Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Top Moments (#140 - #131) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

We continue our journey into rarefied territory with a group of ten plays that were not only dramatic in their moment, but set up even more dramatic Moments later in the game.

Moment #: 140
Date: October 23, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 6, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 3, Top of the 8th
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 3-2
Matchup: Troy Tulowitzki vs. Wade Davis
Result: Strikeout swinging
WPA: 8%

Summary: Wade Davis keeps Game 6 of the ALCS tied in the 8th after the Royals had blown a 3-1 lead earlier in the inning, setting the stage for their game-winning rally.

Link to video: Here.

Not only have the Royals not lost a single playoff game in the last two years that they led at any point after six innings, there has been only one instance in which the Royals temporarily blew a lead after the 6th inning. This is that game, famously, when Ned Yost – no doubt trying to avoid using Wade Davis because of the impending thunderstorm blowing through Kansas City – let Ryan Madson pitch the 8th inning with the Royals six outs away from the World Series, and with one out Madson gave up a game-tying home run to Jose Bautista that just landed…wait…just one more second…now. Madson then walked Edwin Encarnacion, forcing Yost to do the thing he didn’t want to do and bring Davis in anyway. Davis got Chris Colabello to pop out, but Encarnacion moved up to second base on a wild pitch, putting the go-ahead runner in scoring position while Davis did battle with Troy Tulowitzki. Davis ended the threat by striking out Tulowitzki on a full count fastball in the perfect spot, just beyond the outside corner, too close to take but where Tulo could do nothing but wave at it.

The momentum may have swung to Toronto, but as the Royals have proved over and over again these last two years, momentum means nothing. Having a lead – or even having the game tied – in the late innings means everything.

Don’t believe me? Consider this wild and crazy stat: the Royals did not lose a postseason game these past two seasons in which, at any point from the end of the 6th inning onward, they had a lead or the game was tied. If MLB had passed a rule which immediately ended the game and awarded the win to Kansas City the moment the Royals had a lead or simply tied the game after the 6th inning, no game would have had its outcome changed. That’s insane.

As for Wade Davis and Game 6 of the ALCS…we’re not done with him. Not even close.

Moment #: 139
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 3, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 6th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Ben Zobrist vs. Matt Harvey
Result: Double
WPA: 9%

Summary: Ben Zobrist leads off a rally (again) by swinging at the first pitch (again) and doubling (again).

Link to video: Here.

One of the reasons I could not bear to trim the list to fewer than 218 entries was because I didn’t want the glory to go exclusively to the guys that cleared the table. Certainly, the hits that drive in runs are the most memorable ones, but the hits that put runners on base to score those runs in the first place are what make the RBIs possible. And Ben Zobrist got those hits as much as anyone on the team last season. This hit is remembered by few, but after Alcides Escobar had hit an inside-the-park “home run” to start the game off Matt Harvey, Harvey had shut the Royals down for five innings while the Mets took a 3-1 lead.

And then Zobrist led off the 6th, and swung at the first pitch – something he did to great success all postseason, probably because opposing teams figured he was the one guy in the Royals lineup that might actually take a strike – and, as he did all postseason, he doubled. Lorenzo Cain singled him to third, and Zobrist scored on Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly before the Royals tied the game later in the inning. Hosmer added to his RBI total – an amazing 29 in 31 postseason games the last two years – but it was Zobrist who deserves the bulk of the credit for this run. Making sure he gets that credit is why this list exists.

Moment #: 138
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 0, Top of the 6th
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 0-2
Matchup: Kevin Pillar vs. Luke Hochevar
Result: Popout – second base
WPA: 3%

Summary: After Ned Yost finally pulls Yordano Ventura with the bases loaded and one out in Game 2 of the ALCS, Luke Hochevar puts an end to the rally, giving the Royals a chance to come back.

Link to video: Here.

The 6th inning of Game 2 of the 2015 ALCS was not Ned Yost’s finest moment, but thanks to Luke Hochevar, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Yost let Yordano Ventura start the 6th inning, to face the Blue Jays’ lineup for the third time, and if your internal alarm hasn’t gone off twice already in this sentence, you may not be paying attention. Josh Donaldson led off with an infield single, Jose Bautista walked, and Edwin Encarnacion singled home a run to give make it a 2-0 game. Yost let Ventura stay in, and after striking out Chris Colabello, Ventura gave up a drive to right field off the bat of Troy Tulowitzki that Alex Rios futilely dove for, and now it was 3-0 with men on second and third and one out. And still Yost stuck with Ventura; only after he walked Russell Martin on seven pitches did Yost finally pull him. It looked like a manager’s stubbornness and a general manager’s one mistake – giving $11 million to Alex Rios – was going to cost the Royals an ALCS game.

