Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Top Moments (#15 - #11) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This set of five Moments includes the Royals being on the right side of one of the costliest errors in World Series history, a go-ahead RBI single in the last game of the World Series, a game-tying RBI single with the Royals two outs from elimination, and a pair of tie-breaking extra-inning playoff home runs. And we still have 10 Moments to go.

Moment #: 15
Date: October 31, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 4, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 2, New York 3, Top of the 8th
Situation: One out, men on first and second
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Eric Hosmer vs. Jeurys Familia
Result: E-4, tying run scores, go-ahead runner advances to third
WPA: 32%

Summary: Daniel Murphy misses Eric Hosmer’s slow ground ball with the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the 8th inning, turning the entire game – and World Series – around.

Link to video: Here.

It’s easy to forget just how important this Moment was – it was still only the 8th inning, the Royals only trailed by a run, and they had two on with one out. They led the World Series 2 games to 1; this was an important game but not a must-win.

But after winning the first two games at home, the Royals had lost Game 3 in New York handily, and they were five outs away from losing Game 4 in large part because Alex Rios forgot how many outs there were in the bottom of the 3rd inning and momentarily jogged toward the dugout after catching the second out of the inning; by the time he woke up and threw home, Wilmer Flores was safe on a sacrifice fly. And now it was the 8th inning and the Royals trailed by a run, and if they lost this game, then after leading the Series 2 games to 0, it was back to being a best-of-three series. And with the strength of the Mets’ starting pitching, you never knew when their rotation would take over and shut the Royals down for a game or two. This was a big game.

And this was a big moment. After Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain walked (Moments #104 and #103) with one out in the 8th, Terry Collins finally called on his closer, Jeurys Familia. Familia’s first pitch was a nasty 96 mph splitter – you read that right – that Hosmer swung over. His second pitch was 96 mph a little above the knees, but Hosmer still got on top of it, chopping it slowly to Daniel Murphy at second base as the runners moved up.

And Murphy flat-out missed it.

Murphy didn’t have the greatest defensive reputation before the World Series began, but he was generally thought of as someone who could make the routine play; the problem was his lack of range at the position. Maybe that’s giving him too much credit; his career-best fielding percentage is .979, whereas the average fielding percentage for a major league second baseman the last five years is about .984. (Or to reframe those numbers in an easier to digest manner: Murphy has made at least 21 errors per thousand chances (EPK) at second base every year of his career, while the major league average at the position is about 16 EPK.) But still – this was a pretty routine, if slow, ground ball. And he missed it by this much:

Not only was Hosmer safe at first, not only did Zobrist score the tying run from second base, but Lorenzo Cain, the go-ahead run, went first to third with one out. It didn’t matter quite so much after Mike Moustakas batted with two outs and – thanks in part to Murphy’s lackluster range – singled Cain home with the go-ahead run (Moment #37) and then Salvador Perez drove home an insurance run (Moment #118) – but had Cain scored the winning run without benefit of a base hit, the play that got him to third base with one out would loom even larger.

Don’t laugh too hard, Royals fans. At -33%, I believe Hosmer’s 8th-inning error in Game 1 of the World Series ranks third. (Keep in mind the WPA being measured here is the difference between making the play and not making the play – a little different than the WPA I use in the summary.) The difference is, the Royals took advantage of their chance to redeem themselves. The Mets, thanks to Wade Davis and their own bad baserunning (Moment #36), didn’t. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this play was the fulcrum upon which the entire World Series turned.

Memorable Broadcaster Quote: “Chopper on the infield, can’t turn TWO…MURPHY BOOTS IT…into score is the tying run, Zobrist, and this game is 3-3 in the 8th.” – Joe Buck. The way Buck’s voice suddenly adds a dozen decibels at “TWO” reminds me of Vin Scully’s famous “behind the BAG” call on Buckner’s grounder in 1986. Which is perfect.

