Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Witching Hour: The Rise of Michael Conforto, the Fall of Daniel Murphy, and the Closing Door of the World Series

The mystique that baseball tends to carry around this time of year tends to coincide with the dark nights of autumn and the increased pressure that goes with each postseason game. What makes the 2015 World Series special is not that these natural omens occur, but that they're so backwards. In games two and three, the first team to score ended up on the losing end after nine innings. Michael Conforto, who helped keep game one interesting Tuesday night, brought his bat to Citi Field and put on an offensive show. What happened next for the National League Champions is straight out of a horror flick.
In the sixth, Lorenzo Cain had scored Ben Zobrist from second base to pull the score to 3-2 in favor of the Mets. After Conforto's home runs in the third and fifth innings, it appeared as if New York could steal another game from the Royals and ensure another trip to Kansas City. Jeurys Familia was the kind of reliever who could hold down the lead in the final innings. Instead, fate reared its ugly head in an eighth inning that will live in Mets infamy for some time.

Daniel Murphy, who was instrumental in the destruction of my Cubs in the NLCS, had the hammer swing his way tonight. One thing the Royals have done all postseason is capitalize on defensive mistakes. Against both the Astros and Blue Jays, they managed to form comebacks on late-inning gaffes by their inexperienced opposition. Zobrist, again on second base, took off with the swing. As Eric Hosmer made contact, it looked like a routine double play opportunity for the New York second baseman. Murphy attempted a running grab in order to turn the play, and then it happened.

In a somewhat serendipitous mirror of Bill Buckner in 1986, Hosmer's bloop infield knock dribbled past Murphy's glove. Never breaking stride, Zobrist pedaled around third base and crossed home standing up. The game was tied at 3, and Citi Field grew quiet. The fate that seemed avoidable sunk into the stomachs of the home fans. With one out, the Royals were doing it again. Lorenzo Cain, rather than being put out by the would-be double play, found himself perched at third base, the eventual go-ahead run. For the scattered Royals fans in attendance, the inevitability of fate was on their side. The Mets were now on the dark side of fielding fundamental hell.

Jeurys Familia, brought in to shut down the heart of the Royal order, gave up hits to Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, scoring Cain and Hosmer. It was just another day at the office for the best team in baseball. Moments earlier, the Mets had a chance to steal another game and knot up the series. In an instant, they found themselves down 5-3 with Wade Davis coming in for the final six outs. While Davis found some trouble in the ninth, allowing Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes to get on base, the best closer of 2015 got it done. Lucas Duda grounded into a double play to end the threat and the game.

The Kansas City Royals, the longtime joke of the American League, now sit one win away from a World Series Championship. They'll get three tries. They'll get it done. Even if it doesn't happen tomorrow night, I'm willing to believe it will happen. This is the best baseball team on the planet, and I don't believe there is a club that can beat them three games in a row.

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