Friday, January 15, 2016

Top Moments (#210 - #201) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

The hits don’t stop ‘til we reach the top. And we got a looong way to go to reach the top. So moving on…

Moment #: 210
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 1, Kansas City 0, Top of the 6th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-1
Matchup: Josh Donaldson vs. Yordano Ventura
Result: Foul ball, no play

Summary: Salvador Perez makes a nifty bare-handed catch on a foul ball, but a wire in the field of play nullifies it.

Link to video: Here.
I attended this game with my daughter, and sitting down the third base line, we couldn’t see the wire and thought Perez had made an amazing bare-handed grab. It was an impressive catch given that the ball was re-directed on the way down, but the re-direction also nullified the catch. Given new life, Donaldson beat out an infield single, which proved to be crucial because Ned Yost chose to stick with his starting pitcher in the 6th inning, and – I know you’re as shocked as I am – the decision backfired. Yordano Ventura allowed five of the six batters he faced in the inning to reach base. By the time Yost finally pulled him, the Royals were down 3-0 and the bases were loaded with one out. How did the Royals win this game? Well, there’s a reason we still have 209 moments to go.

Moment #: 209
Date: October 30, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 3, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 0, New York 0, Top of the 1st
Situation: One out, men on first and third
Count: 1-0
Matchup: Eric Hosmer vs. Noah Syndergaard
Result: Fielder’s choice, 3-6, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 2%

Summary: Eric Hosmer beats out a double-play ball to score the go-ahead run when the Mets don’t know who’s covering first base.

Link to video: Here.

After Noah Syndergaard buzzed Alcides Escobar to start Game 3, and after the Mets won the game, 9-3, the narrative was that these two things were connected – that by standing up to the Big Bad Bully Royals or something, and not simply throwing the first pitch of the game outside the strike zone to a batter who always swings at the first pitch of the game, Thor had set the tone for the game and turned the series around. Like so many narratives, this essentially ignored the facts on the ground, which is that the Royals responded to Syndergaard’s aggression by, you know, scoring a run in the first inning. With men on first and third, Eric Hosmer grounded to Lucas Duda, who made an accurate throw to second base – stop snickering, he really did this time – but then the Mets bungled the potential inning-ending double play when Syndergaard and Duda both headed to cover first base, but neither one had actually gotten there by the time shortstop Wilmer Flores threw the ball back. Flores’ throw was off-line, with the result that Syndergaard caught the ball in no-man’s land and succeeded in tackling Duda instead of tagging Hosmer. It was an error in esthetics if not in your scorecard; Hosmer was safe at first, and the Royals had the lead.

Moment #: 208
Date: October 30, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 3, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 2, New York 2, Top of the 2nd
Situation: One out, man on second
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Yordano Ventura vs. Noah Syndergaard
Result: Sacrifice bunt, runner moves to third
WPA: -3%

Situation: Two outs, man on third
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Noah Syndergaard
Result: Passed Ball, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 9%

Summary: Yordano Ventura puts down a perfect bunt to move Alex Rios to third base with two outs, and a passed ball gives Kansas City the lead.

Link to video: Here.
I’m sort of cheating on this one, as this is actually two consecutive plays (on back-to-back pitches) rolled into one, but one doesn’t work without the other, and 219 Top Moments would be even more overkill than 218, so what the hell. Yordano Ventura was more effective from the batters’ box than from the pitching mound in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series; batting with Alex Rios on second and one out, he put down a bunt – because if you’re an American League pitcher with one hit in your professional career, you’re bunting whenever the rules allow for it – and damned if Ventura didn’t almost beat it out. The bunt itself was good but not great, but what made the play was Ventura’s speed – he is burning down the line with no regard to his hamstrings. I’d love to know what Ventura’s home-to-first time was on this play, but he has to be a 60 runner, doesn’t he? I had no idea he was so fast; if his arm wasn’t so valuable he could pinch-run for half the starting lineup.

Ventura was out, but the bunt worked to perfection on the next pitch when Travis D’Arnaud let Syndergaard’s next pitch squirt between his legs, allowing Rios to score the go-ahead run in the World Series. It would prove for naught – the Mets would score the next seven runs in the game, and Ventura was knocked out in the 4th inning – but given the Royals’ penchant for one-run wins in the postseason, no one knew at the time that it wouldn’t prove to be a crucial run.

Moment #: 207
Date: October 20, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 4, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 3, Toronto 0, Top of the 1st
Situation: One out, man on third
Count: 1-0
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. R.A. Dickey
Result: Sacrifice fly, one run scores
WPA: 2%

Summary: Mike Moustakas caps a four-run first inning with a sacrifice fly, the first of a postseason-record four in the game.

Link to video: Here.