Moment #: 14
Date: November 1, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 2, New York 2, Top of the 12th
Situation: One out, man on third
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Christian Colon vs. Addison Reed
Result: Single, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 17%

Summary: Christian Colon drives home the go-ahead run in the 12th inning in the final game of the World Series.

Link to video: Here.

Christian Colon had not had a base hit in four weeks.

No, scratch that: Christian Colon had not played in a game in four weeks. His ass had been stapled to the bench since October 4th, the final game of the regular season, when he pinch-hit in the 7th inning (he singled that day too). And then, through three rounds of playoffs, Colon’s name had not appeared in a box score. Every other player on the 25-man roster had appeared in a game. Raul Mondesi appeared in a game, and he only got added to the roster before the World Series. Colon waited, and practiced, and waited some more.

And then, with the go-ahead run on third base with one out in the 12th inning, and with the pitcher’s spot due up, Ned Yost figured that this was a situation in which he had faith in Colon. As well he should have.

Colon pinch-hit against Addison Reed, took a strike, and then swung and missed to fall behind 0-and-2. The game was still very much up for grabs at that point; had Colon struck out, the Royals would have needed a base hit from Paulo Orlando to take the lead, or otherwise the Mets would get yet another chance to walk off in the bottom of the inning and force a Game 6. But the next pitch was in the dirt, and Colon fouled off the next pitch, and finally, Reed hung a slider – as we saw in Moment #57, his slider was pretty terrible that night – and Colon hit a line drive to left field, and I’m pretty sure that the moment it got over the shortstop’s head I blacked out for a second. The Royals were three outs away from winning the World Series. It didn’t matter whether the ball carried to the left fielder or not – Jarrod Dyson was on third base, and he was scoring either way.

It was mere gravy when the ball fell in for a single, an ice cream sundae when Orlando batted and Daniel Murphy flubbed his grounder, the rarest Beluga caviar when Alcides Escobar doubled Colon home, and manna from heaven when Lorenzo Cain cleared the bases with a double. The Royals were about to win the World Series. And in a game that Matt Harvey seemed destined to win, the player the Royals selected with the #4 pick in the 2010 draft over Harvey – and Chris Sale, and hundreds of other players – had justified his draft position with one swing of the bat.

If anything, I think the consensus will be that I’ve rated this moment too low. My argument is that the winning run was on third base and there was only one out; while Colon’s single was huge, it wasn’t necessary. The Royals were already in very good position to take the lead and win the game, which is why the WPA for this play was an excellent but not superlative 17%; of the remaining 14 plays on our list, only two have WPAs of under 20%. And let us not forget: if the Royals had lost Game 5, they still would have had two cracks at winning the World Series at home. If this Moment had occurred in a Game 7, it might rank #1 overall.

But really, the only reason this Moment ranks so low is that the Royals have been very, very good to us. Even the last man on their bench made an enormous contribution, and it wasn’t the first time or even the best time Colon came through when the Royals desperately needed him, because…

Memorable Broadcaster Quote: “Colon DELIVERS INTO LEFT! In to score is Dyson, and Kansas City is on top, 3-2.” “Let’s go!” “Oh-ho, Gimme some! Thatta boy!” “Let’s go!” “Hell yeah!” – Joe Buck, with color commentary from Christian Colon and Rusty Kuntz.

Moment #: 13
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 8, Kansas City 7, Bottom of the 12th
Situation: One out, man on third
Count: 1-0
Matchup: Christian Colon vs. Dan Otero
Result: Single, tying run scores
WPA: 22%

Summary: Christian Colon, in the 50th plate appearance of his career, bats with the tying run on third and the Royals two outs from elimination – and chops his way into the hearts of Royals fans forever.

Link to video: Here.

…Christian Colon basically has a perfect record in the postseason. It’s not a long record, but it is a perfect one.

He made exactly one appearance in the 2015 playoffs, the Moment above, in which he singled to drive in the winning run, and then came around to score himself.