But then Luke Hochevar came in, and reminded us that while Dayton Moore may have screwed up by signing Rios – although if you want to argue that signing worked out in the end, I won’t argue with you – he pretty much nailed the rest of the off-season, which included signing Hochevar to a two-year contract in anticipation of his return from Tommy John surgery. Hochevar wasn’t great during the regular season, allowing seven homers in 51 innings with a 3.73 ERA, and when the playoffs started was no better than the fourth guy out of the pen. He was still pitching in lower leverage situations when the ALCS started, which is why Yost called upon him here. And with the Blue Jays threatening to put the game away, Hochevar got ahead of Kevin Pillar 0-2 before inducing a pop-up that triggered the infield fly rule. He then got Ryan Goins on a bouncer to first base to end the inning. The Royals were still down 3-0 with twelve outs to go, but for a team that was down 6-2 with six outs to go in its season earlier that same week, that didn’t seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. And it wasn’t.

Moment #: 137
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: No outs, man on first
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Lorenzo Cain vs. David Price
Result: Single to right field
WPA: 8%

Summary: As he had done five days earlier, Lorenzo Cain keeps the line moving, setting the stage for the guys behind him to play the hero.

Link to video: Here.

It wasn’t impossible, because an inning later, after the Blue Jays let Ben Zobrist’s pop-up fall in to start the inning, Lorenzo Cain didn’t let up against David Price, who after allowing Alcides Escobar to single leading off the game (of course he did), had retired 18 batters in a row, and had struck out the side in the 6th. Cain rifled an outside fastball to right field, bringing the tying run to the plate, and as he did so many times during the postseason, he let the guys batting behind him play the hero.

Moment #: 136
Date: October 17, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: No outs, men on first and third
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Kendrys Morales vs. David Price
Result: Groundout, 6-3, one run scores
WPA: -4%

Summary: Kendrys Morales hits a potential double play ball that might have killed the Royals’ rally, but Eric Hosmer was running on the pitch, minimizing the damage.

Link to video: Here.

One of the many themes that underlie the story of the 2014-2015 Royals is their aggressiveness on the bases, putting runners in motion in what appear to be high-risk, low-reward situations, and having it pay off handsomely. After Cain singled, Eric Hosmer singled home a run and put runners on the corners with no outs. So this wasn’t a low-reward situation – Hosmer represented the tying run, and staying out of the double play was a big consideration with Kendrys Morales at the plate – but it was nevertheless incredibly high-risk: no one had stolen a base off of David Price all season. Two attempts had failed, making Price the first pitcher in 47 years - since Luis Tiant in 1968 - to throw 220+ innings without allowing a steal. 

Naturally, with Hosmer in motion Morales hit what would have been a tailor-made double play ball, which would have scored Cain regardless, but would also have left the Royals down a run, with two outs and no one on base. Instead, the Blue Jays had no play at second base. Ryan Goins, who started leaning towards second base when Hosmer took off, kept running past the bag in an attempt to field Morales’ grounder, and very nearly prevented Troy Tulowitzki from making any play at all. As it was, the Blue Jays got one out, but only one out, and the tying run was in scoring position. We’ll come back to this inning later.

(In Game 6 of the ALCS, Alex Rios (!) would steal second base against Price, but did not score. Why were the Royals so aggressive - and successful - running against Price? Maybe because, as Tom Verducci wrote after the series, they had discovered a tell in his pitching move.)

Moment #: 135
Date: November 1, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 0, New York 1, Bottom of the 6th
Situation: No outs, bases loaded
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Yoenis Cespedes vs. Edinson Volquez
Result: Pop out to shortstop
WPA: 5%

Summary: Yoenis Cespedes, allowed to bat after nearly maiming himself on a foul ball, pops out with the bases loaded and no outs, preventing a disastrous inning for the Royals.

Link to video: Here.

Three innings before Terry Collins stuck with Matt Harvey for too long, he stuck with Yoenis Cespedes for too long. His decision was equally disastrous for the Mets, and even more inexplicable. Harvey, at least, still had full functional ability to throw from the pitcher’s mound, but after Cespedes fouled a ball off his leg during this at-bat, he at least temporarily lost the ability to hit from the batter’s box. This was a fortuitous break for the Royals, all the more so because Collins could not bring himself to take his star outfielder, whose acquisition at the trading deadline seemed to spark the Mets’ second-half surge that won them the NL East over the heavily favored Nationals.

