexplicably slowed up after reaching third base – his third base coach was waving him in, there were two outs, and the pitcher was about to bat – but Dyson’s bobble allowed him to score. It wasn’t ruled an error, because in 2014 you don’t get charged with an error unless you throw a ball into the stands or physically kick it with your feet. But it was an error.
Dyson’s misplays in centerfield, coupled with him looking even more helpless than your typical hitter against Bumgarner – Dyson can’t hit lefties – made the decision to start him instead of Aoki appear to be another poor decision by Yost. At least until the bottom of the fifth, when with two on and two out, Hunter Pence crushed a pitch to right-center field, which Lorenzo Cain caught in full stride. I’m not sure there’s another right fielder in the game who keeps that from being a two-run double. Through no good work of his own – simply by allowing the Royals to have Cain in right field instead of Aoki – Dyson justified his starting spot on that play.
That was all the Giants would get against Shields. That was all they would need. With better defense – with just a typical game from Escobar alone – he would have matched Bumgarner zero for zero through six innings, given us the start that single-handedly justified everything given up for him and vindicated every defense made of him the last two years against the likes of me. It was not to be, but not due to anything Shields did wrong. He deserved a better fate in Game 5. We all did.
While it was the players that hurt the Royals in the first six innings, Yost found a way to make his presence known before the game ended. In the seventh inning, Hosmer led off with a single, and Salvador Perez lined out to deep left field – in retrospect, the Royals came damn close to tying the game right there. Mike Moustakas was up next, in a situation where a home run would tie the game, and Yost let him bat.
This was not at all surprising, although this seemed like the perfect time to roll the dice on a pinch-hitter, putting up a right-handed-hitting power bat like Josh Willingham against a potentially tiring Bumgarner. Hard as this may be to believe, Mike Moustakas did hit .212/.271/.361 this year, and he’s never hit left-handers, his double off Bumgarner in Game 1 notwithstanding. Yost left him in, and Moustakas flied out harmlessly to centerfield. Omar Infante followed with a groundout to end the inning.
And then, in the bottom of the seventh, as the script said and as everyone expected, Yost brought in Kelvin Herrera. As absolutely no one expected – because it was absurd to even consider – Yost chose to make a double-switch, bringing Jayson Nix to play second base, putting Nix in the #9 spot in the lineup, and putting Herrera in the #7 spot.
Twitter is not a perfect tool, and if you’re not careful you’re liable to use it to say something stupid that you will quickly regret, something I have learned from experience. But at a moment like this Twitter is an utterly perfect device, because it allowed me – and essentially every sportswriter who was paying attention – to express our incredulity with this move in real time. No one can accuse us of second-guessing. Okay, that’s not true – some people can’t handle people criticizing their favorite team very well, and will call any criticism second-guessing. But this was first-guessing. This was pointing out the stupidity of a move while it was in progress.
The point of the double-switch is to delay the pitcher’s spot in the lineup from coming up, so that a new pitcher can stay in the game longer. That should not have been an issue here. It was the bottom of the seventh, so unless the Royals tied the game, they only needed two innings from their bullpen. Herrera, Davis, and Holland had all taken Game 4 off; they were all ready to throw an inning.
But on top of that, Herrera was the least rested of the trio, by far. He had thrown 27 pitches in Game 3, after Yost inexplicably left him in to bat in the seventh inning, and then had to pull Herrera anyway with one out in the bottom of the inning. He had thrown 32 pitches in Game 2, when Yost called on him to get Yordano Ventura out of a sixth-inning jam and then let him pitch the seventh inning with a five-run lead. For whatever reason, Yost keeps going to Herrera for two innings rather than Davis; instead of pitching Herrera in the sixth and then Davis in the seventh and eighth, he’ll let Herrera stay on for the seventh and only bring in Davis in a jam. (And Holland, of course, hasn’t thrown more than one inning in a ballgame since September 13, 2012. Not only that, Holland has not entered a game prior to the ninth inning since that same date. You would think that at some point he would have pitched the bottom of the eighth inning in a blowout on the road just to get some work in.)
As a result, Herrera had looked a little less than 100% in his recent outings. The #9 spot in the lineup was due up 2nd in the top of the 8th. Perfect; let Herrera pitch one inning, then pinch-hit for him with whoever is most appropriate at that moment. Davis pitches the 8th, and if the Royals tie the game, he pitches the 9th. (There’s a slight chance that Davis might have to bat if the Royals batted around in the 7th or 8th, but that would be a good problem to have, and in all likelihood the Royals might have scored three runs and you could pinch-hit for Davis and bring in Holland anyway.)
