Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Base Away.

Like most of you, I'm not yet in the mood to fully dissect what just happened. But I did write about it the best I could for Grantland, which you can read here.

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.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Royals Today: World Series, Game 5.

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.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Royals Today: World Series, Game 4.

A century from now, baseball scholars will discover that there was a point during Game 4 of the 2014 World Series in which the Royals were strongly favored to win. No one will believe them.

Someone – I believe it may have been Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus – wrote earlier this month something to the effect that we’ve reached the point with baseball analysis where players no longer are blamed for failure: it’s either the fault of the manager for putting him in that position or the GM for not acquiring a better player. It’s hyperbole, but seeing the reaction to Game 4, I wonder just how much of an exaggeration it is.

Ned Yost didn’t have his best game. The Royals had a 4-1 lead in the middle of the third inning, and they lost. But at some point you have to hold the players accountable for their performance. It is possible for Yost to make the right move – or at least a defensible move – and have it not work out, either because the player he put in a spot to succeed didn’t, or simply because the ball bounced in favor of the Giants.

Let’s trace the anatomy of ten unanswered runs that turned a comfortable early lead into the Royals’ biggest loss since the Tigers’ pulverized them, 10-1, on September 19th:

- In the bottom of the third, Matt Duffy – pinch-hitting for reliever Jean Machi, because apparently it’s okay to do that sort of thing – led off with a single. Gregor Blanco grounded to Omar Infante, who pivoted to second base before thinking better of it and taking the sure out at first. It was probably the right move – Duffy is fast and might have been safe, but you want to stay out of the big inning there. After Joe Panik flied out, Buster Posey hit an RBI single. After Hunter Pence singled, Jason Vargas struck out Pablo Sandoval. Can’t fault Yost here – pulling Vargas at this point in the game would have been silly.

- After Vargas worked a scoreless fourth inning but allowed two hits – one to Yusmeiro Petit, who counting the postseason was 5-for-105 in his career as a hitter – I thought it was time to pull him. But given that the leadoff hitter in the fifth, Panik, batted left-handed, followed by right-handed-hitting Buster Posey and Pence, I could see the case for letting Vargas face Panik and the going to RHP Jason Frasor to face Posey and Pence.

That’s what Yost did. Panik doubled to lead off the inning, and Frasor came in. He got Posey to ground out, but Panik moved to third, causing the infield to move in just a little – and Pence was able to shoot a grounder up the middle to score the run. That brought up Sandoval – a switch-hitter who hits right-handers better than left-handers – followed by Brandon Belt (LHB), Juan Perez (RHB, but not much of a hitter in the majors so far), and Brandon Crawford (LHB).

Going to a lefty seemed like the right move here. Yost went to Danny Duffy. Duffy allowed a bullet to Sandoval to put runners on the corners with one out, then walked Belt to load the bases. Perez then hit a line drive that Jarrod Dyson made an outstanding catch on, but Pence scored to tie the game. Then Duffy struck out Crawford.

- Duffy was due up second in the top of the fifth inning, and given how erratic he looked, it made perfect sense to pinch-hit for him there. It made even more perfect sense when Dyson led off with a single. Nori Aoki pinch-hit…and hit into a double play.

Before the at-bat, I argued that given Aoki’s bat control and Dyson’s speed, it was a waste to bunt Dyson there, and that Dyson should steal second, allowing Aoki to move him over to third with one out at the very least. Yost did not put on the bunt. But Dyson did not attempt to steal on the first two pitches – perhaps he felt the need to read Petit’s move, as he had never faced him before – and on the second pitch, Aoki put the ball in play. Had Dyson stolen second, Aoki’s grounder to Belt would have moved him to third. But I can’t fault Yost for not putting on the bunt, and I can’t fault Yost because Dyson didn’t light out for second base on the first or second pitch.

- Brandon Finnegan came on to pitch the sixth, facing the pitcher’s spot followed by two lefties. Joaquin Arias pinch-hit and blooped a single into shallow right field. Gregor Blanco then batted, and tried to bunt twice – the first time he drew the bat back but had a strike called on him on a pitch that was high, and the second time he fouled it off. So with two strikes, he was forced to swing away – and blooped a single over Escobar’s head into left field. This allowed Panik to bunt the runners to second and third.

This brought up Buster Posey, who crushes lefties, and Yost called for the intentional walk. Yost is as conservative with intentional walks as any manager in baseball – the Royals only issued 14 of them all season, the fewest of any team. And calling for one here was debatable, because it loaded the bases and meant that a walk would score a run, and it didn’t obtain the platoon edge. On the other hand, it did set up the double play and a force at every base. This came in handy when Hunter Pence hit a hard groundball to Escobar. With the infield playing halfway, and with Pence having already beaten out a potential double play ball in the first, Escobar chose to go home rather than try the 6-4-3 double play. Arias was out, and the game was still tied with Sandoval at the plate.

But Sandoval, for the second time in the game, hit a ringing single off a left-handed pitcher, driving in two runs and essentially icing the game. Belt – a left-handed hitter – followed with another single to make the score 7-4.

