Friday, March 25, 2016

Top Moments (#30 - #26) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This set of five Moments include a pair of bases-clearing two-out doubles, a bases-clearing one-out double which all but clinched a championship, a controversial home run that may or may not have been aided by a Royals fan, and – objectively speaking – the most pivotal out of the last two years. And we still have 25 Moments to go.

Moment #: 30
Date: October 5, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 3, vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Los Angeles 1, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 1st
Situation: Two outs, bases loaded
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. C.J. Wilson
Result: Double, tying and two go-ahead runs score
WPA: 26%

Summary: Alex Gordon clears the bases with a 1st-inning two-out double, giving the Royals the lead on their way to sweeping the Angels out of the ALDS.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals led the 2014 ALDS 2 games to 0, but things can change quickly in a best-of-five series, and a single Angels victory would turn Game 4 into a near must-win game or face the specter of returning to Anaheim for a winner-take-all Game 5. And unlike the first two games, the Angels scored first in Game 3, when Mike Trout – who the Royals had handled beautifully all series – homered off of James Shields in the top of the 1st. But with one out in the bottom of the 1st, Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain singled with one out, and after Hosmer struck out on three pitches against C.J. Wilson, Billy Butler walked on four pitches to load the bases.

So Alex Gordon stepped in with the bases loaded and two outs, and on a 2-2 pitch Wilson threw an 83 mph slider down and away, except he didn’t get it down enough, and Gordon drove the pitch off the base of the wall in left-center field, clearing the bases. Butler chugged around all the way from first base – another smart read by Mike Jirschele – and slid stylishly into home just ahead of throw, pumping his fist as he got to his feet. The Royals had a lead they would not relinquish on their way to winning Game 3 and the series. How big a hit was it? It was the first hit to drive in three runners in a playoff game since Jim Sundberg’s bases-clearing triple in Toronto in Game 7 of the 1985 ALCS.

Moment #: 29
Date: October 10, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 1, @ Baltimore Orioles
Score: Kansas City 1, Baltimore 0, Top of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, bases loaded
Count: 3-2 (+1 foul)
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Chris Tillman
Result: Double, three runs score
WPA: 22%

Summary: Alex Gordon clears the bases with another two-out double in the very next game, giving the Royals a four-run lead, and they would need every bit of it to hold on to win the game.

Link to video: Here.

Alex Gordon liked the two-out, bases-clearing double so much that he did it again in the Royals’ very next game, Game 1 of the ALCS in Baltimore. This time the Royals got the early 1-0 lead on a home run, from Alcides Escobar (Moment #88) with one out in the top of the 3rd, and Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain again reached base, Eric Hosmer again struck out, and Billy Butler again loaded the bases with two outs, this time with an infield single (!).

This time Gordon worked the count full, and on the seventh pitch Chris Tillman threw him a 93 mph fastball a little inside but up, and Gordon fisted it to right field, breaking his bat, but dropping it just inside the right field foul line, not far from where Salvador Perez’s single in Game 5 of the World Series (Moment #49) landed. Aoki scored, Cain scored, and when Jonathan Schoop mishandled the relay throw, not only did Butler score without a throw, but Gordon moved up to third base. There have been seven hits in Royals postseason history that have driven in three runs; Gordon had two of those seven hits in back-to-back games.

And while the three-run double looked at the time like it gave the Royals an unassailable lead in the game, the Orioles would come back from 4-0 down to tie the game in the 5th, and the game would remained tied until the 10th inning, when Gordon came through again. Game 1 of the ALCS was, in fact, the only playoff game in franchise history in which the Royals blew a four-run lead. (Even in Game 4 of the 2014 World Series, a.k.a. The Game That Got Away, the Royals only led by three runs.) Without Gordon’s bases-clearing double, instead of merely tying the game, the Orioles’ four-run comeback would have won it handily.

Moment #: 28
Date: November 1, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 4, New York 2, Top of the 12th
Situation: One out, bases loaded
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Lorenzo Cain vs. Bartolo Colon
Result: Double, three runs score
WPA: 3%

Summary: Lorenzo Cain puts the final dagger into the heart of the Mets, clearing the bases and turning Game 5 of the World Series into a blowout, getting the party started a half-inning early.

Link to video: Here.

This Moment ranks #28, but if we were ranking Moments by sheer joyfulness, this would be in the top five for sure. This is the moment when everyone – the Royals, the fans, even the Mets – knew that the 2015 Royals were about to be crowned world champions.

I mean, we were pretty damn sure before Lorenzo Cain stepped in with the bases loaded and one out against Bartolo Colon, who had finally and belatedly replaced Addison Reed, and lined an 0-1 pitch over the head of Wilmer Flores and cleared the bases. The Royals were already leading by two runs in the 12th inning, and they had The Best Peak Reliever Ever warming in the pen. But we weren’t completely sure. Something about the history of the Mets playing an elimination game at home in the World Series and being down by two runs in extra innings kept me from being absolutely convinced.