In 2014, he appeared in only two games. One was Game 2 of the ALCS, when – after Omar Infante singled to start the 9th and Alcides Escobar (Moment #17) doubled home pinch-runner Terrance Gore – Colon took over for Gore to play defense at second base in the bottom of the 9th. He had a perfect inning, which is to say no balls were hit at him.

The other game was the Wild Card Game, when he pinch-hit for Gore in the bottom of the 10th inning, after Eric Hosmer had led off the inning with a single. Colon was asked to bunt in that situation, and did so successfully, moving Hosmer to second base.

And then there was this Moment, the first time Colon batted in the 12th inning with a man on third base and one out. I rank this Moment higher than the last one because the stakes were higher – the Royals were losing, not tied, so there would be no second chance if they didn’t score in the inning, and they were playing an elimination game, so there would be no second chance if they lost the game.

This looked like a good situation for the Royals, because they just needed solid contact, and Dan Otero isn’t a strikeout pitcher. Colon himself was an excellent contact hitter, who had never struck out 60 times in a minor league season, but that’s just it: virtually his entire career had been spent in the minors. He had 15 career hits in the majors, although he had struck out just four times in 49 plate appearances. But Otero was a strong groundball pitcher, and the A’s had their infield in. A groundball was no guarantee that the tying run would score.

And then, as happened so many times over the past two seasons, the Royals caught a break. Otero threw a 92 mph fastball right down the middle, but it had late sink on it, and Colon’s swing got on top of the ball. Only he topped it so badly that he chopped it straight into the ground in front of home plate. Hosmer didn’t hesitate at all and took off from third base immediately – as Ron Darling said watching the replay, “This is just an excellent read by Hosmer, sees it right away, breaks…Josh Donaldson has no chance” – and slid home safely, head-first.

Say this for the Royals: they’re not subtle about their foreshadowing. Mark Twain was alleged (though there’s no proof) to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In the Royals’ case, they’ve been spitting out some Hamilton-grade lyrics the last two years.

The game was tied, and the Royals moved away from death’s door yet again. Colon would then steal second base (Moment #74), and come around to score the walkoff run on Salvador Perez’s single. Maybe he hasn’t been literally perfect in the postseason – he didn’t hit a home run in every plate appearance – but he has done literally everything the Royals have asked him to do.

Memorable Broadcaster Quote: “High chopper. They’ll never get him. Tie game!” – Ernie Johnson.

Moment #: 12
Date: October 10, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 1, @ Baltimore Orioles
Score: Kansas City 5, Baltimore 5, Top of the 10th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Darren O’Day
Result: Home Run, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 34%

Summary: After the Royals blow a bases-loaded, no out situation in the top of the 9th, Alex Gordon makes sure they don’t miss their next opportunity, leading off the 10th inning with a home run to lead the Royals to victory in Game 1 of the 2014 ALCS.

Link to video: Here.

Game 1 of the 2014 ALCS might be the most underrated playoff game the Royals have played in the last two years. (Sam Mellinger ranked it 13th on his list of playoff victories; it’s a top 10 game for me for sure, although granted, the competition is delightfully stiff.) The Royals had loaded the bases with no outs in the 9th without scoring, but then Wade Davis blew through the heart of the Orioles’ lineup (Moment #50). Zach Britton had been pulled for Darren O’Day in the 9th, who induced Billy Butler's double play ball, and O'Day returned for the 10th. The second and third hitters due up in the inning (Salvador Perez and Omar Infante) were right-handed, but first O’Day – a right-handed sidearmer replacing a left-handed closer – had to get past a left-handed hitter in the person of Alex Gordon.

Gordon would not let him pass. On O’Day’s 1-1 pitch, catcher Nick Hundley set up right over the middle for some reason, but O’Day’s pitch sailed high and outside. That’s actually not a bad pitch for a hard thrower – but O’Day is not a hard thrower who can beat hitters upstairs with high heat, and his fastball came in at 87 mph, and Gordon dropped the bat head down with a picture-perfect swing, and the air was let out of Camden Yards as the ball cleared the right field wall.

