Saturday, March 19, 2016

Top Moments (#60 - #51) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This set of ten Moments includes the second-biggest stolen base of Jarrod Dyson’s career – which means it’s the second-biggest stolen base in Royals history – a pair of huge leadoff at-bats from Alcides Escobar, two game-tying hits, four at-bats that gave the Royals the lead, and a curtain call. And we still have 50 Moments to go.

Moment #: 60
Date: October 12, 2015
Game: 2015 ALDS Game 4, @ Houston Astros
Score: Kansas City 0, Houston 0, Top of the 2nd
Situation: One out, man on first
Count: 1-2
Matchup: Salvador Perez vs. Lance McCullers
Result: Home Run, two go-ahead runs score
WPA: 18%

Summary: Before the Miracle at Minute Maid starts, Salvador Perez crushes an opposite-field home run to give the Royals an early 2-0 lead.

Link to video: Here.

When Salvador Perez was young and new to the major leagues, he crushed opposite-field home runs with some regularity. But over the years he has become far more pull-happy with his home runs, and not coincidentally, his batting average has dropped from .331 to .301 to .292 to holding steady at .260 the last two years. Compare his spray chart from 2012 to the one from 2014-15:

Perez had more home runs to the opposite field in 2012 (4) – when he played in only 76 games – than he did in 2014 and 2015 combined (3).

So it was a very pleasant surprise, and a very welcome relief, when Perez opened the scoring in Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS by hitting a 97 mph outside fastball from Lance McCullers on a 1-2 count deep into the right field seats. It came with a man aboard, and were the only two runs the Royals had scored before The Miracle started in the 8th. His home run has been forgotten by all the drama that followed it, but it was enormous in the moment, and even more significant in retrospect. The Miracle only happened because Perez’s home run meant they still had a prayer to begin with.

Moment #: 59
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: No outs, man on first
Count: 2-0
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Addison Reed
Result: Stolen Base
WPA: 9%

Summary: In the 2014-2015 Royals’ final postseason game, Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran and stole a base when everyone expected him to, just as he had in their first postseason game.

Link to video: Here.

Here’s a pop quiz for you: how many runs has Jarrod Dyson scored in the postseason?

It’s probably less than you think: three. Dyson has started only three playoff games – the three World Series games in San Francisco. He’s pinch-hit once, pinch-run nine times, and come in as a defensive replacement nine times. He’s reached base of his own accord five times – he is 2-for-20 in the playoffs with two walks and a reached-on-error. But he has only scored three times, all three after he pinch-ran.

So from one perspective, he’s had less of an impact than you might think. On the other hand…all three of those runs were crucial. This is one of them, and I’m sure you can think of another, but the third run might elude you. Don’t worry; we’ll get to it in this segment.

After tying the game in dramatic fashion in the 9th, the Royals went 1-2-3 in the 10th, and in the 11th their first two batters made out before Eric Hosmer singled and stole second base, but Mike Moustakas lined out to end the inning. So they hadn’t had a real opportunity to activate their one nuclear speed option – with Terrance Gore off the roster, Dyson was their only 80-grade speedster on the bench. But then Salvador Perez led off the top of the 12th with a bloop single, and everyone in the ballpark knew what was coming next: that Dyson would come in to run, which he did, and that he would try to steal second base at the first opportunity.

Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud was playing with a gimpy arm – while he had thrown out 14 of 43 (33%) of attempted basestealers during the regular season, his times to second base in the World Series were terrible, and the Royals were already 6-for-6 stealing bases in the Series. Meanwhile, Addison Reed has been terrible at holding runners throughout his career – attempted basestealers were 28-for-30 (93%) against him, averaging a steal roughly every nine innings. Weak-armed catcher; slow-to-the-plate pitcher; elite baserunner. It looked like the Royals had a weapon that the Mets simply had no counter for.

