Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Moments (#170 - #161) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

We’re still in the realm of “Moments you may have forgotten about”, but we’re moving closer to the lands of “Moments you really should never forget”.

Moment #: 170
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 4, Kansas City 4, Top of the 12th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-2 (+2 fouls)
Matchup: Daniel Murphy vs. Chris Young
Result: Strikeout, 2-3
WPA: 6%

Summary: A lucky bounce and a good play by Salvador Perez prevents a leadoff strikeout/wild pitch in extra innings in the World Series opener.

Link to video: Here.
It’s always better to be lucky than good. As Game 1 of the 2015 World Series went deeper and deeper into extra innings and the Royals were forced to turn to Chris Young in the 12th inning, he struck out the first batter he faced, Daniel Murphy – who had just become the first player in history to hit a home run in six consecutive playoff games – on a slider in the dirt, only the ball bounced through the legs of both Salvador Perez and the home-plate umpire. Fortunately, the ball hit the backstop on the hard green border – ensuring a solid, true bounce – just below the rotating sign, which instead presumably would have led to the ball dying with a thud near the backstop. Instead, Perez used his impossibly quick reflexes for a 6’4” catcher to corral the ball and throw behind the umpire to get Murphy at first base; the play wasn’t even that close. Young would go on to strike out the side and retire seven of the next eight batters, and then…

Moment #: 169
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 4, Kansas City 4, Top of the 14th
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Daniel Murphy vs. Chris Young
Result: Popout to shortstop
WPA: 3%

Summary: Chris Young completes his third scoreless inning in relief by retiring Daniel Murphy on a pop-up, setting the stage for him to win Game 1 of the World Series.

Link to video: Here.

It’s easy to overlook just how remarkable Chris Young was in Game 1 of the World Series. He was told, a few hours before first pitch, that he might have to make an emergency start that night because Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away and the Royals still hadn’t determined whether or not they were going to tell him. Then after preparing himself for the possibility that he might start the game, he was told to report back to the bullpen after all…and then, 11 innings later, was asked to come into the game in relief without any firm limit on how long he might be expected to pitch. And he was nails. He pitched three scoreless innings, allowing a single baserunner, which meant that he had to face Daniel Murphy for the second time in the game to finish the 14th inning. Young did what Young does as well as any pitcher in the majors, getting Murphy to pop up harmlessly, setting the stage for the Royals to walk off the game in the bottom of the inning, and for Young to be the winning pitcher in the first World Series game of his career.

Moment #: 168
Date: October 24, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 3, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 3, San Francisco 2, Bottom of the 8th
Situation: One out, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Gregor Blanco vs. Wade Davis
Result: Bunt groundout, 2-3
WPA: 4%

Summary: A great play by Salvador Perez prevents a bunt single in the 8th inning of a one-run game.

Link to video: Here.
No lucky bounce here – just a ridiculously athletic play from Perez. This is the kind of play for which the term “cat-like reflexes” was invented. Gregor Blanco is not a slow runner, and this was not a bad bunt – while he probably would have liked it out further from the plate, his initial chop got a nice high bounce. If Perez doesn’t pounce on the ball, or if he doesn’t have the coordination to cock his arm back as he’s getting his feet set to throw, or if he doesn’t have a cannon of an arm, Blanco is probably safe at first base, even if Blanco was a nincompoop for trying to slide. But Perez did all of those things, and instead of having the tying run on base in the 8th inning, the Giants were down to their final four outs in a one-run game. They would lose by one run.

Moment #: 167
Date: October 20, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 4, @ 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. R.A. Dickey
Result: Bunt Single
WPA: 4%

Summary: Alcides Escobar opens Game 4 of the 2015 ALCS with a bunt single, igniting a four-run rally.

Link to video: Here.
Alcides Escobar led off Game 4 of the 2015 ALCS in Toronto, and true to form, he swung at the first pitch. He missed. So on the second pitch, he grabbed something else out of his bag of tricks and dropped down a bunt, not an easy thing to do against R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, down the third base line. Josh Donaldson came up for it but was unable to complete the transfer to his throwing hand on a do-or-die play, and Escobar had become the first player in major league history to lead off the first four games of a postseason series with a base hit. Ben Zobrist would drive him home with a home run, and the rout was on.

Moment #: 166
Date: October 16, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 1, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 0, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 4th
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Marco Estrada
Result: Home Run, one run scores
WPA: 8%

Summary: Salvador Perez crushes a two-out home run to give the Royals an insurance run in the 2015 ALCS opener.

Link to video: Here.
I have a strange relationship with Salvador Perez home runs to left field, dating back to Father’s Day, 2014, when I took my family to the Royals-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field and basically dared the Royals’ hitters to send me a souvenir in the left field bleachers:

And Perez obliged with a home run that landed maybe 20 feet away.

And then, sitting with my brother in the first row of the left field bleachers behind the bullpen at Kauffman Stadium for Game 1 of the 2014 World Series:

Perez again obliged with pretty much the only good thing that happened that night (although not good enough to make the Top 218): down 7-0 in the 7th, he hit a solo home run into the bullpen that I swear was headed directly at me, but landed about 20 feet short.

