Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top Moments (#150 - #141) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

We’re in the Top 150 now, so these are Moments you should be paying extra careful attention to. There will be a quiz later.

Moment #: 150
Date: October 30, 2015
Game: 2015 World Series Game 3, @ New York Mets
Score: Kansas City 0, New York 0, Top of the 1st
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 0-0
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Noah Syndergaard
Result: Ball one

Summary: Noah Syndergaard tries to send a message to the Royals by throwing the first pitch of Game 3 way up and in.

Link to video: Here.

By Game 3 of the World Series, pretty much the whole world knew that 1) Alcides Escobar was almost certainly going to swing at the first pitch of the game and 2) he and the Royals were having an inordinate amount of success doing so. Escobar had been named the ALCS MVP after going 11-for-23 against the Blue Jays with three extra-base hits, 5 RBIs, and 6 runs scored in six games. He had swung at the first pitch of the game in all six ALCS games, putting three of those pitches into play, two for hits. (He went 4-for-6 in his first plate appearance of each game, the four hits coming in the first four games.) In Game 1 of the World Series he had famously swung at the first pitch and been gifted an inside-the-park home run by Yoenis Cespedes; on the first pitch of Game 2, he had flied out to right field.

Along with all his personal success, the Royals had a baffling tendency to, you know, win games. Escobar had swung at the first pitch in nine straight games, going back to Game 5 of the ALDS, and the Royals were 7-2 in those games. (He didn’t swing at the first pitch in Games 1 and 4 of the ALDS; he hit an infield single on the first pitch in Game 3, and fouled off the first pitch in Game 2.) As Sam Miller detailed back when this phenomenon was first getting a lot of attention, the Royals had a better record during the regular season when Escobar swung at the first pitch than when he didn’t.

Syndergaard decided to try to derail that correlation by making it essentially impossible for Escobar to swing at the first pitch, which in and of itself was not objectionable. The manner in which he did so – buzzing Escobar’s noggin with a high pitch – was questionable, although I take it on faith that given the control wielded by an elite major league pitcher, that Syndergaard was not trying to hit Escobar and in fact placed the pitch exactly where he wanted it to go. His comments after the game, saying of the Royals, “If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away,” well, those are fighting words, quite literally. But they also insure that this pitch, which had no outcome on the game or the Series, will nonetheless be remembered for a long, long time.