Looks can be deceiving, but you wouldn’t want to bet that way. Reed threw over to first base twice before he had even thrown a pitch to Alex Gordon, but it didn’t matter. On a 2-0 pitch – one on which he could be fairly sure Reed would be focused on throwing a strike – Dyson took off for second base, and was safe easily. It was shades of the Wild Card Game all over again, when the other team simply had no counter for the Royals speed. Once again, a Royal had stolen a base in the 12th inning of a tie game. Once again, he would score the winning run.

Moment #: 58
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 4, Kansas City 4, Bottom of the 14th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 0-2 (+3 fouls)
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Bartolo Colon
Result: Error by third baseman, batter safe at first
WPA: 7%

Summary: Alcides Escobar leads off the bottom of the 14th by hitting a grounder that David Wright can’t handle, setting up the game-winning rally.

Link to video: Here.

After tying Game 1 of the World Series in the 9th inning, the Royals had gone rather quietly in the 10th and 11th, but got the leadoff hitter on base in both the 12th and 13th. Both times they were turned back by the Mets. But in the 14th they tried again when Alcides Escobar led off against Bartolo Colon, now in his third inning of work. Colon got ahead 0-2, but Escobar fouled off three straight pitches – Team Contact! – and then hit a hard grounder right at third baseman David Wright.

But Wright bobbled the grounder, and while he recovered quickly, he then had to hurry his throw to first base given Escobar’s speed, as well as the fact that his throwing arm wasn’t 100%. You’ll notice that Wright’s throw to first base was sidearm, something that the Royals definitely picked up on, as we would see in the 9th inning of Game 5. His throw probably would have nipped Escobar by a quarter-step at first base, except it pulled Lucas Duda’s foot off the bag. Once again, the Royals’ eerie ability to put the ball in play had put pressure on the opposing defense. And once again, the Royals were poised to take full advantage after that defense showed a crack.

Moment #: 57
Date: November 1, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 5, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 3, New York 2, Top of the 12th
Situation: One out, men on first and second
Count: 2-2 (+2 fouls)
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Addison Reed
Result: Double, one run scores
WPA: 9%

Summary: With the Royals suddenly three outs away from a world championship, Alcides Escobar steps on the gas, lacing a double to drive in an insurance run and put two runners in scoring position.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals were three outs away from a world championship, and the Mets were in danger of falling apart. After Christian Colon’s RBI single had given the Royals the lead in the 12th inning, Daniel Murphy had botched Paulo Orlando’s groundball – another case of the Royals making contact (Orlando put an 0-2 pitch in play) and taking advantage of the Mets’ shoddy defense – putting runners on first and second with one out. But the Mets still had the opportunity to shut the door on the rally and pray for a miracle against Wade Davis.

Addison Reed got to a 2-2 count against Alcides Escobar, but twice Escobar stayed alive with a foul ball, and then Reed threw a pretty terrible pitch – an 84 mph cement-mixer of a slider that forgot to slide – and Escobar rifled it down the left field line. Colon scored – and was greeted like a conquering hero in the dugout – and only an excellent play from leftfielder Michael Conforto kept Orlando at third base. The Royals now led by two runs, and they had two runners in scoring position with one out. The Mets were wobbling on their feet, and the Royals needed only one more hit to administer the knockout blow. It was coming.

Moment #: 56
Date: October 9, 2015
Game: 2015 ALDS Game 2, vs. Houston Astros
Score: Houston 4, Kansas City 4, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Will Harris
Result: Triple
WPA: 18%

Summary: With the score tied in the bottom of the 7th of a must-win game, Alcides Escobar ambushes the first pitch and hits a triple…

Link to video: Here.

Before Alcides Escobar was hitting the first pitch of a World Series game between two outfielders and running around the bases for an inside-the-park home run when they misplayed it, he was hitting the first pitch of the bottom of the 7th inning in Game 2 of the ALDS, a game the Royals had come back to tie in the 6th but had failed to take the lead despite having the bases loaded with one out. Had rightfielder George Springer been playing at medium depth, he might have had a chance to make a diving catch in the right-center alley. But the Astros, perhaps misjudging Escobar’s ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, had Springer playing shallow, and he had no chance.