It was the pivotal 6th inning – it’s always the sixth inning – and I’ve seen a lot of people argue that this is where Yost screwed up, that Kelvin Herrera or even Wade Davis should have been in the game. I’m not disagreeing completely. But a couple of things to consider:

1) Herrera had thrown 27 pitches the night before, two days after he threw 32 pitches. He was available, but probably not for more than an inning. If he pitched the sixth, then Davis would have had to pitch the seventh and eighth, meaning both Herrera and Davis would be out for Game 5.

2) Yes, Yost could have gone to Davis right there in the sixth inning. Yes, it was probably a mistake. But out of 30 major league managers, I’d be surprised if more than three would have done that. If it was a mistake, it wasn’t an uncommon one.

3) After Arias – a utility infielder leading off – all the damage in the inning was done by Blanco (LHB), Sandoval (SHB who hits RHP much better than LHP), and Belt (LHB). The two big right-handed bats that Finnegan faced, Posey and Pence, were disposed of – Posey by the intentional walk, Pence on a groundout. Unless you think that Davis or Herrera should have started the inning, the inning came down to Finnegan getting beaten by hitters that he had the advantage on. And, frankly, getting beaten by two fluke hits.

If Blanco gets the bunt down, the Giants might not have scored in the inning. He didn’t, he blooped a single instead, and they scored three runs. That’s baseball. That’s not Ned Yost.

The Giants would score four runs in the seventh inning to run up the score off of Finnegan and Collins, but the game was already iced at that point, and you’re not going to burn a member of the Triborg – and potentially keep them out of Game 5 – when you’re already down three runs.

- I’ve seen it argued that Duffy should have started the fifth inning. I could see that, I suppose, but then you let Posey and Pence face a left-handed pitcher. Duffy had a huge platoon split this year, and three of the first four hitters he would have faced would have batted from the right side. And given how he performed in the game once he came in, you’re going to have a tough time convincing me that what the Royals needed was to call on Duffy sooner and use him more. It’s clear he’s not completely healthy – his fastball is 92-93 in relief – and we can’t just assume he’s the same guy who put up a 2.53 ERA this season.

- Yost could have gone for the jugular in the top of the third inning, and pinch-hit for Vargas with the bases loaded and two outs. But aside from the fact that he would have needed seven innings from his pen, Vargas is a pretty good hitter – not as good as his lifetime .262 average, but one of the better-hitting pitchers around – and had flied out to deep center field his first time up. Vargas, unfortunately, lost track of the count, and started walking to first base when the 2-2 pitch was outside. Did that lead to him being called out on a borderline 3-2 pitch? Maybe, maybe not. But was that Yost’s fault?

- The only other mistake you could argue Yost made was not pinch-hitting for Mike Moustakas against LHP Jeremy Affeldt with two outs in the seventh and Eric Hosmer on first base. This was the time to use Billy Butler or Josh Willingham – neither of whom has appeared in either game in the NL park, mind you. Moustakas grounded out, and then to add salt in the wound, was double-switched out of the game in the bottom of the inning anyway when Collins came in for Finnegan.

This was probably the least ambiguous mistake Yost made. A walk in that situation brings the tying run to the plate; a home run brings the Royals to within one. The game ended with neither Butler nor Willingham getting off the bench. It was a mistake. But it was not, in all likelihood, a decisive one.

Sometimes, you just get beat. Sometimes, the ball doesn’t fall your way. Sometimes, it’s not the manager’s fault, even when you blow an early lead in a game that would have given you a decisive 3-games-to-1 edge in the World Series. The game sucked, and Ned Yost didn’t help. But I don’t think the Royals win that game if Earl LaRussa Showalter had been managing them.

I sense some panic among Royals Nation at the moment, and understandably so, since Madison Bumgarner is up next. I would just like to remind everyone that the series is still tied, that Games 6 and 7 are in Kansas City, and that Bumgarner won't start either of those games. (Although I suppose he can relieve in Game 7, but let’s cross that bridge later.) It is, in fact, possible that James Shields outduels Bumgarner in Game 5. Stranger things have happened. Herrera, Davis, and Holland will all have had a day’s rest; there’s no reason why Shields has to pitch more than five innings anyway.

And if not…well…there’s nothing quite like the home field advantage of Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. In the last 15 years, the home team is 8-1 in Games 6 and 7; the only loss came in the 2003 World Series, when the Yankees lost at home in Game 6 to Josh Beckett. The Giants don’t have anyone the caliber of Beckett starting in Games 6 or 7. The 2002 Angels and the 2011 Cardinals both came home down 3 games to 2, and both teams followed legendary comebacks in Game 6 with a commanding win in Game 7.

I know it feels like the sky is falling, but it’s not. Sometimes you just get beat. That’s what the Giants did to us tonight. The thing is, even if they beat us again, the series won’t be over. It’s a best-of-three series now. And if they’re going to steal the world championship away from us, they’re going to have to do it in Kansas City. I’ll take my chances. At this point, that’s all we can do.