Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Top Moments (#180 - #171) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

These moments are important, and in some cases crucial, and I can’t believe there are 170 even better ones. But there are.

Moment #: 180
Date: October 22, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 2, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 1, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 1st
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Jake Peavy
Result: Single, tying run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: The Royals finally get on the board in the World Series and erase the Giants’ early lead.

Link to video: Here.
After winning eight consecutive playoff games to get to the World Series, the 2014 Royals ran into the buzzsaw that was Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named in Game 1 of the World Series, which is pretty clearly the worst of the 31 postseason games the Royals played the last two years: they fell behind 3-0 in the top of the 1st and trailed 5-0 by the middle of the 4th. (I believe it is the only one of the 31 playoff games that doesn’t have a single entry in the Top 218.) So when Game 2 started and the first batter of the game, Gregor Blanco, homered off of Yordano Ventura, it was easy to assume the worst:

And then, after Alcides Escobar led off the bottom of the 1st with a single, he would be erased on a stolen base attempt after Nori Aoki flied out, emptying the bases with two outs. So it came as a relief as much as anything else when Lorenzo Cain doubled, Eric Hosmer walked, and then Billy Butler came through with this bullet just past the outstretched glove of Brandon Crawford at shortstop. The ball was hit so hard that, even with two outs and Lorenzo Cain at second base, it wasn’t a sure thing that he would score…until we got our first good look at Travis Ishikawa’s arm. Cain scored with ease, and we had ourselves a ballgame. The 2014 Royals weren’t going to be the 2007 Colorado Rockies after all, especially when…

Moment #: 179
Date: October 22, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 2, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 1, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 2nd
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Jake Peavy
Result: Double, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: And then the Royals take their first lead of the Series an inning later.

Link to video: Here.

…the Royals would take their first lead of the Series an inning later, when Omar Infante doubled with one out, and after Mike Moustakas flied out, Alcides Escobar doubled him home with this nifty bit of inside-out hitting to right field on a fastball that caught the heart of the plate.

(By the way, if you’ve gotten the feeling that Escobar has been heavily represented in our Top 218 list so far, you’re probably right. Escobar has played every inning of all 31 postseason games and has hit .311/.326/.467, which is freaking outstanding for a plus defensive shortstop. His 42 postseason hits are second in Royals history, and if the Royals make an extended postseason run in the next two seasons, Escobar has a chance to catch George Brett, who had 56.)

Moment #: 178
Date: October 25, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 4, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 0, San Francisco 1, Top of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, men on first and third
Matchup: Eric Hosmer vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Result: Infield single, tying run scores
WPA: 12%

Summary: Eric Hosmer beats out an infield single to tie a World Series game when Ryan Vogelsong can’t find the bag.

Link to video: Here.

Moment #209 wasn’t the first time that Eric Hosmer was safe at first base when the pitcher had trouble getting to the bag. In Game 4 of the 2014 World Series, the Royals trailed 1-0 in the 3rd and had two outs with Alex Gordon on first base before Gordon stole second and Lorenzo Cain beat out an infield single. That brought Hosmer to the plate, who hit a chopper that first baseman Brandon Belt fielded well wide of the bag, forcing him to make a fairly long throw to a moving target in his pitcher, and Belt’s toss pulled Ryan Vogelsong far enough away from the base that Vogelsong had trouble finding it. Hosmer beat him to the bag, and instead of the inning being over, the Royals had tied the game and had runners on first and second. The play took on even greater importance when the next three batters reached base, turning a rally that had started with a couple of infield singles into four runs. It would ultimately prove irrelevant when the Giants responded with 10 unanswered runs, but the 3rd inning of Game 4 was almost the inning on which the entire Series turned.

Moment #: 177
Date: October 19, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 3, @ Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Kansas City 0, Toronto 0, Top of the 1st
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Marcus Stroman
Result: Triple
WPA: 9%

Summary: With help from Jose Bautista, Alcides Escobar starts off another game right.

Link to video: Here.
As everyone knows, you can’t spell “Alcides” without “A-L-C-S”. It wasn’t the first pitch of the game, but it was the second, and after winning the first two games of the ALCS at home, the Royals started Game 3 off right when Escobar hit a line drive to right field that short-hopped Jose Bautista. If Bautista just plays back on the ball, it’s a routine single and the Royals don’t score in the inning, but Bautista allowed the ball to get past him, and by the time he was able to retrieve it Escobar was on his way to third base. The Royals wouldn’t get another baserunner in the inning, but Ben Zobrist’s groundout would give Kansas City a 1-0 lead. The lead would pass, thanks to Johnny Cueto making one of the worst starts in Royals postseason history (sandwiched between him making two of the best starts in Royals postseason history.) But for a moment it looked like the Royals might turn the 2015 ALCS into a repeat of the 2014 ALCS.