Which brings us to the opening game of the 2015 ALCS, which I flew down to Kansas City to watch with my 12-year-old daughter, marking her first time to Kansas City. His first time at bat, with two outs in the bottom of the 2nd, Perez hit a deep fly ball which Kevin Pillar corralled in dead center field. When Perez batted again, again with two outs and the bases empty, but this time with the Royals holding a 2-0 lead, well:

Yeah. In addition to spooking me out a teensy bit, Salvy’s home run extended the Royals’ lead to three, and against the most productive offense in the majors in 2015, a three-run lead sounds a lot better than a two-run lead. Thanks to a gem from Edinson Volquez, it turns out even a one-run lead would have been enough, but if we looked at every Moment from the perspective of hindsight, none of them would be memorable. There’s no drama in something that’s preordained.

Moment #: 165
Date: October 28, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 6, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 0, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 2nd
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 1-2 (+3 fouls)
Matchup: Nori Aoki vs. Jake Peavy
Result: Single, one run scores
WPA: 7%

Summary: Nori Aoki refuses to be put away, then singles home a run to chase Jake Peavy from Game 6 of the World Series.

Link to video: Here.
The Royals returned home down 3 games to 2 in the 2014 World Series, needing to win two elimination games in a row. As such, it was not only imperative that they win Game 6, they also had tremendous incentive to lead by such a convincing margin early in the game that they could minimize their use of HDH.

You ask for miracles, and I bring you the 2nd inning of Game 6.

The Royals had already scored a run and had loaded the bases with one out when Nori Aoki dug in, and stayed alive against Jake Peavy, fouling off three pitches with a two-strike count, before slapping a base hit past a diving Pablo Sandoval. It was hit too hard to score more than one run, but it kept the line moving. It also chased Peavy from the game, but that had no effect, because…

Moment #: 164
Date: October 28, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 6, vs. San Francisco Giantts
Score: San Francisco 0, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 2nd
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 2-2 (+1 foul)
Matchup: Lorenzo Cain vs. Yusmeiro Petit
Result: Single, two runs score
WPA: 9%

Summary: Lorenzo Cain then greets Yusmeiro Petit with a two-run single to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.

Link to video: Here.
…Lorenzo Cain dropped a single into center field, driving in two runs and giving the Royals an impregnable four-run lead. Gregor Blanco tried to deke the Royals into thinking he was going to catch it, but no one bought it – Alcides Escobar read the ball beautifully and scored easily from second, while Nori Aoki scampered to third. The crowd, which was on edge from first pitch knowing the season could end that night, was starting to release its tension in orgiastic ovations. And somewhere in the stands down the left field line, I was getting to unleash my dance moves on the world. But not quite yet. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer on that video.

Moment #: 163
Date: October 26, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 5, @ San Francisco Giants
Score: Kansas City 0, San Francisco 2, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Hunter Pence vs. James Shields
Result: Lineout to rightfield
WPA: 2%

Summary: Lorenzo Cain, playing right field, makes an amazing catch to save two runs, even if it is in vain.

Link to video: Here.

Thanks to Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, there isn’t a single moment from Game 1 of the 2014 World Series on this list, and thanks to him, there is only one moment from Game 5 – and that moment came with the Royals in the field, not at the plate. Ned Yost got some flak for his Game 5 lineup before the game, as he chose to start Jarrod Dyson (who can’t hit lefties) instead of Nori Aoki (who can). Dyson didn’t vindicate Yost with his performance – he struck out with a man on base in both of his plate appearances before Billy Butler pinch-hit for him to lead off the 8th. But Yost was at least partially vindicated by this play, in which Lorenzo Cain – playing right field with Dyson in center – showed unbelievable range in tracking down Hunter Pence’s shot into the right-center gap to the deepest reaches of AT&T Park. The Giants were already leading 2-0 at the time; if Cain doesn’t make this catch, it’s almost certainly 4-0 and the game’s pretty much over. It turns out that it pretty much was over anyway, thanks to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. And this catch would rank much, much higher if the Royals had actually won the game. But the fact that they didn’t doesn’t mean this play should be forgotten. It was as good a catch as any play we’ve seen in the last two postseasons.

Moment #: 162
Date: October 11, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 2, @ Baltimore Orioles
Score: Kansas City 4, Baltimore 4, Top of the 9th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Omar Infante vs. Darren O’Day
Result: Infield single
WPA: 8%

Summary: Omar Infante squibs an infield single to lead off the top of the 9th inning in a tie game, sparking the game-winning rally.