After Johnny Cueto got his derriere kicked in Game 3 of the ALCS, the Royals needed a strong showing the next day to prevent the Blue Jays from tying the series. They got off to an outstanding start against R.A. Dickey and a knuckleball that wasn’t doing much knuckling. They already had plated three runs in the top of the first when Mike Moustakas stepped in and hit a deep fly ball to score Eric Hosmer with the fourth run of the inning. Trading an out for a run was a shrewd swap in that situation; a four-run lead should be impregnable, and it was, particularly since the Royals scored 10 more runs in the game. Three of those would come by the sacrifice fly, making this the first time in playoff history that a team hit four sacrifice flies in one game. (In fact, only twice in postseason history – the Cardinals in Game 1 of the 1982 NLCS and the Blue Jays in Game 3 of the 1993 World Series – had a team hit even three sacrifice flies in one game.) It’s fitting that Team Contact would set the record for a play that simply requires the ability to make a productive out in the right situation.

Moment #: 206
Date: October 20, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 4, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 12, Toronto 2, Top of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, bases loaded
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Cliff Pennington
Result: Single, two runs score
WPA: 0%

Summary: The Royals pad their lead against the first position player ever called in to pitch in a postseason game.

Link to video: Here.

Game 4 of the 2015 ALCS wasn’t only notable for all the sacrifice flies – by the 9th inning, after the Royals had poured on seven more runs in the 7th and 8th innings, the Blue Jays became the first team in postseason history to wave the white flag by calling on a position player to pitch. It was understandable – Game 4 is the only game in the series that is neither preceeded nor succeeded by a day off, and R.A. Dickey had been knocked out in the second inning, so the Blue Jays were struggling to make sure they could still field a bullpen in Game 5 – but still humiliating. Cliff Pennington came on with two outs in the ninth and men on first and second, and was greeted by a single from Paulo Orlando. Alcides Escobar then batted and hit this line drive that Jose Bautista couldn’t get to in time, driving in two more runs and padding Escobar’s case to be named ALCS MVP. Pennington would finally end the carnage by getting Ben Zobrist to pop up to the catcher. I hope there was a large fine waiting for him at the kangaroo court after the game.

Moment #: 205
Date: October 3, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 2, @ Los Angeles of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 3, Los Angeles 1, Top of the 11th
Situation: Two outs, man on third
Count: 1-2 (+1 foul)
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Vinnie Pestano
Result: Single, one run scores
WPA: 4%

Summary: The Royals manufacture an insurance run after taking an 11th-inning lead.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals had already taken a two-run lead in extra innings when Eric Hosmer ripped out the Angels’ heart – that moment ranks a tiny bit higher on our list – but the Royals weren’t finished, and went back to Royals baseball for another run. With two outs, Alex Gordon walked, and then stole second on the first pitch to Salvador Perez, taking third when Chris Ianetta’s throw went into centerfield. The difference between a man on second and a man on third with two outs is pretty minimal, but it made all the difference here, as Salvy came through with a weak liner that wasn’t hit hard enough to get through the infield, but hard enough that even Salvy could beat it out for an infield single without a throw – and Gordon scored to make it 4-1. Make sure to watch through to the end for Salvy’s fist-pump and scream, which I rate at approximately 0.2 Wild Card Walkoffs.

Moment #: 204
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 7, Kansas City 6, Top of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, bases loaded
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Jed Lowrie vs. Greg Holland
Result: Lineout to right field
WPA: 5%

Summary: Greg Holland gets out of a bases-loaded jam in the Wild Card Game to set up the Royals’ game-tying rally.

Link to video: Here.

Before the Royals could tie the Wild Card Game with a single run in the bottom of the 9th, they first had to get out of the top of the 9th. As it was a home game, there was no chance a save situation would occur, so Ned Yost turned to Greg Holland to keep the Royals down by just one run. After striking out Coco Crisp, Holland walked Sam Fuld; Josh Donaldson then lined out, but Brandon Moss – who already had two homers in the game – batted next, and on the second pitch Salvador Perez let a ball get past him, which made for an easy decision to intentionally walk Moss now that Fuld was on second base. But Josh Reddick then walked on five pitches – these are the A’s, remember – and suddenly the bases were loaded and a base hit would essentially ice the game.

But after Holland had thrown just eight of 22 pitches for strikes in the inning, Jed Lowrie elected to swing at the first pitch. It wasn’t a bad idea – the pitch was basically down the middle – and Lowrie made solid contact, but the ball held up in the air long enough for Nori Aoki to make a fairly straightforward catch. The A’s missed their chance to drive a stake into the Royals’ heart. No one knew it then, but at that very moment the fortunes of two franchises had just been swapped, Freaky Friday style.

Moment #: 203
Date: November 1, 2014
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 2, New York 2, Bottom of the 11th
Situation: Two outs, man on first
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Juan Lagares vs. Luke Hochevar
Result: Groundout, 3 unassisted
WPA: 6%

Summary: Luke Hochevar sets himself up to win the final game of the season.

Link to video: Here.