The Mets had loaded the bases with no one out after Ned Yost – stop me if you’ve heard this before – stuck with his starting pitcher in the 6th inning. It was heroic for Edinson Volquez to take the mound at all, just four days after he had learned that his father had passed away, just one day after he had returned to the team from his father’s funeral. And after surrendering a home run to the first batter he had faced, Volquez had held the Mets down for five innings. But it was the 6th inning, and the 6th inning is dark and full of terrors, and Yost let him get into a massive jam.

And then Collins let him get out of it, because he stuck with Cespedes, who was in so much pain after this foul ball that he couldn’t walk. The Mets were fortunate that he hit the ball in the air, at least, so his plate appearance only resulted in one out. Had Cespedes hit a groundball at an infielder, it would have been an almost certain double play, and even a triple play was not out of the question, because Cespedes could not run. He couldn’t even walk. He would come out of the game after the at-bat. Lucas Duda would follow and hit a sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 2-0 lead, but that would be all they’d get in the inning.

A year before, in the final game of the 2014 World Series, Salvador Perez also got drilled in the leg – in his case, he was hit by the pitch, he didn’t foul it off – and after he got a few minutes to get his bearings, the Royals left him in the game. And I’m still not convinced that their decision to stick with him didn’t cost them the game, the Series, and the championship. His next time up, in the 4th, Perez hit into a double play after Alex Gordon had reached on a hit-by-pitch; in the 7th, Perez led off by flying out to right field. And then Perez batted in the highest-leverage plate appearance of the season, with two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the tying run at third base, just the fourth time in major league history that a man had a chance to both make the final out in the World Series and to win the World Series with a walkoff hit. Perez popped out. Maybe Erik Kratz would have done just as poorly. He couldn’t have done any worse.

But a year later, in the final game of the 2015 World Series, the shoe was on the other foot – or the ball was on the other leg. As we saw so many times with the 2015 Royals, what goes around comes around; I’m just amazed, once again, that it happened so fast.

Moment #: 134
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 2, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 1st
Situation: Two outs, men on first and second
Count: 3-1
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Jon Lester
Result: Single, one run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: After Oakland put the Royals in an immediate hole in the Wild Card Game, Billy Butler comes through with an RBI single before any despair can set in.

Link to video: Here.

My biggest fear before the Wild Card Game wasn’t simply that the Royals would lose, it was that the Royals would fall behind quickly, and never catch up, depriving them of even the illusion of being in a competitive playoff game before their season ended. My biggest fear was that they wouldn’t have any Moments, basically. So when Brandon Moss confirmed my fears and hit a two-run homer off James Shields in the top of the 1st, I – and 40,501 other fans – feared the worst. It was going to be a battle for the Royals to score two runs the entire game off of Jon Lester, who after all was one of the most successful pitchers in recent history against them: Lester is the only pitcher in the last 40 years to no-hit the Royals, and in his career had a 1.84 ERA against them in 13 starts.

So it was a great relief when the Royals immediately started a rally. Alcides Escobar led off the bottom of the 1st with an infield single; Nori Aoki replaced him on a fielder’s choice and Lorenzo Cain flew out, but Aoki then stole second base and Eric Hosmer walked. And then, on a 3-1 count, Billy Butler roped a base hit to left field, driving home a run and moving Hosmer to third. The Royals weren’t giving up without a fight. Even if, at that moment, we had no idea just what a fight it would be.

(Following Butler’s single, you may recall, was the infamous decision to try a delayed double steal against Jon Lester. This doesn’t look nearly as dumb today as it did then – when Lester’s inability to throw to first base had just become public knowledge – but it went disastrously, in part because, as we learned in Andy McCullough’s great reconstruction of that game, Hosmer simply couldn’t accept that Lester couldn’t throw, and didn’t take off when he should have. And yet, in the process of being tagged out at the plate to end the rally, Hosmer inadvertently injured Geovany Soto’s thumb, and forced the weaker-armed Derek Norris into the game, setting up all the stolen bases that would alter the course of history later in the game. The Royals have been blessed with so much good fortune these past two years that even their mistakes turn into triumphs.)

