Saturday, March 12, 2016

Top Moments (#80 - #71) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This set of ten Moments commences with the most important wild pitch in franchise history, continues with a handful of iconic defensive plays, wraps up with a pair of game-icing home runs, and concludes with an event so unlikely it nearly broke the space-time continuum. And we still have 70 Moments to go.

Moment #: 80
Date: September 30, 2014
Game: 2014 Wild Card Game, vs. Oakland Athletics
Score: Oakland 7, Kansas City 5, Bottom of the 8th
Situation: One out, men on second and third
Count: 0-1
Matchup: Alex Gordon vs. Luke Gregerson
Result: Wild pitch, one run scores
WPA: 11%

Summary: In the midst of the Royals’ furious 8th-inning comeback in the Wild Card Game, Luke Gregerson throws a wild pitch to score a run and moving the tying run to third base with one out.

Link to video: Here.

When did I start to believe that the Royals not just could, but would, win the Wild Card Game? Probably around the time that Luke Gregerson bounced a slider to Alex Gordon in the dirt. Billy Butler had just singled to drive in the second run of the inning and bring the Royals to within two; Terrance Gore had pinch-run for Butler, and on the first pitch to Gordon, Gore stole second base (Moment #173) like it was nothing. Eric Hosmer was already on third base, so Gore represented the tying run, meaning that all the Royals had to do was bring home The Fastest Man In Baseball from scoring position.

And then Gregerson threw this slider too low and too inside, and Derek Norris let it bounce crazily off his glove, and Hosmer scored, and now The Fastest Man In Baseball was on third base with one out. It felt like destiny at that point. It felt like the Royals had all the momentum on their side. But as you know from the fact that I mentioned the word “momentum”, that’s not what happened at all. Gregerson walked Gordon, but rebounded to strike out Salvador Perez on three pitches (Gordon stole second base on the last of them), and then he struck out Omar Infante on four pitches. My faith was perhaps never tested more than it was at that moment, when a potentially historic four-run rally in the 8th inning of a double elimination game fell short because the Royals could not bring home Terrance Gore from third base with one out. (True story: after Perez struck out, I had such little confidence in the matchup between Infante and Gregerson that in the stands I was pushing for Gore to try to steal home. Come on: like you wouldn’t have wanted to see him try?)
But thanks to this wild pitch, the Royals exited the inning down only one run instead of two. And while Gore’s stolen base was ultimately in vain, the Royals had another ace baserunner up their sleeve.

(Also, just to cut off the protests in advance: Todd Worrell’s pitch in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series was scored as a passed ball, not a wild pitch.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Top Moments (#90 - #81) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

This group of Moments include a pair of wild and memorable defensive plays, three tie-breaking home runs, and the wingmen in some of the most important rallies of the last two years. And we’re still not in the Top 80.

Moment #: 90
Date: October 2, 2014
Game: 2014 ALDS Game 1, @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Score: Kansas City 2, Los Angeles 2, Bottom of the 7th
Situation: Two outs, man on third
Count: 0-0
Matchup: C.J. Cron vs. Wade Davis
Result: Flyout to right field
WPA: 7%

Summary: With the go-ahead run on third base in the bottom of the 7th of the ALDS opener, Nori Aoki atones for a bad route on C.J. Cron’s fly ball with a terrific, game-saving catch.

Link to video: Here.

How do you describe Nori Aoki? The best I can do is call him baseball’s version of Bean – a comically clumsy player who is constantly stumbling into good fortune. There may be no finer exhibit of both those traits than this play, coming just one inning after Aoki saved Jason Vargas and Ned Yost with one of the most unlikely catches I have ever seen. This catch wasn’t nearly as unlikely, or at least it shouldn’t have been before Aoki used his route to pay tribute to Magellan.

Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS was still tied in the bottom of the 7th inning when Kelvin Herrera began the inning by walking David Freese on five pitches – and then came out of the game with an elbow issue that had us all convinced he was about to undergo Tommy John surgery. (Instead, he was back in action three days later for Game 3.) Brandon Finnegan replaced him and gave up a sacrifice bunt to Erick Aybar, followed by a groundout to Josh Hamilton that moved Freese to third base. Ned Yost then called on Wade Davis to face C.J. Cron with the go-ahead run 90 feet away and two outs. On the first pitch, Cron hit a deep fly ball to right field. Aoki turned and ran almost directly to the wall, and then, realizing that the ball was not only hit behind him but also well to his left, made a 90-degree turn and started running parallel to the wall along the warning track, before making a diving catch to preserve the tie. It shouldn’t have been this dramatic. Had Aoki run a better route, this play wouldn’t rank in the Top 100. But then we wouldn’t have had this Moment, and the past two seasons would have been that tiny bit less fun.