For the Kansas City Royals, it’s a desire not to have to extend the World Series if they can help it, even if that extension would take the set home to Kauffmann Stadium. For the New York Mets, it’s a desire not to lose the Series at home in Citi Field and to get back up off the mat onto which they threw themselves in Game Four.
The Royals are putting their faith in Edinson Volquez for Game Five, even though Volquez is surely feeling the sorrow from his father’s death before Game One. And while a surface look at his postseason record isn’t encouraging (1-2, 4.37 ERA), look below and he’s kept the other guys to a .203 batting average. That’s a big plus for the Royals.
The Mets are putting their season into Matt Harvey’s hands. He looks a little better on the surface than Volquez (2-0, 3.38) and despite his almost non-existent strikeout total in Game One he pitched well enough to win it even if he began in the hole 1-0 thanks to Alcides Escobar’s leadoff inside-the-park homer on which Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto crossed each other up on a ball that could have been caught.
The best news for the Royals entering Game Five: Salvador Perez looking better than his .224 postseason batting average. Going 3-for-4 in Game Four upped his lifetime postseason jacket to hitting safely in nine out of eleven career games, and his Series BA is .308. Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon are probably the Royals’ hitters closest to Perez in the Series for production.
The best news for the Mets entering Game Five: Michael Conforto smashed out of his slump big in Game Four with two hefty home runs. And manager Terry Collins may want to re-think a piece of his strategy—thinking in terms of best offense, he’s kept Juan Lagares on the bench until the middle innings . . . but Lagares may be the second-best Met hitter in the Series. He was hitting .375 entering Game Four, ten points behind Lucas Duda’s .385. This may not be the time to stick strictly with the plan as it’s been thus far.
The worst news for the Royals: They may have been involved in the eighth inning that undid Daniel Murphy and the Mets, but Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, the Royals’ three and four hitters, have been in the Series tank, hitting .156 between them and no extra-base knocks. The worst news for the Mets: Aside from the comparative futility of their middle hitters, Tyler Clippard is falling apart in the setup role (his postseason ERA: 6.75) and, loyalties aside, Collins may well want to think about handing things off to men like Jon Niese, Addison Reed, Bartolo Colon, and Hansel Robles ahead of Clippard.
Niese got burned early in the Series when he was left in for an extra inning’s relief and Reed, still following the Mets’ early strategy of trying to overpound the zone on the zone-happy Royals, cost Niese two of the three runs charged to him. Since then both pitchers have worked extremely well. Colon may surrender hits and walks but he finds ways to keep them from doing damage anyway. And Robles looked sharp in both his assignments.
The Royals pen may still be vaunted but they’re not entirely invulnerable. Kelvim Herrera can be hittable now; the Mets smacked two runs out of him in Game Three that went aboard Franklin Morales’s jacket, and Morales probably won’t be seen in the Series again after his Game Three misadventure—which loaded the bases after a run was sent home when he couldn’t decide where to throw on a should-have-been inning-ending double play ball that would have kept the Royals to within three runs.
Royals manager Ned Yost may want to think a little more highly of such options as Danny Duffy (like Colon a starter pressed into postseason penmanship), Luke Hochevar, Kris Medlen, and Ryan Madson if things get tight in Game Five.
Thumbnail sketch for the Royals: Continue the move-the-line hitting approach and get the game to that bullpen, maybe earlier than normal depending on Volquez’s start.
Thumbnail sketch for the Mets: Continue to not make the pitching strikes too good (Harvey shouldn’t mistrust his fastball but mixing in the offspeed stuff will help him even more), give Tyler Clippard the night off, and make the Royals throw their more hittable pitches. When they did the first and the third of those, they prevailed.
Where they’re just about even-up: Their leadoff men. Both Escobar and Curtis Granderson have been barbs in each other’s teams’ craws all series long.
Encouraging note for the Mets: There have been other teams to come back from 3-1 Series deficits. The 1958 Yankees. The 1985 Royals did it. So did the 1979 Pirates, the 1968 Tigers, and the 1958 Yankees. The latter three had to do it mostly on the road, too.
The Mets know it didn’t have to be this way. They were five outs from putting Game Four in the bank. The Royals know not to get too cocky in Game Five. They were five outs from a tie Series. And for the Mets only the Dark Knight can keep it from being a dark night and winter to come.