Making things worse for the Astros, after the ball fell between the two outfielders, centerfielder Jake Marisnick tried to glove the ball on a bounce but failed to corral it, and had to briefly chase after it. It never ceases to amaze me, just how many Moments on this list foreshadow or complement other ones. Escobar couldn’t circumnavigate the bases entirely, but Marisnick’s misplay gave him plenty of time to make the turn at second and head to third for what was generously ruled a triple. Having the go-ahead run on third base with no outs was an open invitation for Team Contact to take the lead without the benefit of a hit, but they declined the invitation, because…

Moment #: 55
Date: October 9, 2015
Game: 2015 ALDS Game 2, vs. Houston Astros
Score: Houston 4, Kansas City 4, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: No outs, man on third
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Ben Zobrist vs. Will Harris
Result: Single, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 6%

Summary: …and Ben Zobrist promptly singles him home for the go-ahead – and ultimately winning – run.

Link to video: Here.

…Ben Zobrist elected to spare us any drama and drive Escobar in with a single. This was an exceptional bit of hitting; the Astros had the infield in, but they also had shifted Zobrist to pull, with shortstop Carlos Correa set up just a few feet to the left of the second base bag. Clearly they wanted Zobrist to hit into the shift, as Will Harris threw an 81-mph curveball up there – but Zobrist did an exceptional job of waiting on the pitch to drive it to the opposite field, which he did, lining the ball to almost exactly where the shortstop typically sets up.

Unlike Kendrys Morales’ grounder in the previous inning (Moment #97), I wouldn’t necessarily call this an example of the Astros’ shift backfiring. The Royals got lucky, I think, on Morales’ ground ball, because I don’t think he was making a concerted effort to hit the ball in that direction. But on this play, the Astros basically dared Zobrist to hit the ball to the opposite field, betting that the way they pitched him, he wouldn’t be able to do that. They were wrong. Zobrist had a knack for adjusting his approach to give the Royals exactly what they needed at any given time, and he did so once again here. The Royals, in danger of going down 2 games to 0 in a series that was about to head to Houston, had just taken the lead for the first time in the entire series.

Moment #: 54
Date: October 27, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 1, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 3, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 6th
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 2-0
Matchup: Mike Moustakas vs. Matt Harvey
Result: Single, tying run scores
WPA: 17%

Summary: Mike Moustakas hits a two-out, game-tying single in the 6th inning of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Link to video: Here.

While the Royals had gotten all the early buzz when Alcides Escobar hit the first pitch the Royals saw in the World Series for an inside-the-park home run, the Mets had put that behind them quickly, tying the game on an RBI single by Travis d’Arnaud in the 4th, taking the lead on a solo homer from Curtis Granderson in the 5th, and adding an insurance run on Michael Conforto’s sacrifice fly in the 6th. Eric Hosmer had gotten one run back in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly of his own, and then Lorenzo Cain had stolen second base (Moment #98), but after Kendrys Morales grounded out the Royals were still down a run with two outs in the inning.

And then Mike Moustakas got ahead of Matt Harvey 2-0, and did a tremendous job of staying back when Harvey decided to get tricky and throw a 2-0 changeup. He hit a bullet just to the right of second base, a clean single and an easy run when Cain scampered home from second base. Was it sexy? Not really. Was it memorable? Not terribly so, no, not with (as it turned out) eight more innings still to play. But was it important? Driving in the tying run in a World Series game with two outs, in the 6th inning, against one of the game’s best starting pitchers, in a game that would be won in extra innings? Hell yes it was.

Moment #: 53
Date: October 28, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 2, vs. New York Mets
Score: New York 1, Kansas City 0, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: No outs, men on first and second
Count: 0-2
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Jacob deGrom
Result: Single, tying run scores
WPA: 13%

Summary: After failing to get a sacrifice bunt down twice, Alcides Escobar instead ties Game 2 of the 2015 World Series with an RBI single on an 0-2 pitch.

Link to video: Here.

