Monday, November 2, 2015

The Only Way They Could: The Ninth Inning Rally, the Twelfth Inning Blowout, and the Crowning of a Champion

Darkness had set in firmly before the game had even started. The Mets gave the ball to their ace, Matt Harvey. Over eight innings, he was near flawless. In the ninth, up 2-0, Harvey stayed in to finish the game and prevent the season from ending. Lorenzo Cain stood in. To this point, the New York Mets had held out hope that they could keep another late-inning rally at bay, but then it happened.
As Lorenzo Cain fought his way to a full count, the Mets faithfull were still as rowdy as ever. The next pitch lowered the scenery a few decibels. A leadoff walk. On the first pitch to Eric Hosmer, Cain stole second. The game-ending double play was gone. The second pitch was sent to deep left field, over the head of Michael Conforto. Cain scored easily. Hosmer replaced him at second. With no one out, the tying run was in scoring position. Matt Harvey was replaced as well, as Jeurys Familia was brought in for the third straight night.

Mike Moustakas stepped in with a chance to drive in Hosmer. A look over to the visiting bench would see nothing but smiles and relaxed body language. Again the inevitability of a Royals win seemed to linger in the air. Moustakas chopped to first, an easy play for Lucas Duda, but one that moved Hosmer to third. With one out, Salvador Perez came in with a runner at third.

Without a hit in the game to that point, Perez was just fine keeping the goose egg on his sheet if it meant driving in the tying run. He did just that... kinda. He returned Familia's second pitch toward third. When David Wright cut it off to make the play to first, Eric Hosmer bolted home. Wright's throw was in time to beat the never-fast Perez, but when Duda redirected the ball home after the out, it sailed past a lunging Travis d'Arnaud. Hosmer slid in and tagged the plate. As he rose to his feet, the longtime Royaljumped high into the air. He felt it too. The guile and creativity of the Royals had turned profit again. The game was now tied. To extra innings the game would go, and with it and uncomfortable tension of Royals Magic looming over Queens, New York.

Salvador Perez would get his hit, though he would have to wait to the twelfth inning. Addison Reed had come on to relieve Jon Niese. The first pitch was a ball. The second was a blooper hit midway between first base and right field down the foul line. As Curtis Granderson fielded the ball against the wall, the decision was already upon the lips of Kansas City manager Ned Yost. Jarrod Dyson would replace Perez on the basepaths, and everyone knew what he was planning to do. On Reed's third pitch, Dyson bolted for second. He made it with room to spare, as usual. The go ahead run was in scoring position as the clock struck midnight. For the Cinderella Mets, the glass slipper was about to turn to concrete boots.

Jarrod Dyson and Wilmer Flores had a brief cat and mouse game at second base. Audible from the microphone at second base, the Royals' speedster and Mets' shortstop chattered and shuffled back and forth. In the end, their dalliance was short-lived. Eric Hosmer moved Dyson to third on a routine grounder to first. One Out.

Christian Colon, who had not had an at-bat all postseason, came in with the potential World Series winning run at third. Quickly, Addison Reed got up in the count two strikes and one ball. Colon stayed alive, chopping a strike foul. On the next pitch, he lined straight into left-center field. Dyson could have napped on his way home. Instead, he put his head down and ran over the base. Kansas City was now ahead 3-2. Wade Davis started warming up in the visiting bullpen. Daniel Murphy booted another routine out, much like Saturday night, from Paulo Orlando. Two on, one out. Alcides Escobar was next, fouling off and getting up in the count. On Reed's twenty-fourth pitch of the inning, Escobar blasted a slider back down the third base line past David Wright. Colon scored and Orlando stopped at third. It was still a manageable 4-2 deficit for the Mets, but the decision to leave Matt Harvey in for the ninth inning was feeling like a noose.

For some reason, and here I am the next morning contemplating this, Mets manager Terry Collins made the move to intentionally walk Ben Zobrist. I get it, load the bases and make all possible double plays available. Yet the next man up was Lorenzo Cain, a guy with a penchant for clutch hitting. Was it some sort of last gasp of trying absolutely anything to stop the onslaught? Addison Reed was removed for Bartolo Colon. Of course I was happy to see the ancient and pudgy pitcher, but I knew his fate before it happened. On his second pitch, Cain drove the ball to deep center field, splitting the outfielders and rolling all the way to the wall. Orlando scored. Escobar Scored. Zobrist scored. It was a five run inning. The Mets were three outs from heading back to Kansas City with a chance. Even as the inning flipped to the home half, it was only a formality.

Michael Conforto, who quietly had a pretty decent World Series, earned a single with two outs. His career is only beginning, and I see a bright future. He found his way to second base on defensive indifference. That is where he would stay. Wade Davis needed twenty pitches to end the season. Wilmer Flores, the man the Mets rallied around after a controversial trade deadline gaffe, struck out.

As Davis and Drew Butera jumped into each other's arms, there was only one team standing. The Kansas City Royals fulfilled their destiny. Few teams have so impressed me from beginning to end of a season like this Royals team. After losing a heartbreaker of a World Series last year, they found a way to make it back and finish the job.

Salvador Perez, the hardest working catcher in the game, was given the MVP award for the Series. From one to twenty-five, the Royals proved the value of a deep roster and belief in each other. The chemistry was visible. When they lost, they never let it boil over. When they won, they did it together. A franchise that had to build from within because of salary constraints had grown together, bled together, and now, together, they are champions of baseball.

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