Escobar, meanwhile, had tripled to start Game 3 after doubling to start Game 1 and singling to start Game 2. He didn’t homer to complete the leadoff cycle in Game 4, but instead he would bunt for a single, becoming the first player in history to lead off the first four games of a playoff series with a hit.

Moment #: 176
Date: October 11, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 2, @ Baltimore Orioles
Score: Kansas City 6, Baltimore 4, Bottom of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, man on first
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Steve Pearce vs. Greg Holland
Result: Strikeout swinging
WPA: 4%

Summary: Greg Holland shuts the door on another late-inning win.

Link to video: Here.

Nothing fancy here. The Royals had just scored two runs in the top of the 9th inning to take the lead, and here, with the tying run at the plate, Greg Holland finished off Steve Pearce with his nasty split/slider/splider to end the game, and give the Royals a 2-0 series lead heading home to Kansas City. It was the Royals’ sixth straight playoff victory, and put them in excellent position to finish off the Orioles and go to the World Series. Before this game, the Royals’ playoff run still felt enchanted and magical, but it also felt fragile, as if we could wake up from this dream at any time. But after Pearce struck out, the reality set in that, at this point, not winning the pennant and going to the World Series would constitute an epic fail. After the game, Jarrod Dyson was asked if he thought the series would come back to Baltimore, and he somewhat famously replied, “No sir, I don’t, and I don’t think [the Orioles] think that, either.”

(Should I have included off-the-field moments on this list? I did not, which means we’re missing Dyson’s comments, and Noah Syndergaard’s comments after Game 3 of the 2015 World Series, and Jeremy Guthrie wearing his “These O’s Ain’t Royal” shirt, and Ryan Lefebvre smacking down the fan who yelled “Kansas City sucks!” as he walked past the post-game broadcast booth with “Well, what does that say about the Orioles, then?”, and the team picking up the tab at McFadden’s after sweeping the 2014 ALDS, and the brawls with half the teams in the American League last April, and Jonny Gomes’ Oscar-winning speech during the parade. I guess not even 218 was enough.)

Moment #: 175
Date: October 24, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 3, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 3, San Francisco 2, Bottom of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Hunter Pence vs. Greg Holland
Result: Groundout, 1-3
WPA: 4%

Summary: Greg Holland shuts the door on another one-run win.

Link to video: Here.

Nothing fancy here either. After losing Game 1 of the World Series, the Royals responded by winning Game 2 decisively, and then took a 3-0 lead in Game 3 into the bottom of the sixth. But Ned Yost stuck with his starter into the 6th inning, and – I’m as shocked as you! – the Giants scored two runs to draw within a run. Hunter Pence led off the 7th with a walk, but a procession of Royal relievers retired the next eight men in order, making Pence the Giants’ last hope in the bottom of the 9th. Greg Holland made a nice stab at a hard-hit comebacker, and the Royals led the series, 2 games to 1.

Moment #: 174
Date: October 14, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 3, vs. Baltimore Orioles
Score: Baltimore 1, Kansas City 2, Top of the 9th
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Steve Pearce vs. Greg Holland
Result: Groundout, 4-3
WPA: 4%

Summary: Greg Holland shuts the door on another one-run win.

Link to video: Here.

Just for variety’s sake, this one came at home. Steve Pearce is probably tired of seeing Greg Holland by now. This time Holland didn’t spear the hard-hit comebacker, but he also didn’t deflect it, allowing Omar Infante to come in and make the routine play at first base. Eric Hosmer punched the air, and the Royals had won their seventh straight playoff game (well, 10th straight, if you count 1985), and had a decisive 3 games to 0 lead in the ALCS. It was time to party.

Moment #: 173
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 7, Kansas City 5, Bottom of the 8th
Situation: One out, men on first and third
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Luke Gregerson
Result: Terrance Gore steals second base
WPA: 6%

Summary: Terrance Gore, the tying run in a game the Royals trailed by four runs just minutes earlier, steals second base when everyone knows it’s coming.