The summary tells the story pretty well here. The Royals trailed the Mets, 1-0, going to the bottom of the 5th, as they had been unable to break through against Jacob deGrom, although he had only whiffed two batters in the first four innings and the Royals had loaded the bases in the 4th. Alex Gordon led off the bottom of the 5th with a walk, and then Alex Rios singled past the shortstop to put men on first and second with none out. This brought up Alcides Escobar in a pretty obvious bunting situation, although he said afterwards that the decision to bunt was his alone. (We’ve learned that Ned Yost rarely puts the bunt on himself; he entrusts his players to use it when they feel it’s appropriate.) The first pitch from deGrom was a high fastball, which Escobar bunted over the dugout; the second pitch was high and outside, and this one Escobar bunted straight into the ground and off the catcher.

So now forced to swing away on an 0-2 count, Escobar summed up the 2015 Royals perfectly, putting the ball in play (Team Contact!), and lining the ball into centerfield for a single. Gordon scored from second, the game was tied, and the Royals still had two men on with no one out. The Royals would go on to score three more runs in the inning and take a commanding 4-1 lead. But all three of those runs would come with two outs. If Escobar had succeeded in making an out deliberately, the entire rally might never have happened. deGrom’s stuff was too nasty for Escobar to get a bunt down, but not too nasty for him to line a base hit. Ladies and Gentlemen: your 2015 Kansas City Royals.

Moment #: 52
Date: October 22, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 2, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 2, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 6th
Situation: No outs, men on first and second
Count: 2-0
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Jean Machi
Result: Single, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 12%

Summary: Billy Butler drives in the go-ahead run in Game 2 of the 2014 World Series, and then gets a curtain call.

Link to video: Here.

After getting blown out in Game 1 of the World Series, the Royals had matched the Giants run for run in Game 2, but the game was still tied in the bottom of the 6th when Lorenzo Cain led off with a single and Eric Hosmer walked against Jake Peavy. Bruce Bochy brought Jean Machi in to pitch to Billy Butler, no doubt hoping for a groundball; Machi had coaxed 12 GIDPs in just 66 innings during the regular season. But Machi fell behind 2-0, and then he left a fastball over the plate, and Butler unleashed a line drive to left field.

Butler hit it so hard – according to the broadcast it left the bat at 112 mph, which is ridiculous – that ordinarily you’d be forced to hold the lead runner at third base. But Cain is an exceptional baserunner – one thing I gained a real appreciation for from sitting down to do this series is just what a terrific baserunner Cain has been during the last two postseasons – and Travis Ishikawa struggles to hit the cutoff man on the fly, so instead Cain scored the go-ahead run with ease.

The Royals would score four more runs in the inning on Salvador Perez’s double (Moment #93) and Omar Infante’s homer (#92), but Butler’s single was the one that announced to the world that the 2014 Royals were not the 2007 Rockies, that the World Series was going to be a series. After he singled, Terrance Gore came in to pinch-run for him, and after he walked into the dugout, the crowd - knowing that this might very well be his last game at Kauffman Stadium in a Royals uniform - demanded that Butler show his face one more time. I believe it’s the only curtain call I’ve ever been a part of as a Royals fan.

Moment #: 51
Date: October 14, 2014
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 3, vs. Baltimore Orioles
Score: Baltimore 1, Kansas City 1, Bottom of the 6th
Situation: One out, men on first and third
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Billy Butler vs. Kevin Gausman
Result: Sacrifice fly, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 4%

Summary: With the go-ahead run on third with one out in the 6th, Billy Butler comes through for Team Contact with a deep fly ball to score the final run of Game 3 of the 2014 ALCS.

Link to video: Here.

The Royals had won the first two games of the 2014 ALCS in Baltimore, so Game 3 represented the Orioles’ last stand of sorts. Baltimore had struck first on J.J. Hardy’s RBI double – apparently the Royals couldn’t rob him of extra bases every time – in the top of the 2nd, but Alex Gordon’s RBI groundout (Moment #187) had tied the game in the bottom of the 4th. The game remained tied into the 6th; Ned Yost did something unusual for him and did not try to force his starting pitcher through the 6th inning, pulling Jeremy Guthrie in favor of Jason Frasor, who rewarded him with a 1-2-3 inning.