Instead, Yost was so adamant about giving Herrera a chance to pitch a second inning – WHICH HE SHOULDN’T BE ASKED TO DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ANYWAY – that in order to keep him from batting in the 8th, he brought in Jayson Nix, knowing that Nix would have to bat in the 8th. The same Jayson Nix who was 10-for-83 as a hitter during the regular season. The same Jayson Nix who had never gotten a hit in a Royals uniform.
The Royals were down to their final six outs, needing two runs just to tie the game. Yost was so adamant that Herrera pitch a second inning that he gave the role of avoiding one of those six outs to Jayson Freaking Nix.
This worked to absolute perfect imperfection. Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh, as he could have been expected to. Nix batted in the eighth inning and harmlessly flied out, swinging on a borderline pitch after Bumgarner had fallen behind him 3-1. Herrera then came out for a second inning – WHICH HE SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE – and gave up hits to the first two batters he faced. He was then pulled from the game in favor of Davis without having retired a batter in the inning.
So to sum up: Yost made Jayson Nix bat so that Herrera could pitch a second inning. Nix used up one of the Royals’ last six outs, and Herrera allowed both batters he faced in that second inning to reach. Oh, and since Wade Davis didn’t get to start with a clean slate, the random, logic-defying bomb he gave up to Juan Perez – about as far as a ball can be hit in baseball without being a home run – drove home two runs. Crawford followed with a bloop to left, and a 2-0 game was now a 5-0 game. Drive home safely.
Afterwards, Yost said that he wanted Herrera to be able to pitch a second inning so that their good relievers could go deeper into the game in case the Royals came back. But in doing so, he severely hampered the Royals’ ability to come back. If you don’t score two runs in the last two innings of the game, nothing else matters. Yost used hypotheticals to make a decision that made a comeback even more hypothetical.
To be clear: Ned Yost didn’t cost the Royals Game 5 – Madison Bumgarner made sure of that. But Yost’s decisions didn’t help, and this one decision in particular had next-to-no benefit while enduring a significant cost. The decision to double-switch Nix into the game was probably the most inexplicable decision Yost made in the entire postseason – and yes, I include the decision to use Yordano Ventura out of the pen. At least there, there was underlying principle guiding Yost’s move – Be aggressive with your relievers in a do-or-die game! Don’t be afraid to pull your starting pitcher! – that I agreed with, even if the execution itself was terrible. But this…I don’t get this at all. Frankly, giving up hits to the first two hitters in the 8th might have been the best thing for Herrera, because it got him out of the game sooner. Both Herrera and Davis threw 24 pitches; with a day off, they should be good for Game 6, although whether that means they can throw one inning in Game 6 and one inning in Game 7, or two innings each, or whether Yost will use them that aggressively, remains to be seen.
The Royals return to Kauffman Stadium now, thankful not just to be at home, but to be away from the NL rules, because Yost managed these three games in San Francisco as if he never managed a game in an NL park before. In three games, Jayson Nix (2) had more at-bats than Billy Butler (1) and Josh Willingham (0) combined. Kelvin Herrera had as many at-bats as Butler and Willingham combined. That should never happen.
The Royals now feel as far away from a championship as they have since the Wild Card game, which I know is silly, since they simply need to win their next two games to claim it. They have the better starter in Game 6, and if they get to Game 7, you hope they will unleash the full force of the Triborg, because you know Bruce Bochy will unleash as much Bumgarner as the man will give him on two days’ rest. (Although the decision to let Bumgarner throw the complete-game shutout, while sentimental, may not have been in the Giants' best interests. Bumgarner threw 116 pitches in Game 5, and he might want one or two of those pitches back if he gets pressed into duty in Game 7.)
And the Royals have home-field advantage. Since 1982, ten teams have come home for Game 6 down three games to two. Eight of them have won both games to win the title. The last nine Game 7s have been won by the home team; you have to go back to the 1979 Pirates to find a road team that won Game 7. In the whole history of the World Series, the home team is 41-23 in Game 6. Home field always matters a little, but perhaps never more than when everything is on the line, and every fan in the stands is engaged on every pitch like their lives hang in the balance.
God willing, I’ll be one of those fans tomorrow night, and (hopefully) Wednesday night as well. The Royals are two wins away from delivering us a championship I honestly never even contemplated as being within the realm of possibility, of delivering me a memory I never dreamed would be a reality. I expect them to do everything in their power to deliver it. It’s only fair that I hold myself to the same standard, and cheer them on from the stands, to give the same 100% I demand from them, until the final out. Until we are defeated. Or until we are delirious.