And then my buddy Kurtis Seaboldt sent out maybe my favorite tweet of 2014:

Pretty much my entire life, the exploits of the 1976-1985 Kansas City Royals were like Homer’s tales to the Greeks, these great and glorious stories of bygone years that had cast a shadow on the reality that I had lived my life as a baseball fan in. Because I hadn’t experienced their history first-hand, they were tales of the ancients, as much mythology as history. They were grainy footage on a film reel, they were words in a book or stat lines on a page, but they weren’t living history to me, because I hadn’t lived them.

And when Kurtis sent out that tweet, even though this was the fifth Royals playoff game in ten days, it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. The Royals weren’t just in the playoffs: they were making history, the way those 1976-1985 Royals did. Their past was intertwining itself with their present. And this time, I was getting to watch it unfold live. This time, I didn’t have to live through the experiences of someone else. I was experiencing them for myself.

And they were awesome.

Memorable Broadcaster Quote: “In the air to deep right…AND THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS HAVE TAKEN THE LEAD! Alex Gordon with a shot into the seats in right field, and the tie’s been broken!” – Ernie Johnson.

Moment #: 11
Date: October 2, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 1, @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 1, Los Angeles 1, Top of the 11th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. Fernando Salas
Result: Home Run, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 35%

Summary: Mike Moustakas homers leading off the top of the 11th inning, leading the Royals to a surprise victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS.

Link to video: Here.

There’s no playoff game in the last two years that I had fewer expectations from than Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS. Partly that’s because, after a physically and emotionally debilitating Wild Card Game victory on Tuesday night followed by a flight to Anaheim in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I thought the Royals would be at less than 100% for Game 1 – and let’s not forget, they had to start Jason Vargas in a playoff series opener! – and partly that’s because I was so happy that they won the Wild Card Game that falling behind 1 game to 0 in a best-of-five series felt like a small price to pay afterwards.

It's not that I didn’t think they could win Game 1. It’s that I felt like they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Game 1 was a free roll.

And then they played the Angels to a draw for five innings, and then Nori Aoki started performing magic tricks in the outfield to keep the game tied. In the bottom of the 9th, the Royals turned to Tim Collins, who hit the leadoff batter (Gordon Beckham), but somehow he and Jason Frasor got out of the inning. Danny Duffy pitched the bottom of the 10th inning, allowed a leadoff single to Kole Calhoun, and then retired Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Howie Kendrick in order. The longer the game went on, the more chances the Royals had to pull out a miracle.

The miracle happened leading off the top of the 11th inning, when Mike Moustakas – batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, who hit .212/.271/.361 during the season, who was 0-for-3 with a walk in the game so far, greeted new pitcher Fernando Salas. On a 1-1 pitch, Salas threw an 85 mph changeup that was supposed to be at the ankles but came in at the knees, and Moustakas turned on it, and muscled it just barely over the right field fence into the first row of the bleachers.

(Honesty compels me to admit that I sent the first tweet before Moustakas batted...his previous time up, with two out in the 8th.)

It was the first extra-inning home run in Royals postseason history. (They would hit three more such home runs in their next three playoff games.) And in that one moment, a season of futility and a career of disappointment was redeemed. The Royals were about to steal a playoff game they had no business winning. The free roll hit big. And they were on their way.

Memorable Broadcaster Quote: “Fly ball well hit to right…Calhoun is back…and that ball…has reached the seats! It’s a solo homer! And it’s a Kansas City lead!” – Ernie Johnson.


ChaimMKeller said...

OMG - I could have gotten 4 Pepsis for $5 at Hy-Vee, and I missed that?

ChaimMKeller said...

More seriously - first, thanks once again for this series, Rany. This is a fantastic way to re-live a pair of fantastic baseball seasons.