Buck Showalter stayed with his starter, Wei-Yin Chen, and Nori Aoki led off the bottom of the inning with a single before he was replaced by Jarrod Dyson. Dyson did not immediately steal second base – Chen is a left-hander and tough to run on – but went first-to-third with ease when Eric Hosmer singled with one out. That brought Kevin Gausman in from the bullpen to try to get a strikeout or a double play. Gausman had started for the Orioles exclusively during the regular season, but had moved to the bullpen for the playoffs, and not surprisingly had been excellent in the role – in 5.1 innings he had allowed four hits and two walks, and a single run, against six strikeouts. He was, again not surprisingly, throwing harder than ever in relief.

But after getting strike one, Gausman threw a 98 mph fastball to Billy Butler. Catcher Nick Hundley had set up on the inside corner at the knees, but Gausman’s pitch missed up by just a couple of inches – enough for Butler to get under the pitch and sky it to left field. He hit it so high that it looked like it would be a shallow fly ball off the bat – but he hit it so hard that it carried to medium left field. Alejandro de Aza doesn’t have a great arm, but with Jarrod Dyson on third base, no one this side of Roberto Clemente was going to keep him from scoring. (This is the other postseason run that Dyson has scored, the one everyone forgets about.)

The Royals had the Orioles right where they wanted them, leading Baltimore by one run with nine outs to go and HDH working on two full days of rest, thanks to the rainout that had postponed Game 3. Sure enough, Kelvin Herrera pitched a perfect 7th, Wade Davis pitched a perfect 8th, and Greg Holland pitched a perfect 9th. It was the perfect blueprint for victory, thanks to a magnificent bullpen, speed on the bases, and some timely contact from Billy Butler.


Jim M said...

I just have to say how much I am loving this and I can tell how much Love was poured into this project. thx again (won't be the last one)

BMJ said...

Current Tally Entering Top 50 Moments

By Category

2014 Regular Season (9)
Wild Card Game (13)
ALDS Game 1 Angels (5)
ALDS Gane 2 Angels (5)
ALDS Game 3 Angels (6)
ALCS Game 1 Orioles (5)
ALCS Game 2 Orioles (8)
ALCS Game 3 Orioles (3)
ALCS Game 4 Orioles (3)
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 (2)
2014 Entries To Date (84)

2015 Regular Season (3)
ALDS Game 1 Astros (1)
ALDS Game 2 Astros (6)
ALDS Game 3 Astros (2)
ALDS Game 4 Astros (7)
ALDS Game 5 Astros (5)
ALDS Game 1 Blue Jays (6)
ALDS Game 2 Blue Jays (9)
ALCS Game 3 Blue Jays (2)
ALCS Game 4 Blue Jays (5)
ALCS Game 5 Blue Jays (1)
ALCS Game 6 Blue Jays (7)
World Series Game 1 Mets (9)
World Series Game 2 Mets (4)
World Series Game 3 Mets (5)
World Series Game 4 Mets (7)
World Series Game 5 Mets (6)
2015 Entries So Far: (85)

By Player

Hosmer (15)
Cain (20)
Gordon (12)
Perez (14)
Moustakas (11)
Escobar (20)
Dyson (5)
Zobrist (11)
Morales (3)
Butler (8)
Gore (2)
Colon (1)
Infante (6)
Rios (4)
Aoki (3)
Orlando (1)
Willingham (0)
Butera (1)

W. Davis (4)
Holland (7)
Herrera (2)
Ventura (4)
Young (1)
Cueto (2)
Finnegan (2)
Volquez (1)
Guthrie (0)
Shields (0)
Vargas (1)
Hochevar (2)
Madson (1)
Duffy (0)
Medlen (0)
Frasor (0)
Collins (0)
F. Morales (0)


Unknown said...

I agree with Jim M. This list is awesome and keeps getting better. Keep them coming!

Mrs. Timmons said...

Spell check Rany: In moment #51 did you accidentally misspell Alex Gordon as Roberto Clemente?