Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eye For An Eye: Resiliency, Hostility, and the Wavering Hand of Destiny

So often in life, adversity will rear its ugly head at the earliest possible moment, hoping to derail out best of intentions. Challenge, after all, is the purest manner in which we may learn and adapt to become a better version of ourselves. After Tuesday's thrashing, the Kansas City Royals had a choice to make. Would they lay down like October darlings before, or would they answer Wednesday night with a goal to prove being in this place was no accident? Having already lost their home-field advantage, the Royals woke the morning of game two to the undeniable fact that it was a must-win. To the mound in defense of their season would be the twenty-three year old rookie fire-baller Yordano Ventura. He and his team would learn quickly that destiny is a mountain, not a foothill.

Gregor Blanco was set to lead off game two for San Francisco. Batting an abysmal .170 coming into the game, Blanco looked more prime for the bottom third of the order. Ventura offered up nothing but fastballs, all reaching ninety-five miles per hour or faster. Blanco only took one pitch. He fouled off a few more, and watched three slip outside of the strike zone. A full count on the first batter of the game. The eighth pitch of the at bat was the fastest of the bunch. Nearly triple-digit speed. Blanco wheeled around and gave it his best effort. In the twinkling of an eye, the ball was gone. Blanco connected with pinpoint accuracy and physics took over. The packed house fell silent in an instant. One batter, one run. It looked as though this series might quickly resemble the 2007 edition, when the streaking Colorado Rockies ran into a buzzsaw from Boston. The Red Sox swept the series, outscoring the Rockies 29-10 in the process. Giving up a home run to the first batter after a 7-2 dismantling is a hell of a way to conjure up recent history. Again, the Royals were faced with the same decision- roll over or battle back? Ventura and his defense set the next three hitters down in order. One run was a salvageable deficit to give.

Much like Tuesday night, a errant chance on the basepaths was given early weight to the probable outcome of the game. Alcides Escobar led off the home half of the first with a single. After Nori Aoki flied out to center, Lorenzo Cain stepped in. Since the Royals stepped onto the national spotlight back on the night of the Wild Card game, the baseball world has identified them as a team on the run. With speedy options like Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore, it makes sense to be heady between the bases. The risk involved is great, but to this point manager Ned Yost's gambles have paid off. Escobar was sent with one out. As Buster Posey received the pitch, he was already moving into throwing position. Joe Panik moved into position to field Posey's throw. As Escobar fell into a feet-first slide, the ball hopped off of the infield dirt. Panik recovered the hop, stretched and tagged Escobar mere inches before he would have made it cleanly into second. The umpire barked him out. This is the inherent risk of the play. The consequence is what happened next. Lorenzo Cain knocked a long line drive to left field, landing just under the glove of a diving Travis Ishikawa. As Gregor Blanco fielded the ball and sent it back toward the infield, Cain eyed second base. He slid in just in time, but the thought was clear. If Escobar had not run, the worst case scenario leaves him at third. Two batters later, Billy Butler singled in Cain. The game was tied, but the Royals missed an oppotunity to capture their first lead.

Kansas City would get that lead in the next inning. Omar Infante, the grizzled veteran of the young club, doubled off the wall in left. Suddenly, the Royals were getting their Cinderella swagger back. Giants' starter Jake Peavy, who also started a game in last year's series for Boston, was visibly angry with himself. Peavy is well known for his violent monologues, directing his outward frustration at himself, the ball, his glove and even shouting into his hat once for some Peavy-only-knows reason. The former Cy Young award winner was furious after skipping a pitch in the dirt. As Alcides Escobar walked in for his second at bat, Peavy was already in mid-game Hulk-mode fashion. With two outs, Escobar lined an opposite field, low line drive down the line. Infante scored with ease, and the Royals had their first advantage of the young series.

It would remain that way until the top of the fourth. Pablo Sandoval doubled to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Brandon Belt laced a line drive just outside of the reach of Eric Hosmer. The ball bounced deep into right field, where Nori Aoki was attempting to make a play. Sandoval was already rounding third and scored easily to tie the game. Aoki mis-handled the ball on a sliding stop, allowing Belt to glide into second without contest. The near-perfect Royal defense was showing flaws in the armor. Now tied, the Giants were looking like they could rip destiny out of the hands of the Kansas City wonderkids. During the National League coronation ceremony, general manager Brian Sabean called to his team as "a bunch of cockroaches," referring to their never-say-die attitude. This was also an unspoken sentiment hovering over the Royals, as they had managed to claw their way through difficult scenarios as well.

In the top of the sixth, Yordano Ventura gave up a pair of singled to Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Ned Yost made the call, pulling his starter and sending in Kelvin Herrera, a man known for a fastball that regularly exceeds one-hundred miles per hour. The Royals bullpen, when given a lead of any kind, was essentially a signal to start prepping for postgame interviews. In this scenario, Herrera was given a tie, but his offense would do their part in the bottom half of the inning. The Royals needed a big inning to reclaim their home field birthright. It would not take long to get it started.

Lorenzo Cain singled. Eric Hosmer Walked. Jake Peavy was replaced by Jean Machi after only sixty-six pitches.

Billy Butler singled. Cain scored. Hosmer to second. Machi was replaced by Javier Lopez after only three pitches. The power-framed Butler was replaced by pinch runner Terrance Gore.

Lopez managed to get Alex Gordon to fly out, but he too was replaced after a mere three pitches. 

In came Hunter Strickland, the rookie reliever with a mean fastball of his own. Only a few pitches into his night, Strickland tossed a wild pitch beyond the understanding of Buster Posey. His inherited runners, Hosmer and Gore, moved up to second and third. The next pitch to Salvador Perez was returned deep to left-center field, dropping perfectly in between Ishikawa and Blanco and rolling all the way to the wall. Two runs crossed the plate and the score was now 5-2. Strickland, not one to wear his heart on his entire wardrobe like Peavy, looked visibly upset with himself but returned back to the mound and focused on the next hitter- Omar Infante. Already with a run scored and a slick over-the-shoulder catch in the game, Infante wanted more. Strickland was still frustrated from the wild pitch and RBI double he had given up. His second pitch to Infante was a no-doubter. It was a moonshot home run that somehow only managed to clear the left field wall by a few feet. As Perez rounded third, Strickland was heard yelling. What was said and whom it was said to remain a mystery, but Perez interpreted it as hostility. Upon touching home, Perez and Strickland began shouting at each other. Infante reached home and quickly tried to quell the situation by holding Perez back. The crowd, now reveling in a 7-2 lead, only boosted the dramatic tension. The home bench cleared in attempt to get Perez away from Strickland. No punches were thrown and the two never came close, but clearly there was a sentiment received. Strickland was immediately pulled from the game. Coming in as San Francisco's sixth pitcher of the inning was Jeremy Affeldt. The home team had beaten their foe in nearly identical fashion as they had lost the night before. All that was left was the Royals' bullpen and their inevitable coast to victory.

Over the next three innings, the Giants would only tally one base hit.

Kansas City had taken game two by the same score they had achieved in the sixth inning. There was no need for more. Now tied, the series turns to San Francisco. The 2014 World Series is now a best of five, with the Giants hosting the first three contests. It would seem as if fate is on their side, but if anything is clear after the first two games of this series, it is that any game can change in an instant. The Giants have outscored the Royals 9-8 so far. This is not 2007. The series restarts Friday night, and it looks like we are headed for a long one.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Carpe Noctem: The Geoff Blum Story

A baseball season can seem so long that a single plate appearance can seem largely insignificant. As summer's long days turn cold and th...