With the two Colon entries being in this set, that means my predicted top 10 will end up 60% correct. I can hardly wait to see which four you have up there that I didn't (I have a few guesses). I get why the series-winning single in the 2015 World Series fell as low as it did, but I still think that the Wild Card Baltimore Chop should be higher up there, despite the awesomeness of the moments still to come. In fact, I think that itself justified his pick in the draft, even without the 2015 World Series moment.

Danny Lawhon said...

This list has been incredible, Rany.

One note I found on the Colon Wild Card Game moment -- I actually think it's Cal Ripken Jr. who talks about Hosmer's great read on the chopper instead of Ron Darling.

I listened to it about a half-dozen times and I'm 99% sure. Just worth another listen, I think!

Nathan Duysen said...

Forgive me for disagreeing here, but the Colon single should be Top 10 for sure, if not Top 5 even. Yes, the Royals back were not against the wall when it happened, and I have a feeling many fans give it less importance due to the impending floodgates that were about to be opened. But no one knew that at the time. The Royals had just put their last experienced speed bullet in the gun with Dyson (they did still have Mondesi Jr, who is fast, but not experienced running in high leverage situations like Dyson is), there was already 1 out, and Orlando was up next. I'd put it at 65-70% chance of scoring there (which is still good), but not automatic.

Also, If I suggest that if Davis striking out Flores is on the list still (and I assume it is), wouldn't the same set of circumstances be used there? Is the out absolutely necessary... No, someone would get out before 6 runs scored. And even if the Mets came back to win, games 6 & 7 would be in KC. This offensive play by Colon is the defensive equivalent to Davis striking out Flores. Both were needed plays to secure the championship, even though both were not absolutely necessary.

K-Funk said...

Colon's World Series-winning hit should have been higher. Top 5.

David said...

"In the Royals’ case, they’ve been spitting out some Hamilton-grade lyrics the last two years."

Now I'm going to be impatient for someone to come up with a Royals-related version of the Hamilton soundtrack ("How does a sad sack, cellar dwelling punchline that started Aaron Guiel/Eventually rule the AL for a while?") . An autographed Mike MacDougal baseball goes to the best Ben Zobrist version of "Guns and Ships"!

Ryan said...

I come back with more runs, and hits, and so the balance shifts. We rendezvous with Rusty Kuntz, consolidate our gifts.

BMJ said...

Current Tally As We Go From Top "Alex Rios" Moments (15) To Top "Dick Howser" Moments (10)

By Category:

2014 Regular Season (9)
Wild Card Game (18)
ALDS Game 1 Angels (7)
ALDS Game 2 Angels (6)
ALDS Game 3 Angels (7)
ALCS Game 1 Orioles (8)
ALCS Game 2 Orioles (9)
ALCS Game 3 Orioles (4)
ALCS Game 4 Orioles (5)
World Series Game 1 Giants (0)
World Series Game 2 Giants (6)
World Series Game 3 Giants (6)
World Series Game 4 Giants (5)
World Series Game 5 Giants (1)
World Series Game 6 Giants (7)
World Series Game 7 Giants (4)
2014 Entries So Far (102)

2015 Regular Season (3)
ALDS Game 1 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 2 Astros (8)
ALDS Game 3 Astros (2)
ALDS Game 4 Astros (9)
ALDS Game 5 Astros (8)
ALCS Game 1 Blue Jays (6)
ALCS Game 2 Blue Jays (11)
ALCS Game 3 Blue Jays (2)
ALCS Game 4 Blue Jays (5)
ALCS Game 5 Blue Jays (1)
ALCS Game 6 Blue Jays (9)
World Series Game 1 Mets (12)
World Series Game 2 Mets (5)
World Series Game 3 Mets (5)
World Series Game 4 Mets (10)
World Series Game 5 Mets (10)
2015 Entries So Far (107)

