Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Top Moments (#120 - #111) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This (stuff) – as the Kansas City Star would transcribe it – is starting to get real. Some tie-breaking hits, some crucial insurance runs, and three clinching moments in this set of ten, and we’re not even to the halfway point in this series.

Moment #: 120
Date: October 2, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 1, @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 0, Los Angeles 0, Top of the 3rd
Situation: Two outs, man on first
Count: 2-2
Matchup: Alcides Escobar vs. Jered Weaver
Result: Double, go-ahead run scores
WPA: 14%

Summary: Alcides Escobar doubles with two outs, and aided by Josh Hamilton’s misplay, Mike Moustakas scores the first run of the ALDS all the way from first base.

Link to video: Here.

How many things have had to go right for the Royals to be where they are today, the defending world champions and two-time AL pennant winners? Let me rephrase the question: how many moments have there been in the last two years in which, if you just change the outcome slightly, the whole championship run unravels?

This is one of those moments, and it says something about how charmed an existence the Royals have enjoyed that you probably don’t even remember it. Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS was scoreless through two innings, and it looked like it would be scoreless in the middle of the 3rd as well when Jered Weaver struck out Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to start the top of the inning. But then Mike Moustakas walked on a full count, and then after doing his best to hold Moustakas and his game-changing speed at first base, Weaver then left a slow curveball up for Alcides Escobar,who drove a ball beyond Josh Hamilton’s reach in left field.

And even then, the Royals should not have scored. Moustakas isn’t exactly a burner on the basepaths, and Hamilton has a strong arm; if he just plays this ball for a double, Moustakas holds and then doesn’t score when Nori Aoki grounds out. But Hamilton tried to be the hero and catch the ball, and when he didn’t, it bounces off the short wall and back towards the field; by the time Hamilton gets to the ball, Moustakas has passed third base and he scores without a throw.

Like the following night, when (Moment #156) Alex Gordon turns a single into a double when Mike Trout briefly loses the fly ball in the lights, and then scores on two fly outs, a fielding misplay so minor that no one would think to call it an error nevertheless turns into a run. And like the following night, the game would be deadlocked after nine innings only for the Royals to win it in extras. If Hamilton concedes the double and plays the ball off the wall, the Angels probably win Game 1. If Trout doesn’t lose Gordon’s ball in the lights, the Angels probably win Game 2, and the Royals, not the Angels, are the ones playing for their lives in Game 3.

It is the nature of the sports fan to lament the tiny things that derailed your team’s path to a championship; as someone who has rooted for a Marty Schottenheimer-coached football team, I know that feeling all too well. It is not the nature of the sports fan – or the human being, frankly – to reflect on the tiny things that derailed the other team’s path to beating yours. One of the goals of this project were to make sure those things weren’t forgotten. I feel like the project has been validated by the fact that there were even more of those things than I had remembered.