Before the Royals could win the deciding game of the World Series with a five-run rally in the 12th, they first had to get out of the 11th. Luke Hochevar had taken over on the mound to start the 10th and had retired the Mets in order; he returned for the 11th and retired the first two batters, although notably none of the five hitters he faced struck out, and only one had hit the ball on the ground. Daniel Murphy then stepped in, and after falling behind him 3-1 Hochevar walked him. I was totally fine with this – while the Royals had kept Murphy without a home run all series, he was still the same human being who had homered in six straight games entering the series. Juan Lagares, meanwhile, was not much of a threat to drive home a runner from first base. Hochevar did his job, getting Lagares to roll the ball right down the first base line, where Eric Hosmer was there to cradle it like a baby before touching the bag. An inning later, Hochevar was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the World Series, just as we all expected when he was the #1 pick in the draft in 2006. (The last two pitchers to win the final game of the season? Luke Hochevar and Jeremy Affeldt. Who says the early-2000s Royals couldn’t develop pitchers?)

Moment #: 202
Date: October 11, 2015
Game: 2015 ALDS Game 3, @ Houston Astros
Score: Kansas City 0, Houston 0, Bottom of the 3rd
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-2 (+1 foul)
Matchup: Chris Carter vs. Edinson Volquez
Result: Single to left field, batter thrown out trying to reach second base
WPA: 2%

Summary: You didn’t think we’d get through two postseasons without Alex Gordon throwing out a runner, did you?

Link to video: Here.

In 2011, Alex Gordon’s first full year as a leftfielder, it was perhaps understandable that he nailed 20 baserunners: opponents did not yet realize that his combination of arm strength and accuracy gave him one of the best arms ever seen in left field. Less understandable were the 17 baserunner kills he had in 2012…and even less understandable were the 17 baserunner kills he had in 2013. Gordon became the first leftfielder in at least 60 years – which is as far back as we have outfield data split up by position – to throw out 17 or more baserunners in three consecutive seasons.

Finally, in 2014, after Gordon had thrown out a runner on the bases practically once a week for three years, the evidence became too overwhelming for opposing teams to ignore: YOU SHOULD NOT RUN ON ALEX GORDON. He only threw out eight baserunners in 2014 – still an excellent number for a leftfielder – and in 2015 he only threw out four baserunners in 101 games. It’s hard to throw out a baserunner when the third base coach puts his hands in his pockets the second the ball is hit to left field. Basically the only way for Gordon to throw out a runner now is if the runner forgets, if only for a moment, that Alex Gordon is in left field.

In Game 3 of the ALDS, leading off the bottom of the third inning in a tie game, Chris Carter forgot who was playing left field. You can tell the exact moment when he forgot – he slows down as he approaches first base, but then suddenly accelerates, probably because the ball he drove into the left field corner hit one of the scoreboard plates and died, forcing Gordon to move up to field the ball. Gordon hits Ben Zobrist on the fly from the warning track, and Carter was out by five feet. It ultimately proved irrelevant because the Royals couldn’t figure out Dallas Keuchel, but at least a national audience got to see once what Royals fans have watched for five years. This is Gordon’s only outfield assist in 31 postseason games. (Or should I say…only one so far. Because Gordon could have more outfield assists in postseason games. Because Gordon could play in more postseason games. With the Royals. Because he re-signed with the Royals. Did I mention Alex Gordon re-signed with the Royals?)

Moment #: 201
Date: October 25, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 4, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 4, San Francisco 1, Top of the 4th
Situation: Two outs, bases loaded
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Jason Vargas vs. Jean Machi
Result: Ball three

Summary: Jason Vargas forgets the count, thinks he’s drawn a bases-loaded walk. Everyone smiles because the Royals are winning – for now.

Link to video: Here.

This moment, this very moment, represents the peak of the Royals odds of claiming the 2014 world championship – with a 2 games to 1 series lead and a three-run lead in Game 4, with the bases loaded and two out, and with ball three thrown to pitcher Jason Vargas (an excellent-hitting pitcher) to run the count full. Except Vargas lost track of the count and thought he had just driven in a run with a walk, and heads to first base before realizing his error. And everyone laughs. Look at the video – George Brett laughs, Eric Hosmer laughs, Jarrod Dyson laughs, everyone. Except Dayton Moore.

Moore smirks, but it’s not a smirk of joy – it’s a smirk accompanied by a shake of his head, as if to say, you can’t do that. You can’t take your foot off the gas for even a moment, or these guys will get you. Dayton Moore knew. Vargas would strike out looking on the next pitch – which was probably inside, but seriously, when you’ve just embarrassed the umpire like that, even if by accident, should you really be taking a borderline pitch? – and the rally was over. If there’s one umpire’s call that the Royals have a legitimate gripe about from 2014, it would be that one – if that’s called a ball, the Royals’ lead would have grown to four and Alcides Escobar would get to bat with the bases loaded. They would have still held a lead going to the bottom of the 6th, and maybe Ned Yost goes to Herrera/Davis/Holland earlier. As it was, the Royals would never again get as close (around 82%) to winning the Series as they were at that moment.

Well, at least in 2014.


Unknown said...

Love this countdown. Keep them coming.

Michael said...

Moment #209, I love how Cain stands up in the baseline to screen the target at first. I think that may have had an effect on the throw being wide as well!