By Player
Hosmer (24)
Cain (23)
Gordon (18)
Perez (15)
Moustakas (19)
Escobar (24)
Dyson (8)
Zobrist (12)
Morales (4)
Butler (10)
Gore (3)
Colon (3)
Infante (6)
Rios (5)
Aoki (5)
Orlando (1)
Willingham (1)
Butera (1)

Davis (8)
Holland (8)
Herrera (2)
Ventura (4)
Young (1)
Cueto (2)
Finnegan (4)
Volquez (1)
Guthrie (0)
Shields (0)
Vargas (1)
Hochevar (2)
Madson (1)
Duffy (0)
Medlen (0)
Frasor (0)
Collins (0)
Morales (0)

OTHER (15)

BMJ said...

So now there's Top 10 Moments .... only that I count 11 deserving moments for the Top 10.

Which one was already mentioned that I'm forgetting or is 1 moment a glaring omission by Rany?

The Top Ten (Eleven)

3 Wild Card Moments
Dyson steals 3rd (bottom 9)
Hosmer triples (bottom 12)
Perez walk off (bottom 12)

Angels Game 2 ALDS
Hosmer HR (top 11)

Astros Game 4 ALDS
Correa error (top 8)

Astros Game 5 ALDS
Cueto's dominance 8 innings
(Cueto Game 2 WS already covered much earlier. I'm worried this missed the cut completely. Cueto's brilliance - over Kendrys HR off Keuchel and over Rios 2 run double was THE story of Game 5)

Blue Jays Game 6 ALCS - 2 moments
Cain scores from first on Hosmer single (bottom 8)
Davis gets Donaldson to ground out to Moose to clinch Pennant (top 9)

Mets Game 1 World Series
Gordon HR off Familia ties game (bottom 9)

Mets Game 5 World Series - 2 moments
Hosmer ties game with ballsy run home (top 9)
Davis K's Flores to win World Series (bottom 12)

That's 11. Which one was already covered?
Rany? Anyone?

Scott said...

Understand your arguments re: Colon hit not ranking higher but respectfully disagree, that hit by that player for all practical purposes won the World Series, it's ranked too low. But if that's our biggest problem as Royals fans, life is good!

Anita Parsa said...

Ryan and David, nice lyrics. Get working on the rest of the soundtrack! (Now you've got me impatient for December when I have Hamilton tickets, in addition to being impatient for Opening Day!)

Matt Rowland said...

Colon's single in game 5 of the World Series should be much higher on your list Rany.

ChaimMKeller said...

@BMJ: It's possible that Cueto's dominant Game 5 performance is Houston was subsumed within Moment # 112 (the final out of that game, which Wade Davis actually pitched). I guess that sort of shorts Cueto, but this is a list of moments, and 8 innings of dominant pitching really doesn't lend itself to being referred to as a "moment," except by way of the game-winning out.

Moment # 183 is also from that game, and has Cueto pitching, although the highlight there is a defensive play by Ben Zobrist - though Rany speaks of that as the point upon which Cueto's luck changes for the better in that game.

Cilghal said...

Not to nit-pick, but in Moment #11, the game was actually tied 2-2 going into the 11th. It was 2014 ALDS Game 2 that was tied 1-1 in extras.

Great list, though! I'm loving re-living all of these!

Brian said...

Hey Rany,
In response to your request: I'm reading, watching video clips, not getting as much done as I should, and enjoying every minute of it. What a wonderful way to relive the moments that have replaced memories from the futile ages.
I don't have a Twitter account but at some point during the 2015 playoffs I started reading your Twitter posts while watching the games. I enjoyed reading your insights, angst, joy and disbelief as "this team, this team, THIS TEAM" figured out how to win and win it all.
Your posts are now part of my experience of watching and following the Royals. My memories of the Top Royal Moments include your reactions and words. Your efforts and your willingness to freely share your talents and passion are appreciated more than I suspect you will ever be told.