But after Cain’s line drive cleared the infield, we went absolutely apeshit. And then Connor Schell, who in an act of unrepayable kindness had procured a ticket for me to sit with him at Citi Field that night, and I started doing the sorts of things you should really never do until the final out: we celebrated. 

We took some selfies to capture the moment, and we asked some Mets fans (and I should point out that Mets fans were, to a person, incredibly gracious and magnanimous throughout my 24-hour whirlwind in New York City) to take our pictures as well, to the point where we barely noticed when Hosmer grounded out and Moustakas flied out to end the inning.

And only in the middle of the 12th inning did we take notice that half the ballpark had emptied and a Royal blue sea of fans were collecting behind the visitors’ dugout, and then we bolted out of our seats and ran right in front of the press box (I tipped my Royals cap at Sam Mellinger as I passed, though I’m sure he doesn’t remember this, hard at work as he was on the column whose opening is framed on my wall as part of the next day’s cover of the Kansas City Star), and ran down a half dozen flights of stairs to join the scrum.

Cain’s double didn’t have a dramatic impact on the game – its WPA was just 3%. But its emotional impact was incalculable. I could watch this highlight a thousand times and not get tired – hell, I may have already. It was about to be over. After all these years, after coming so close 12 months before, after being on death’s door less than three weeks before, it was all about to be over. The six-fingered man wasn’t dead, but he was bleeding out before our eyes.

Moment #: 27
Date: October 23, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 6, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 0, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 2nd
Situation: One out, bases empty
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. David Price
Result: Home Run, one run scores
WPA: 10%

Summary: Mike Moustakas – and an intrepid Royals fan named Caleb Humphreys – gets the better of David Price yet again, homering in the decisive Game 6 of the ALCS.

Link to video:

The #2 pick in the 2007 draft faced the #1 pick in the 2007 draft again, this time in Game 6 of the ALCS. The Royals already led, 1-0, on Ben Zobrist’s 1st-inning home run (Moment #85), and Kendrys Morales had just taken David Price to the warning track in right field before Jose Bautista caught it. Mike Moustakas batted, and on a 1-2 pitch Price left a slider catch too much of the plate, and Moustakas hit the ball beyond the right-field fence.

Or at least he hit the ball into the glove of a fan who was sitting beyond the right-field fence. Because the Royals hadn’t given us enough drama these last two postseasons, they decide to add some Jeffrey Maier-style controversy. Time to meet Caleb Humphreys:

When Humphreys was not auditioning for the lead role in “Teen Wolf: The Musical”, he was a 19-year-old community college student who played high school baseball well enough to get some college feelers. And for some strange reason, he decided at the last moment to bring his glove to Kauffman Stadium that day. That glove allowed him to make a pretty damn impressive catch that also may – or may not – have altered the outcome of Game 6.

Jeffrey Maier’s name will forever live in infamy because the ball he interfered with was clearly in play. Humphrey’s name will not, because the ball he interfered with was not clearly in play. It was not clearly not in play either, which is why the umpires spent two minutes reviewing it before throwing up their hands and letting the play stand. 

I think it was the right call, because I think that the video evidence was too ambiguous to overturn a call no matter what the call was. Blue Jay fans (not to mention Harold Reynolds) may disagree, and in fact in the aftermath of the play a picture circulated that seemed to clearly show the ball was not going to clear the fence – but the picture was taken after the ball hit Humphreys’ glove, after it bounced off the webbing and back towards the pocket. 

Here’s the best picture I could take of the instant before the ball hit his glove:

And here’s a birds-eye view of the same moment:

I think the ball would have hit the top of the fence and bounced over. I certainly can’t say that with any certainty. No one can. All I can say is that Caleb Humphreys is a genuine American hero.

The play, and the umpires’ call, looked like a huge one at the time, but it somehow grew in stature as the game progressed. Price came back to strike out Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon, so Moustakas would have been stranded at second base had the call been reversed and he been awarded a double. And the Royals won the game by one run, after the Blue Jays tied it in the 8th, after a rain delay, after the Royals scored the winning run from first base on a single in the bottom of the 8th, after Wade Davis came back to pitch following the rain delay, after the Blue Jays got runners on first and third with no one out in the 9th.

My God, Game 6 had everything.

Moment #: 26
Date: October 23, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 6, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 4, Top of the 9th
Situation: One out, men on second and third
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Ben Revere vs. Wade Davis
Result: Strikeout swinging
WPA: 25%

Summary: After the Royals got a gift strike call on the 2-1 pitch to Ben Revere, Wade Davis strikes him out swinging – with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, with one out, in the 9th inning, with the Royals leading by one run, in Game 6 of the ALCS. Phew.

Link to video: Here.

The first time the Royals won a world championship, they benefited from probably the most famous blown call in baseball history, when Don Denkinger ruled Jorge Orta safe at first base on an infield single leading off the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series with the Royals losing by one run, when replays clearly showed he was out. The Royals would score two runs in the inning to win the game and go on to win Game 7, and while it’s possible they might have won anyway – the winning runs scored with one out, remember – it certainly would have been much more difficult.