Link to video: Here.

As they now teach in every Kansas City-area kindergarten, the Royals trailed the A’s 7-3 headed to the bottom of the 8th inning of the Wild Card Game. Five batters later, which included three singles and a walk, the Royals trailed 7-5, and Billy Butler had just reached first base. He had barely touched the bag when Terrance Gore, who has a legitimate case to be called The Fastest Basestealer Ever, bounded out of the dugout to replace him. And suddenly, just like that, Terrance Gore was the tying run.

If you want to pinpoint the exact moment when 40,000-plus Royals fans at Kauffman Stadium all started to think, holy crap, we might actually pull this off, this is your moment. The Royals could tie the game without even the benefit of a hit. All Gore had to do was steal second base – and everyone in the ballpark knew that was what he was going to try to pull off. What we didn’t know was just how frickin’ easy he would make it look. I mean, we knew he was fast. We knew that he was almost impossible to throw out* even when the other team knew he was running.

*: At least without the use of nanosecond video technology, a complete disregard for the physics of what happens when an object at high speed collides with a stationary object, and a highly generous interpretation of what constitutes a “tag”.

But his stolen base still took our breath away. He took off on the very first pitch, and despite Derek Norris’ throw being right on the money, Gore was on the base before the ball hit Lowrie’s glove. It was breathtaking. It was like watching the unveiling of the B-2 Bomber: this mythical weapon that no one had ever seen before, that some doubted could even exist, and that only your side had.

The punchline, though, and the reason why this moment doesn’t rank at least 100 spots higher, is that Gore never did score, not even after he reached third base with one out after a wild pitch. Luke Gregerson’s slider – and the inability of Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to lay off it – saw to that.

But here’s the real punchline: is it possible that Gore should have been called out? Look at the video again – Gore hits the bag with such force that, as he bounces up, it appears his foot comes off the bag for a split-second. Was Lowrie’s glove in contact with his body for that split-second? It’s impossible to tell from this angle, Lowrie certainly doesn’t act like he was, and the A’s never challenged the play. On the other hand, Lowrie probably wouldn’t have realized that Gore’s foot might have come off the base, and it was really only during the 2015 season that teams realized the frame-by-frame detail of instant replay could turn what was clearly a safe baserunner by the spirit of the law into an out by the letter of the law. The Astros used that against Gore to their advantage last October, and it could have sunk the Royals. But if the A’s had challenged the play and won…well, the Royals might have won anyway, seeing as how Gore didn’t score. On the other hand, Omar Infante would have led off the bottom of the 9th instead of Josh Willingham, and that might have changed everything.

Maybe someone can point out a different view that definitively proves this one way or another. But if not, I guess we’ll never know. I almost prefer it that way. What’s a good story without a little mystery?

Moment #: 172
Date: November 1st, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 2, New York 2, Bottom of the 9th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Juan Lagares vs. Kelvin Herrera
Result: Lineout to shortstop
WPA: 5%

Summary: Alcides Escobar makes a fine catch on Lagares’ line drive, depriving the Mets of a leadoff baserunner in a sudden-death situation.

Link to video: Here.
As hard as it now may be to believe, the Royals were not assured of winning the World Series after Eric Hosmer’s mad dash tied Game 5 in the top of the 9th. On the contrary, the Mets had a chance to walk off in the bottom of the inning with a single run, against Kelvin Herrera, who Ned Yost stuck with even though Herrera had already thrown two innings (and 24 pitches) already. Perhaps Yost was trying to atone for Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, when he could have turned to Herrera for three innings of work had he let Herrera start the 4th inning; instead, he let Jeremy Guthrie get into a first-and-third, one-out jam first, and then turned to Herrera, who got eight outs instead of nine, and let one of Guthrie’s baserunners score what proved to be the series-winning run.

This time, though, Herrera would get nine outs, and he was helped in this regard by Alcides Escobar, who got a good jump on Juan Lagares’ floating liner deep in the hole and plucked it out of the air. It’s hard to deny that Herrera was tiring in his third inning of work; his fastball on this pitch was just 95 mph, and the next batter, Lucas Duda, drilled Herrera’s fastball to the warning track in deep left-center field before Alex Gordon ran it down; another five feet and that’s a walk-off home run. But after two loud outs, Herrera turned to his new slider to get Travis d’Arnaud to fly out harmlessly to end the 9th, and Herrera’s night – and season – was finished: a job well done.

