Right now, and at least until Game Five gets underway Sunday night, it must absolutely suck to be Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes, and Terry Collins. Oh, to be back in Chicago, when Murphy was a hero of heroes, Cespedes’s inexplicable postseason disappearance could be covered, and Collins looked like someone in training to be a genius.
With two horrid eighth inning plays that resulted in an error and a tying run-scoring hit on the first and a single that could have been stopped with more range but scored the tiebreaking run on the second, Murphy went from one of the key guys who got the New York Mets to the World Series in the first place to the guy who did the most to help set the Mets up for a win-or-die Game Five.
What Murphy began, alas, Cespedes finished. Bad enough he accidentally kicked away a ball he tried earnestly to catch earlier in the game. Worse was getting himself caught and arrested off first base for the game-ending out.
In between was Collins, who couldn’t bring himself to pull his strongest trigger Friday night. He couldn’t ask Jeurys Familia—who’d done it to get the Mets to the LCS in the first place—for a six-out save. A night after he brought Familia in, almost inexplicably, to close out a Game Three that wasn’t anywhere near having a save situation.
And to think that this was a Game Four that almost ended with the Mets as the long-run beneficiaries of a Kansas City Royals mistake or three. The problem was that the Mets made their mistakes at even worse times than the Royals made theirs. This tragicomedy of errors was just bound to come down to whose mistakes would hurt least.
Ben Zobrist nullified Alcides Escobar’s game-opening single with interference on strike three while Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud tried to throw to second with Escobar trying to steal. The rule calls for runner and batter out on such interference if it’s strike three. Two innings later, Alex Rios, the Royals’ right fielder, made Royals fans forget all about Zobrist’s mishap.
Rios hovered under Curtis Granderson’s fly and hauled it down, and then inexplicably took a few slow steps as though making for the dugout on the third out. Except it wasn’t the third out. And Wilmer Flores—who’d singled after Conforto led off the inning with a blast into the second deck behind right, who’d taken second on a wild pitch, who’d gone to third on a sacrifice bunt—tagged and hustled home.
Even if Rios’s throwing arm has aged, there might still have been a play if he’d remembered how many outs there really were. At minimum he’d have kept Flores from thinking about a tag-up. And until the eighth inning, it looked as though Rios’s short nap would stand out as the misplay of the game.
“It’s a mental mistake, but what do you do?” said Rios after the game, earnestly enough. “You can’t just put your head down. You’ve got to compete. If you put your head down, you’re done. You compete. I heard [Royals center fielder] Lorenzo [Cain] screaming, and that’s when I found out.”
Murphy died for his and the Royals’ few sins.
With Familia in the game one out too late—after Tyler Clippard walked two following the opening out in the eighth, rather than Familia himself opening the inning, and with the Mets five outs from tying the Series at two apiece—Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer punched one weakly to second and Murphy moved forward to get it.
Except that he didn’t get it. It skipped under his glove, letting Zobrist score the tying run and just like that erase any memory of the Royals’ second baseman’s first-inning rally kill. Then Moustakas hit a roller. Murphy was playing Moustakas back on the rim of the outfield grass. He had to dive for it and missed. And Hosmer scored the fourth Royals run.
Then Salvador Perez slapped a no-questions-asked line drive to right field and 5-3 it was, and would prove to stay.
Admirably enough, Murphy refused to let anyone absolve him after the 5-3 loss. “I just misplayed it,” he said, right after he parked himself at his locker to accept the swarm of questions. “It went under my glove. They made us pay for it. I put us in a really bad spot. And that’s frustrating. I just didn’t make the play.”
Still, the Mets had a chance to fix things big in the ninth. Murphy on second, Cespedes on first, one out, and the smell of extra innings at least in Citi Field. Lucas Duda hit a soft liner toward third, and it floated right to Moustakas playing well off the pad.
Inexplicably, and that’s including Collins’s postgame observation that Cespedes was hell bent on going places on anything going to the gap, Cespedes was more than half way to second base. Moustakas threw to first. You almost swore Hosmer, playing the arresting officer at the pad, pitied Cespedes as he clapped on the game-ending cuffs.
Cespedes had already misplayed Perez’s fly in the fifth, somehow letting the ball ricochet off his leg, with the ball somehow ruled a double. That can happen and has happened to the best of outfielders. But in the ninth it was a rookie mistake by a well-played, well-seasoned young veteran, and Cespedes knew it.
“I thought it was going to touch the grass,” he said, “so I didn’t think it would turn into a double play. As I was coming closer, I thought it was going to land. It wasn’t exactly where I thought it landed. So, as I started picking up velocity, it just kind of got messed up.”
And thus did Royals closer Wade Davis kind of pick up the six-inning save for which Collins should have tried with Familia, considering Clippard’s hot and cold postseason to date.
Still, no Met felt the sting and arrow of outrageous fortune quite so deep as Murphy. Isn’t it one of baseball’s most cruel poetics that the hero of one season becomes the villiain the next. For two weeks Murphy electrified the country with his historic home run binge. They were singing his praises so loud the music could be heard from Saturn’s inner ring.
Now Saturday night was the loneliest night of the week for him. In one terribly fast eighth inning sequence, Murphy erased the memory of Mets rookie starter Steven Matz’s gutsy pitching, Conforto’s pair of bombs (the rook hit a second one in the fifth, into the right field bullpen), Jon Niese’s and Bartolo Colon’s stout sixth inning closure after Matz was touched for the inning-opening hits that closed the Royals’ early deficit to 3-2, and Addison Reed’s smooth seventh inning relief.
Don’t be afraid to bet that Collins now wishes he’d let Niese finish the sixth. Or, that he’d let Colon stay in to work the seventh and hand the eighth off to Reed.
But don’t tell Murphy the Hosmer play was one he’d make nine out of ten times. Reporters and teammates alike tried. Murphy wouldn’t hear it. “I didn’t make it the only time that counts,” he said sadly. He probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear even David Wright take the full blame from him. “This is not Daniel Murphy’s fault,” the Mets’ captain said, emphatically. “This is the New York Mets’ fault.”
The Royals just might feel a little empathetic themselves. They haven’t exactly played the greatest defense or mental baseball themselves even if they do have a 3-1 Series lead now.
But they benefitted from Met mistakes one night after Yordano Ventura forgot to cover first base on one key play and Franklin Morales couldn’t decide where to throw, before throwing it away at second on a should-have-been double play in a Game Three during which the Mets all but had their way with the Royals. And Zobrist and Rios got thatclose Saturday night to helping the Mets tie the set.
The Mets hope Matt Harvey—in a rematch of Game One against still-grieving Edinson Volquez, whose father died before Game One got under way—can get the Mets even closer to just staying alive Sunday night.