The second time the Royals won a world championship, they benefited from the home plate umpire – Jeff Nelson – calling the 2-1 pitch from Wade Davis to Ben Revere a strike when it was pretty clearly a ball. Here’s a photograph:

Here’s a closeup:

And here’s a schematic:

And here’s his reaction:

It was a bad call. It wasn’t close to the worst call I’ve ever seen; it wasn’t the worst ball/strike call in the ALCS. It might not have been the worst call in the game. But it was a bad call, and it changed the trajectory of the entire inning, one of the most important innings the Royals have ever played. (In terms of importance, this inning ranks behind only the inning above, the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, the bottom of the 9th in Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS, and both halves of the 9th inning in Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS.)

So now that we’ve established that…Wade Davis still had to do his job, and he did it masterfully. The 2-1 pitch was, in fact, Davis doing his job, because he threw the same pitch in pretty much the same location to Dioner Navarro (Moment #67), and Nelson called that one a strike, so Davis knew he was working with an extended strike zone, and threw this pitch (I imagine) exactly where he wanted to. In fact, here is Jeff Nelson’s strike zone map with a left-handed hitter at the plate for all of Game 6:

See those three red squares six inches outside the rule book strike zone, and two inches outside the called strike zone? All three of those pitches were called strikes. It was a bad call, but at least Nelson was being pretty consistent about making bad calls in that location.

Against Navarro, Davis followed with pretty much the exact same pitch, figuring that Navarro would have no choice but to swing at it. Against Revere, he went a different course, either because he was afraid that Revere’s slap-hitting ability would allow him to fight off another pitch in the same spot, or because he figured that – after what happened to Navarro – Revere would be looking for the same pitch on a 2-2 count. So instead he threw a hellacious dive-bombing curveball – at least I think it was his curveball, based on its movement and its sharpness, but the broadcast measured it at 88 mph, which is way above his average curveball velocity (84.5 mph). If it was his curveball, then it was one of the hardest, best curveballs Davis threw all season, because it started out heading for the strike zone but finished its journey inside and just an inch or two off the ground. Revere swung, and not even Revere – whose career high in strikeouts is 64 and whose career K rate of 9.4% is the fourth-lowest of any active player – could make contact with that pitch.

Afterwards, Revere finally made contact with something.

Josh Donaldson would follow, and Davis would retire him on a groundout to end the game and win the pennant. But because Revere’s at-bat came with one out, when even solid contact likely would have scored the tying run, his inability to make contact made his out far more valuable on a game impact basis: the WPA of 25% was not only higher than Donaldson’s at-bat (20%), it was the highest WPA of any play while the Royals were on defense in the postseason since 1980.


Unknown said...

Moment #26 - I'm glad you brought up that strike 2 to Revere was in pretty much the exact same location as strike 2 & 3 to Navarro. While I agree that none of those pitches were actually strikes (in the truest definition), it shouldn't have come as a surprise to the Blue Jays (obviously Davis had picked up on it) that it was likely they would be called strikes. The broadcast team seemed to have amnesia

Andy said...

I love the fact that moments 32, 30 and 29 all feature Billy Butler scoring from first on a double (and I love that you tweeted about it at the time). How many times did that happen in total in his last couple years with us? Throw in the stolen base and we have 4 plays that feature Billy Butler's (!) base running. I feel bad that Billy's production dropped off too much to enable him to stay with the team in 2015 for the championship. And it feels strange that my enduring memory of Billy will be his running his butt off in an all out effort to score from first in moment 30, followed by that pop-up slide and his fist pump. But it really was a great moment.

Matt S said...

Watch Cain on the second Gordon bases-clearing double. Cain is jogging and Butler is in a full sprint and Cain widens his lead.

BMJ said...

Current Tally As We Go From Top "Yordano Ventura" Moments (30) To Top "Kendrys Morales" Moments (25)

By Category:

2014 Regular Season (9)
Wild Card Game (16)
ALDS Game 1 Angels (5)
ALDS Game 2 Angels (5)
ALDS Game 3 Angels (7)
ALCS Game 1 Orioles (7)
ALCS Game 2 Orioles (8)
ALCS Game 3 Orioles (3)
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 (3)
2014 Entries So Far (93)

2015 Regular Season (3)
ALDS Game 1 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 2 Astros (7)
ALDS Game 3 Astros (2)
ALDS Game 4 Astros (9)
ALDS Game 5 Astros (6)
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 (11)
World Series Game 2 Mets (5)
World Series Game 3 Mets (5)
World Series Game 4 Mets (9)
World Series Game 5 Mets (9)

By Player
Hosmer (22)
Cain (23)
Gordon (16)
Perez (15)
Moustakas (16)
Escobar (22)
Dyson (5)
Zobrist (12)
Morales (3)
Butler (10)
Gore (2)
Colon (1)
Infante (6)
Rios (4)
Aoki (3)
Orlando (1)
Willingham (1)
Butera (1)

Davis (7)
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 (10)

Dannar said...

@ - Matt S - I'd say he's more "keeping the same lead" that he had on Butler. But the statement still stands... :D