Monday, January 11, 2016

Top Moments (#218 - #211) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

Ok, here we go. I have managed to unearth video of every moment on the list, and if everything goes according to plan, each moment should have that video embedded in this post. (If everything doesn’t go according to plan, please let me know.) For whatever reason, the embedded videos from are not nearly as high-resolution as the videos native to their website, so above each embedded video I have included a link to the original video if you want to see a better-quality version.

I have also tried to embed tweets that I wrote in real time for each moment that such a tweet exists. I hope there won’t be any glitches, and if there are, I hope that you will let me know so that I can fix them as soon as possible. (Also, I had to update the formatting of the blog to accommodate the size of the videos. I hope you will be adjust to my blog no longer looking like something out of the Precambrian Era, and closer to the Cretaceous Era instead.)

Without further ado: the 218 biggest moments of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

Moment #: 218
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series, Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: 4-4, Bottom of the 11th
Situation: None out, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Jarrod Dyson vs. Jonathan Niese
Result: Lineout to right field
WPA: -6%

Summary: Jarrod Dyson nearly hits an inside-the-park walkoff home run in the World Series.

Link to video: Here.
I figure I should start with the play that inadvertently sparked this entire project. Jarrod Dyson, who was batting for just the second time in the postseason after pinch-running for Kendrys Morales in the 8th inning, hit the first pitch from Jonathan Niese – who had buzzsawed through the heart of the Royals’ lineup in the 10th inning – deep into the right-center field gap. Curtis Granderson caught up to it, but very nearly overran the ball – on slow-motion replay, you can see that the ball hit the pinky edge of his glove before nestling into the webbing. If that ball slices another half-inch, it probably bounces off the edge of Granderson’s glove in a random direction, which means Dyson winds up at third if the Mets are lucky. If they’re not, well, not only would this be the first playoff game that ever ended on an inside-the-park home run, it would be the only playoff game ever to witness two inside-the-park home runs – and incredibly, they would have been the first and last hitters of the game for the Royals.

I can’t say I regret anything about the 2015 Royals, but that would have been cool.

Moment #: 217
Date: September 25, 2014
Game: 2014 Regular Season, Game 159, @ Chicago White Sox
Score: 3-3, Top of the 8th
Situation: One out, runners on first and third
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Jake Petricka
Result: Fielder’s choice, 6-4, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 9%

Summary: Marcus Semien’s bad throw on a sure double play ball allows go-ahead run to score to put Royals on brink of playoffs.

Link to video: Here.

This is the first of a half-dozen regular season moments on this list, and in the interests of full disclosure, this may not have made the list had 1) I not been at the ballpark and 2) been sitting behind the Royals’ dugout flush with the first base bag, giving me a perfect view of Marcus Semien’s throw.

But then again, maybe it would have, because after the White Sox had called upon Jake Petricka to get them out of a first-and-third, one out situation in the 8th, Petricka had answered the call by inducing a routine double play ball from Billy Butler on the first pitch, which by all rights should have extricated the White Sox from the inning. But in keeping with one of the underlying themes of the 2014-2015 Royals – how they took advantage of opponents’ miscues to an uncanny degree – Semien’s throw bounced in front of first baseman Jose Abreu, who couldn’t come up with it, allowing the go-ahead run to score. On the broadcast, Ryan Lefebvre argues that Eric Hosmer’s hard slide into second may have affected Semien’s throw, but it looked to me like the pressure was pretty minimal – he just buried it. Alex Gordon followed with an RBI single and the Royals tacked on another insurance run in the 9th.

The Royals had entered the game with a magic number of 2 to clinch a playoff spot with four games to go, a very strong bet but hardly a lock. A clean throw and the White Sox keep the game tied headed to the bottom of the 8th inning. Semien couldn’t manage a clean throw. Over the winter, Semien headlined the four players that the White Sox sent to Oakland for Jeff Samardzija. With the A’s, Semien hit a respectable .257/.310/.405 last year. He also committed 35 errors, the most by any player in Oakland A’s history.

Moment #: 216
Date: October 19, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 3, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 6, Toronto 11, Top of the 9th
Situation: One out, man on first
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Kendrys Morales vs. Roberto Osuna
Result: Home Run, two runs score
WPA: 1%

Summary: Kendrys Morales homers to cap four-run ninth inning and remind Toronto that the Royals still have plenty of fight left.