Moment #: 171
Date: August 26, 2014
Game: 2014 Regular Season Game 131, vs. Minnesota Twins
Score: Minnesota 1, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 9th
Situation: No outs, man on first
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Glen Perkins
Result: Walk-off Home Run, tying and winning runs score
WPA: 67%

Summary: Alex Gordon hits a walk-off home run against a left-handed closer, the only walk-off hit with the Royals losing in the last two years.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals improbably led the AL Central by 1.5 games headed into action on August 26th, but the Tigers would beat the Yankees that night and threatened to move to with half a game of first place when the Royals could muster no offense against Ricky Nolasco and trailed, 1-0, headed to the bottom of the 9th. But Alcides Escobar led off against Glen Perkins with a single, and Alex Gordon followed by taking a hanging slider just over the wall in right field. Gordon showed characteristically little emotion – while the camera doesn’t show him rounding first, there’s no evidence that he pointed his finger to the sky, for instance. (Such a gesture would require a far more momentous moment.) But don’t let Gordon’s stoicism fool you: it was huge.

In terms of WPA, his mark of 67% is essentially tied with Salvador Perez’s home run in Tampa Bay (Moment #192) for the highest in the last two years. Gordon’s walk-off is just the 28th in Royals history (29th counting Dane Iorg, which absolutely should be counted) to occur with the Royals losing, and the only one in the last three seasons. It was just the 11th walk-off home run in Royals history to come with the Royals losing. (The last one came on July 30th, 2010, and was hit by…Alex Gordon.) 

Given that the Royals claimed home field advantage in the Wild Card Game by one game, and that home field advantage turned out to be kind of important…yeah, this was a pretty big home run.

But not his biggest. He points his finger to the sky when he hits those.


Mr. X said...

I know people say "I called that" when something amazing happens, but if you're curious I DID call the Alex Gordon walk-off against Minnesota - even down to the Escobar hit.

My buddy was at the game, and he asked if the Royals were going to win. I texted him back "Absolutely - Esky is gonna hit a doinker, and then Alex is gonna walk it off".


Lank said...

This is a blast. Thanks for the recaps.

By my unofficial account we still have not heard from six playoff games:

2014 ALCS Game One - W 8-6 in 10 innings.
2014 World Series Game One - L 7-1
2014 World Series Game Five - L 5-0
2014 World Series Game Seven
2015 ALCS Game Five - L 7-1
2015 World Series Game Four - W 5-3

I have my own top ten list so I'll be curious to see how close I get.

BMJ said...

Thoroughly enjoying this. Some of these moments I was expecting to go higher but it just speaks to the depth of these incredible moments.

Also kudos for mentioning moments in games the Royals didn't win or great moments from players from other teams that can't be overlooked from this list. It makes this list more representative and such a higher quality.

Think the current tally stands like this:

2014 Regular Season (5)
Wild Card Game (2)
ALDS Game 1 (Angels) (1)
ALDS Game 2 (Angels) (2)
ALDS Game 3 (Angels) (1)
ALCS Game 1 (Orioles) (0)
ALCS Game 2 (Orioles) (2)
ALCS Game 3 (Orioles) (2)
ALCS Game 4 (Orioles) (1)
World Series Game 1 (Giants) (0)
World Series Game 2 (Giants) (2)
World Series Game 3 (Giants) (3)
World Series Game 4 (Giants) (3)
World Series Game 5 (Giants) (0)
World Series Game 6 (Giants) (1)
World Series Game 7 (Giants) (0)

2015 Regular Season (1)
ALDS Game 1 (Astros) (1)
ALDS Game 2 (Astros) (1)
ALDS Game 3 (Astros) (1)
ALDS Game 4 (Astros) (1)
ALDS Game 5 (Astros) (1)
ALCS Game 1 (Blue Jays) (4)
ALCS Game 2 (Blue Jays) (1)
ALCS Game 3 (Blue Jays) (2)
ALCS Game 4 (Blue Jays) (2)
ALCS Game 5 (Blue Jays) (0)
ALCS Game 6 (Blue Jays) (1)
World Series Game 1 (Mets) (1)
World Series Game 2 (Mets) (1)
World Series Game 3 (Mets) (3)
World Series Game 4 (Mets) (0)
World Series Game 5 (Mets) (2)

Robert said...

This seems like a lot of damn work. Thanks for doing it, Rany.