There’s so much awesomeness in the Top 50 that going
forward, I’ll be posting articles five Moments at a time instead of ten so that
you can savor them all the more. In this batch alone we have the most dominant
inning in Royals postseason history, two improbable RBI singles from Eric
Hosmer, a leadoff single in extra innings in the final game of the year, and
the moment the Royals won their first pennant in 29 years. And we still have 45
Moments to go.
Game: 2014 ALCS Game 1, @ Baltimore Orioles
Score: Kansas City 5, Baltimore 5, Bottom of
Situation: Two outs, bases empty
Matchup: Nelson Cruz vs. Wade Davis
Result: Strikeout swinging
Summary: With Game 1 of
the 2014 ALCS tied in the bottom of the 9th, after the Royals had blown a
golden opportunity to take the lead, Wade Davis throws the most dominant inning
in Royals playoff history.
We start the Top 50 with a Moment that you almost certainly
have forgotten about. That’s because I cheated a little; this isn’t a single
moment as it was a single inning. A dominant, hellacious, series-changing
To set the stage: Game 1 of the 2014 ALCS was tied at 5
entering the ninth inning. The Orioles turned to their closer, Zach Britton,
who proceeded to do the unthinkable: he walked the bases loaded. First he
walked Alcides Escobar on a 3-2 count, which is difficult enough on its own.
But Britton then faced Jarrod Dyson, who can’t hit lefties worth a damn, and
had entered the game as a pinch-runner for Nori Aoki in the 7th (and then was
thrown out trying to steal second base) – on four pitches. Britton then walked
Lorenzo Cain – on four pitches. The bases were loaded, there were no outs, the
heart of the Royals’ order was due up, and the pitcher on the mound suddenly
couldn’t throw strikes. You might even say that the Royals had…momentum.
And then Zach Britton, on a 3-2 pitch to Eric Hosmer, got
Hosmer to ground out to the first baseman – who, with the infield in, threw
home and got the force out to keep the game tied. That brought up Billy Butler,
and Buck Showalter called on Darren O'Day - like Britton a groundballer, but who also had the benefit of being right-handed - to face off against one of the game’s biggest GIDP
enough, on the 7th pitch of the at-bat, Butler rolled over to the shortstop,
who started an easy 6-4-3 double play. Butler’s double play had a WPA of -35%,
making it by the far the most damaging plate appearance by a Royals hitter in
postseason history. (No other play is even at -20% WPA.) After having the bases
loaded with no outs, the Royals didn’t score, and the Orioles would bat in the
bottom of the 9th with their 2-3-4 hitters due up, needing single run to end
the game. You would definitely say that the Orioles had…momentum.
It was Earl Weaver who said “Momentum is the next day’s
starting pitcher”, because Earl Weaver was a very smart man. I have proposed a
21st-century corollary to this rule that applies to momentum within games:
Momentum is the next inning’s reliever. And in the history of baseball, there
has never been a better reliever to call upon in the next inning than 2014-2015
vintage Wade Davis.
Davis had already pitched the 8th inning, but having
dispatched the Orioles on just seven pitches, and with the game tied and poised
to continue indefinitely, it made sense to try to milk another inning out of
him. And oh, what an inning it was. Pitching through a steady
rain, Davis struck out Alejandro de Aza on four pitches. He then struck out
Adam Jones on three pitches. And finally, as you see here, he struck out Nelson
Cruz on four pitches.
I unfortunately do not know a way to check this for sure,
but I’m fairly certain that there has never been another instance in the
playoffs of a Royals pitcher striking out the side on 11 pitches or less. So I
think it’s safe to say that this was the most dominant inning in Royals playoff
(Update: the above paragraph is dead wrong, as brilliant reader Taylor Witt pointed out in the comments, and I am an idiot for forgetting. In Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, Danny Jackson - on his way to a complete game win, the second time that October that he threw a complete game victory in a Game 5 with the Royals down 3 games to 1 - struck out the side in the 7th inning on nine pitches. That's right: Danny Jackson threw an Immaculate Inning in the World Series. He is the only pitcher to ever thrown an Immaculate Inning in the postseason.
And the reason I'm an idiot for forgetting is that Bill James wrote about this in his "A History Of Being A Kansas City Baseball Fan" essay in the 1986 Bill James Abstract, which I've only read about a dozen times. Here I quote: "Jackson was never challenged again. In the seventh inning, Brett slid into the dugout in a spectacular, but unsuccessful, attempt to catch a pop up; that failing it became strike one, and Jackson struck out the side on nine pitches. (I wonder if that's ever happened before in a World Series game? I'd be very surprised if it has.) The Royals added a run in the eighth and one in the ninth, and had their second easy victory of the series."
Brett's slide into the dugout, incidentally, is one of the most famous highlights of the entire 1985 Royals championship, even though he didn't make the catch - he hurtled himself at full speed into the dugout and could have been seriously injured, but came out without a scratch. You can watch that inning here, starting at the 1:55:15 mark.)
And it could hardly have come at a better time. After squandering
their opportunity against Britton, the Royals would take full advantage of
their opportunities against Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz in the top of the
10th, scoring three runs. Davis was credited with the win.
The next night, Davis was credited with the win in Game 2
when he pitched a scoreless 8th inning and the Royals scored two tie-breaking
runs in the top of the 9th. After the game, Jarrod Dyson made his comments
to the media that he didn’t think the series was coming back to Baltimore, and
posited that the Orioles didn’t think the series was coming back either. That
led to this now-famous entry at the online forum Orioles Dugout:
And that, my friends, is how Wade Davis came to be known as