Link to video: Here.

In terms of game impact, hitting a two-run homer with your team down five runs in the 9th is fairly inconsequential. But by putting up a four-spot in the 9th, the Royals forced the Blue Jays to turn to their closer Osuna – and got some good looks at him – and made it clear that they would not go gently into that good night. It’s not clear whether the latter really mattered in the end. But getting some reps against Osuna, and tagging him for a two-run homer? As we would learn a few days later, that wasn’t inconsequential at all.

Moment #: 215
Date: October 28, 2014
Game: 2014 WS Game 6, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 0, Kansas City 9, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: None out, bases empty
Count: 2-2 (+1 foul)
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. Hunter Strickland
Result: Home Run, one run scores
WPA: 0%

Summary: Mike Moustakas rubs it in against the Giants and Hunter Strickland, homering to give the Royals a 10-0 lead.

Link to video: Here.

Like Morales’ home run, Mike Moustakas’ homer had essentially no impact on the game outcome, in this case because the Royals were cruising with a 9-0 lead in the 7th inning. But Moustakas’ homer was a symbolic gesture that capped the scoring in a 10-0 whitewash of the Giants that allowed the Royals to completely rest their core relievers for Game 7 of the World Series. The home run also gave Moustakas the Royals’ all-time record with five home runs in one postseason. Best of all, it left Hunter Strickland the only reliever in MLB history to allow six homers in one postseason, a nice parting gift after his antics in Game 2. (Not that it seemed to have affected Strickland much – he had an excellent rookie season in 2015, allowing only four homers in 51 innings.)

Moment #: 214
Date: September 26, 2014
Game: 2014 Regular Season Game 160, @ Chicago White Sox
Score: 0-0, Top of the 1st
Situation: None out, man on first
Count: 1-0
Matchup: Nori Aoki vs. Hector Noesi
Result: Triple, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 15%

Summary: Nori Aoki triples in the first inning to give the Royals an early lead in their first potential playoff clincher in 29 years.

Link to video: Here.

After 29 years, it was easy as a Royals fan to be skeptical that they were going to go to the playoffs even though their magic number was down to 1 with three games left to play. Jeremy Guthrie was starting Game 160, and after Leadoff Expert Alcides Escobar singled to lead off the game, Nori Aoki immediately made the playoff dream a little more tangible when he tripled down the right field line to drive in the game’s first run. Aoki would score on Lorenzo Cain’s single, and Cain would steal second and score on Billy Butler’s single, and the Royals led 3-0 before Guthrie even took the mound. After weeks of waiting for Lucy to pull the ball away, that first inning on a Friday night at U.S. Cellular Park was around the time I accepted that this almost certainly was going to happen.

Moment #: 213
Date: October 16, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 1, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 0, Kansas City 3, Bottom of the 8th
Situation: One out, men on first and second
Count: 2-1
Matchup: Eric Hosmer vs. LaTroy Hawkins
Result: Double, one run scores
WPA: 2%

Summary: Eric Hosmer misses a put-away homer by a foot but still drives home an insurance run.

Link to video: Here.
The first game of the 2015 ALCS was pretty much in the bag, but Eric Hosmer had a chance to put the game away emphatically with a three-run homer that would have given the Royals a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the 8th. Instead, his drive hit about a foot from the top of the wall. The impact of the near-miss was minimal; Ben Zobrist would score from third on Kendrys Morales’ sac fly, and Wade Davis is equally automatic with a five-run or six-run lead. The biggest impact of Hosmer’s double was on Hosmer; he was convinced that the ball must have gone out, waving both hands in a “home run” circle and then using some colorful language when Troy Tulowitzki informed him that no, the ball didn’t quite make it out. It’s easy to be amused by this when your team is cruising to victory. The only real damage done was to Hosmer’s RBI total – had this ball been a foot higher, his 29 postseason RBIs would be an even more historic 31, exactly one per game.

Moment #: 212
Date: October 25, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 4, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 3, San Francisco 1, Top of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 3-1
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Result: Single to center field, one run scores
WPA: 9%

Summary: Salvador Perez caps a four-run inning to give the Royals a three-run lead in a World Series game. What could go wrong?