Moment #: 133
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 2, Kansas City 1, Top of the 3rd
Situation: One out, men on first and second
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Brandon Moss vs. James Shields
Result: Lineout to first base – double play
WPA: 8%

Summary: Eric Hosmer snares Brandon Moss’s line drive and doubles up Sam Fuld, ending an A’s rally in the Wild Card Game.

Link to video: Here.

Had the Royals lost the Wild Card Game, Brandon Moss’s name would be used to frighten young children in the Kansas City area the way Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is instead. He put the Royals behind the 8-ball immediately with a two-run homer in the 1st inning, and drove a stake into their heart in the 6th inning with a three-run homer. (Moss mistakenly thought the Royals were vampires, when in fact they were zombies.) And yet his day could have been bigger still.

In his second plate appearance of the game, he batted with two aboard and hit a bullet over first base. Fortunately for the Royals, Eric Hosmer is 6’5”, knows how to time his jumps well, and throws left-handed. Hosmer snared Moss’s liner, then flipped the ball to second base in time to nail Sam Fuld. Instead of having a runner score and another runner at third base with one out, the A’s failed to score in the inning. That failure has been forgotten because of all the drama that succeeded it, but the A’s missed their chance to establish a lead that not even the Royals could come back from. It would prove decisive.

Moment #: 132
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 2, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, man on third
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Lorenzo Cain vs. Jon Lester
Result: Double, tying run scores
WPA: 12%

Summary: Lorenzo Cain comes through against Jon Lester with two outs and a runner in scoring position to tie the Wild Card Game.

Link to video: Here.

James Shields righted the ship in the 2nd and 3rd innings – with a big assist to Eric Hosmer above – and the Royals still trailed the A’s by just one run going to the bottom of the 3rd. Mike Moustakas, showing the proto-alterations to his swing that would make him the Oppo Monster of 2015, led off with a line drive to left field for a single. Alcides Escobar bunted him to second base (bunts!), and Moustakas moved to third on Nori Aoki’s groundout. And just as Billy Butler had done two innings later, Lorenzo Cain came through with two outs, doing a great job of turning on an inside 94 mph fastball and hitting it into the left field corner. The game was tied and the Royals had the go-ahead run in scoring position.

Moment #: 131
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 2, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Eric Hosmer vs. Jon Lester
Result: Single, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: Eric Hosmer comes through next, dumping a single to left field to score Lorenzo Cain, giving the Royals the lead for the first – but not the last – time.

Link to video: Here.

With the game now tied, Eric Hosmer batted with the go-ahead run on second base, and blooped a little pop-up to the perfect spot in no-man’s land in left field. His hit foreshadowed – although it was not nearly as ugly – his single in Game 2 of the 2015 ALDS against the Astros, a key part of the rally from a two-run deficit in the 6th inning of that game. This single, though, scored Cain easily, and the Royals had a 3-2 lead against Oakland with 18 outs to go. We didn’t know it then, but this hit was merely the end of Act I; Hosmer was the game’s final baserunner until the fateful 6th inning, which necessitated a whole new – and far greater – Royals rally.


Unknown said...

This is such an incredible idea Rany. I know I speak for everyone when I say thank you, we are enjoying every bit of this.

dman said...

Yes. Every single one of these puts me back in these games.

JRCIII said...

Watching these highlights is ridiculously fun. Well, the 2014 highlights are fun, and they hurt, too. They are like watching Rocky I - well-written, miraculous, tragic and ultimately uplifting, but sad at their losing core.

The 2015 highlights, on the other hand, are as if the writers of Rocky II turned out to be screenwriters who embraced the full-on goofiness of the Rocky-Apollo rematch and added the poetic gravitas of William Faulkner writing great commercial films and drinking too much while doing it.

BMJ said...

Current Standings

By Category:

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

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

By Player

Hosmer (7)
Cain (10)
Gordon (7)
Perez (9)
Moustakas (6)
Escobar (10)
Dyson (2)
Zobrist (5)
K. Morales (2)
Butler (4)
Gore (1)
Colon (0)
Infante (3)
Rios (1)
Aoki (2)
Orlando (0)
Willingham (0)
Butera (0)

W. Davis (1)
Holland (4)
Herrera (0)
Ventura (2)
Young (1)
Cueto (2)
Finnegan (1)
Volquez (0)
Guthrie (0)
Shields (0)
Vargas (1)
Hochevar (2)
Madson (1)
Duffy (0)
Medlen (0)
Frasor (0)
Collins (0)
F. Morales (0)
Yost (0)