Link to video: Here.
The Royals have won a lot of playoff games late over the last two years – eight times they scored the winning run in their final at-bat – and for obvious reasons, we remember when the final domino falls a lot more vividly than the first one. (This is why RBIs have been overvalued for most of baseball history relative to runs scored.) But both dominos can be equally responsible for the final outcome. The Royals won Game 2 of the 2014 ALCS in their last at-bat – incredibly, it was the fifth time in six games the Royals scored the winning run in the 9th or later – and while Alcides Escobar’s go-ahead double is the one that they’ll write songs about, Omar Infante’s single got the rally going. His single was pretty much exactly what you’d expect if I told you an overmatched right-handed hitter had singled against the extreme groundballing, sidearming Darren O’Day: a dinky little ground ball that rolled to the perfect spot on the infield. If Manny Machado had been playing and healthy, the Orioles might have had a shot at nailing Infante – although it’s still quite doubtful – but with Ryan Flaherty over there, they had no chance. Terrance Gore bounded out to run for Infante almost immediately, and would go on to score the game-winning run. It wasn’t the most esthetically pleasing base hit, but they’re all beautiful in the box score.

Moment #: 161
Date: October 29, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 7, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 2, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 2nd
Situation: One out, men on first and third
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Omar Infante vs. Tim Hudson
Result: Sacrifice fly to center field, tying run scores
WPA: 1%

Summary: Omar Infante ties Game 7 of the World Series with a sacrifice fly. It’s not sexy, but did I mention it was Game 7?

Link to video: Here.

The Royals gave up two runs – both scoring on productive outs – in the 2nd inning of Game 7, and even with 24 outs to go, their backs looked against the wall. But they came right back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, capped by Omar Infante’s line drive that scored Alex Gordon from third base, thanks to Gregor Blanco’s weak arm – it looked like Gordon stumbled a tiny bit tagging from third, but was still safe easily. Infante really stung this ball – if he had hit slightly to the left or right, it’s in the gap and Mike Jirschele has a decision to make about whether to send Salvador Perez home with the go-ahead run all the way from first base.

You could make a case to rank this play much, much higher – Omar Infante drove home the tying run in Game 7 of the World Series. On the other hand, he exchanged an out for a run, and with a runner on first base, his line drive to center field reduced the odds that the Royals would score the go-ahead run even as it tied the game. (The play increased the Royals’ chances of winning the game by just 1%. On the other hand, since it was Game 7, it also increased their odds of winning a world championship by 1%.) But at the moment, it looked as if the Royals had just taken the Giants’ best shot, and returned it in kind.


Ethan Herbertson said...

I love this series, and sincerely thank you for the effort it has/is taken/taking to get through it. But tonight, for some reason, it's put me in mind of the dark days.

In August of 2005, the Royals had just lost their tenth in a row (they would go on to lose nine more), and for solace and/or commiseration I turned to Rob & Rany. As usual, Rob was—shall we say—down. But this post was particularly grim. Both of you appeared to have completely given up on the franchise, with Rob even advocating that the team be moved to another city. (Moved! The scoundrel!) Being a young and naive boy, I of course responded to this by composing an absurdly passionate, long-form email to Rob demanding (in so many words) an apology.

(For the record, Rob graciously took the time to write me back.)

Anyway, today I was gratified to find that archive.org managed to grab the very post that had drawn my ire. I heartily suggest reading it, to any Royals fan who wants perspective on just how far this franchise (and this fanbase) has come in ten years.

Of particular note was the near-live blogging of the end of this grisly affair, wherein All-Star Mike MacDougal combined with not-yet-ruined Jimmy Gobble to give up 11 runs in the ninth-inning:

Fans of [the Pirates, Rockies, and Devil Rays] can at least dream of better days. I can’t. Not anymore. Not when, after being told for years to be patient because hey, we’re running a youth movement here and these guys are going to develop and make you proud one day, they prove in one glorious, disastrous inning that they’re still at square one. They were so bad tonight that Joe Sheehan, who’s on vacation in Hawaii at the moment, was moved to write to us, “Anytime you guys want to push to fold that franchise. Really. Any time now...”

I know you reached that point years ago, Rob. It took me a while, but I’m there with you. I’ll find a new team to love, a team that isn’t an embarrassment from every angle. Someone give me a button to push.

How far we've come.

Andy said...

One small correction: Moment 166 is listed as Game 1 of World Series. It should be Game 1 of the ALCS.

Thanks for doing this. If you want another assignment, it would be interesting to see these in chronological order.

BMJ said...

Current Tally Player By Player Moments On List:

Perez (8)
Escobar (8)
Moustakas (5)
Holland (4)
Cain (4)
Gordon (3)
Hosmer (3)
Butler (3)
Ventura (2)
Infante (2)
Aoki (2)
K. Morales (2)
Zobrist (1)
Dyson (1)
Gore (1)
Rios (1)
Young (1)
Cueto (1)
Finnegan (1)
Vargas (1)
Hochevar (1)
Madson (1)
Colon (0)
Orlando (0)
Willingham (0)
Butera (0)
Davis (0)
Herrera (0)
Volquez (0)
Guthrie (0)
Shields (0)
Duffy (0)
Medlen (0)
Frasor (0)
Collins (0)
F. Morales (0)
Yost (0)

Chris said...

Rany, please don't let Salvy's homers spook you out. Please just go to lots of Royals games. And please always sit in left field.

Jodee said...

I'm loving this. Even moreso after you used the word "nincompoop" in moment 168. The fact that you used it in reference to sliding into 1st base is brilliance.