Link to video: Here.

Call this The Game That Got Away. After falling a run behind in Game 4 of the 2014 World Series, the Royals put together a four-run rally in the third inning with a hail of singles and walks. Perez’s single capped the scoring and chased Ryan Vogelsong from the game. The Royals led, 4-1, and if they held on to the lead they would be up, 3 games to 1 in the Series. Not even Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named could start three games in a row.

You know how the Royals came back from being at least 2 runs down to win seven times during the 2015 postseason? In contrast, in 31 playoff games over the past two years, the Royals have only lost one game in which they led by 2 runs or more at any point. This was that game. But at least for a time, when Perez’s liner dropped in center field, we were in honey and clover.

(There have been only three other games the 2014-15 Royals lost in which they led by even one run at any point – 2015 ALDS 3, 2015 ALCS 3, and 2015 WS 3. And they have not lost any game that they led after five innings.)

Moment #: 211
Date: May 29, 2014
Game: 2014 Game 53, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 5, Toronto 6, Top of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Casey Janssen
Result: Error by shortstop Jose Reyes, Jarrod Dyson scores tying run from second base
WPA: 32%

Summary: Jose Reyes turns a routine game-ending groundout into new life for the Royals, and turns their season around.

Link to video: Here.

You wouldn’t ordinarily think of a game in May ending up on a list like this, and at the time it certainly didn’t feel like a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise. If anything, it felt like just delaying the inevitable. The Royals had entered play 24-28, having just been swept at home by the lowly Astros. Calls for the heads of the front office to roll were becoming deafening. The Royals were about to lose their fifth straight game, down 6-5 to the Blue Jays in the 9th. After Eric Hosmer grounded out, Billy Butler lined a one-hopper to right field - but in the ultimate indignity, was thrown out at first base by Jose Bautista. By all rights, that should have been the end of it. But Alex Gordon singled, and Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran – that in itself is rare to see, Dyson pinch-running for someone with Gordon’s speed. But it worked perfectly. Dyson stole second base, and Salvador Perez hit a routine ground ball to Jose Reyes that should have ended the game.

But beginning a theme that would dominate the Royals for the next two years – their ability to take advantage of poor opposition defense with their running and contact skills – Reyes’ throw to first base was low. Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t come up with the ball, which popped out of his glove far enough that Dyson – who never stopped running – scored the tying run from second. Given new life, the Royals would score two runs in the 10th to win the game. That began the process of righting the ship, as they won five of nine games before embarking on a 10-game winning streak that set them on the path that took them to where they are today. Three months later I would use this play as the starting point for my Grantland article on the Royals. Turns out this turning point was even more important than I imagined.


dman said...

I am going to love all of these.

Unknown said...

Ambitious goal, and a seemingly daunting amount of work. I can't wait to follow along.

luke said...

It's just starting, but thanks so much for doing this. This is going to be (and already is) glorious reliving all this.

Ben&Court said...

Is this Heaven?

Scott said...

When complete this will be the best non porn thing the Internet has ever seen.

Bob Forer said...

It is hard to believe that there remains over 200 moments to read about.

Unknown said...

For someone who retired from writing about the Royals, it seems you still have lots to say. And we appreciate it!

Unknown said...

This is incredible Rany...a tip of the cap sir

Mark said...

Are you kidding me? As I understand it you are a full time doctor with a young and growing family, which theoretically leaves you with NO free time. In addition you write articles for compensation, talk on the radio, and involve yourself I'm sure with other sundry projects. And you are giving your readers this magnificent stuff FOR FREE??!!!?!??!!?

You have all my thoughts and prayers good sir. Thank you.

Sarah said...

I'm so glad you're doing this, and can't even begin to imagine the time you're putting into it. Thanks for letting me get my baseball fix while waiting for the regular season to start!

Matt S said...

I've never heard a ball make that sound like Hosmer's near home run. It sounded like a bomb going off.

Matt S said...

*against the K wall

BMJ said...

Absolutely phenomenal project! Thanks for putting in all the time and effort to make us Royals fans relive the greatness we have been so fortunate to experience the past two seasons (and hopefully there is a lot more to come...)