Open a World Series with an inside-the-park home run thanks to an unexpected brain vapour by the opposing battery and a pair of outfielders. Finish the game after fourteen innings and with a sacrifice fly.
These Kansas City Royals may have done crazier things than that in their two-season-and-maybe-counting return to American League supremacy. But they’re not about to bet on it.
“I think I’ve never seen that before,” said Alcides Escobar after the Royals managed, somehow, to win Game One 5-4. “First game of the World Series. First pitch of the game. Inside-the-park home run. That’s crazy.”
Tell us about it. Almost as crazy as it all coming down to a sacrifice fly by an Eric Hosmer who got thatclose to blowing Game One for the Royals in the first place before his second sacrifice fly of the night won it.
It was Escobar who got the gift when someone between New York Mets starter Matt Harvey and catcher Travis d’Arnaud forgot that the one thing you don’t throw Escobar, a man who thrives on such things, is a fastball on the first pitch. And, while we’re at it, rookie Mets left fielder Michael Conforto and veteran center fielder Yoenis Cespedes need to work on their communication.
Because when Escobar lofted the fly that should have been the game’s first out, Conforto and Cespedes converged on it, someone called, someone shied off it, the ball ended up landing by way of a carom off Cespedes’s leg before running away from both at the wall, and Escobar was rounding third and headed home unmolested.
“We’re both going toward the gap,” said Conforto replaying the fateful opening. “I thought I heard something. It sounded like, ‘I got it.’ So I pulled up. I really don’t want to make any excuses. I had a shot to catch that ball. Really, that ball can’t get down. We’re in the World Series and it’s got to be caught. I had a chance to make the play and didn’t make it.”
It was only the first World Series inside-the-parker since Mule Haas of the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics turned the feet–er, feat.
Imagine, then, how Hosmer felt in the top of the eighth. Two outs and Juan Lagares, a mid-game defensive insertion by the Mets, slashes a soft liner to center for a base hit and steals second. Then Wilmer Flores bounces one right up the first base line that takes a whacky hope and gets away from Hosmer and into right field, letting Lagares score a tie-breaking fourth Mets run.
Yes, trivia experts, it was the first error to let home a tiebreaking run in a World Series game since the Mookie Wilson grounder that skipped somehow between Bill Buckner’s creaky ankles in the 1986 Series. And in that moment Hosmer probably wanted to find an underground cave. Even if this was only Game One.
But who knew his good buddy Alex Gordon would save his and the Royals’ Game One skins in the next inning by doing what hadn’t been done to Mets closer Jeurys Familia since July—answering a fastball up with a trip over the center field fence to tie it at four and send the game to marathon land?
“All I could tell him was, ‘I just want to hug you right now’.” Hosmer chirped after the game. “That’s why he’s my hero. That’s why he’s a lot of people’s hero right now in Kansas City.”
“With a guy like that,” Gordon said after the game, “you can’t afford to miss a pitch. He’s got great stuff. And I just got a good swing on it.”
“He made the swing. That’s it,” Familia told reporters. “I missed the zone a little bit. I wanted to go away, down. I left it in the middle, a little up. I’m not surprised. I can make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes in this game. You just try to move forward and that’s it.”
It’s also why Hosmer got a chance to join the ranks of game heroes and forget about nailing his mailbox to that underground cave.
After a bullpen battle to remember between aging Bartolo Colon and supersize Chris Young, after Mets third baseman David Wright threw too fast on knocking down and picking up Escobar’s leadoff grounder in the bottom of the fourteenth, after the Mets rather daringly put Lorenzo Cain on to load the bases with nobody out, hoping to cut the run off at the plate.
Hosmer knew one thing: it was four years since the last time anyone wrung Colon for a bases-loaded walk. He’d have to do this one himself, the hard way. So he upended the Mets’ plan with a loft to right on which nobody could throw Escobar out at the plate.
In between Escobar’s opening shocker and Hosmer’s ending sacrifice, not to mention Young’s three hitless relief innings, there was drama enough to promise this would be a Series that wouldn’t end simply or soon.
There was Edinson Volquez starting and pitching stoutly enough despite the shadow of his father’s death earlier in the day. There was Harvey shaking off the first inning shock to keep things tight by keeping the Royals away from fastballs for the most part, while the Mets tied it and took a subsequent lead before the Royals tied it at three on his eventual dime.
There was Daniel Murphy watching his stupefying postseason home run streak end but still picking up a couple of hits and scoring the Mets’ first tying run in the fourth. There was Curtis Granderson busting the tie with a one-out whack into the Mets’ bullpen in right field in the fifth. There were Conforto and Cespedes trying to atone for their first-inning sin in the sixth when Cespedes—aboard on a leadoff single—came home on Conforto’s sacrifice fly, sliding just ahead of a slightly off-line throw.
There were the Royals in the bottom of the sixth, re-tying things at three courtesy of a leadoff base hit (Ben Zobrist, swinging on the first pitch), a followup base hit (Cain), Hosmer’s first sacrifice fly of the night, and an RBI single (Mike Moustakas) one out later.
There were the Royals’ vaunted bullpen and the Mets’ underrated pen going at each other and refusing to give an inch no matter what the other guys threw at them, other than Gordon v. Familia, never mind Wade Davis punching out the side in the ninth for the Royals or Jon Niese—a starter moved to bullpen duty for the postseason—almost literally blowing the Royals away in the tenth for the Mets.
Royals manager Ned Yost was amazed by all of it. “To find a way to grind that way out against a great team, both teams were matching pitch for pitch . . . ” Apparently, he couldn’t find a way to finish the thought. It couldn’t possibly equal the way the Royals found to end a game they almost handed to the Mets on a plate.
They know the Mets won’t be pushovers, at least as much as the Mets know the Royals won’t be, either. Both know Game One could have gone either way. And both know Game Two might have a few surprises of its own, with the Mets pitching postseason ace Jacob deGrom and the Royals sending inconsistent Johnny Cueto out to start.
“Both teams were relentless,” Wright said after it ended. “I think tonight they were just a little more relentless.” On a game-opening fastball that should have been anything but, the Royals gave the Mets their first taste of the kind of relentless that the Mets need to match and then some. Need to match, and somehow will.
Because you’d have to bet these teams are settling into the idea that this set just might go the distance. With maybe even crazier baseball yet to play along the way.