The New York Mets certainly had their chances against the Royals. And like Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, they lost in harrowing fashion.
By Bryan Pol
For the first time in this 2015 postseason run, the New York Mets find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
In light of a marathon thriller—a 14 inning, 5-4 loss to the current and defending American League Champion Kansas City Royals—the Mets are trailing in a series for the first time in these playoffs.
Alas, the Mets further find themselves in territory unbefitting of a World Series run that ends in glory: according to ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, sixteen of the last eighteen teams to win Game 1 have gone on to win the World Series, including the last five straight. The advantage, in this case, falls to the Royals.
The last World Series game to enter extra innings after the tying run came to the plate in the ninth before last night? Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, when Mets’ closer Armando Benitez yielded a sacrifice fly to Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees, who later went on to win 4-3 on the strength of a Jose Vizcaino RBI knock that plated Tino Martinez. The Yankees would go on to win that Series four games to one, the only Met victory coming in Game 4 at Shea Stadium.
“We were all shocked by it,” manager Terry Collins noted of the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth from Royals’ outfielder Alex Gordon, a 438 foot shot to dead center that came off the once-invincible Jeurys Familia, whose untimely miscue resulted in his first run given up this postseason.
Prior to the ninth, Familia entered the frame having faced 34 batters in these playoffs, with only four of them having reached base. Gordon’s homer was the first extra base hit Familia surrendered all postseason, resulting in his first blown save since July 30, a loss to the San Diego Padres that arrived in the midst of the botched Carlos Gomez deal that left Wilmer Flores, who thought he was traded to Milwaukee, enduring a fit of emotions.
Flores, playing in Ruben Tejada’s stead since a wayward slide from Chase Utley broke his leg in Game 2 of the NLDS, leaving him off the playoff roster and out of commission entirely, has been waiting for his moment to break out this postseason.
Flores hit the ball hard all night off starter Edinson Volquez, whose father passed away in the Dominican Republic at the age of 63, hours before the one-time ace of the Cincinnati Reds was due to make Tuesday night’s start.
And despite what Flores eventually did to put the ball in play off Kelvin Herrera to score the recently inserted Juan Lagares in the eighth inning, thanks to a fielding error from Eric Hosmer, only the second Royals’ error in nearly 160 chances in the playoffs, the 4-3 lead quickly evaporated in the ninth when Alex Gordon emphatically emulated an injured, hobbling Kirk Gibson, whose late-inning, dramatic home run off the once invulnerable Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series preserved a 5-4 victory for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would go on to win the Series four games to one over the heavily favored Oakland Athletics.
To start the first, Volquez mixed fastballs with off-speed pitches, quieting the bats of Curtis Granderson, David Wright, and the mighty Daniel Murphy, retiring the side with relative ease.
Then, on his first pitch, formerly maligned ace Matt Harvey, masterful in his last start to begin the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs, immediately gave up an Alcides Escobar long fly ball to center, which sailed out of Yoenis Cespedes’s reach, ricocheting off the Cuban’s foot, resulting in Escobar, the ALCS MVP, coming all the way around the bases to score. His inside-the-park home run, the twelfth all-time in World Series play and first since 1929, was the first to lead off a World Series games since Patsy Dougherty did so in 1903.
Immediately, many questioned Terry Collins’s decision to start Cespedes over Juan Lagares in a series when defense is at a premium, especially given the state of Kansas City’s penchant for small ball, stealing bases, and running the diamond with greater skill than most teams can in the majors.
Ultimately, however, Harvey settled down and was gifted a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Travis d’Arnaud RBI single in the fourth, a Michael Conforto sacrifice fly in the fifth, and a Curtis Granderson home run in the sixth.
Unfortunately, Harvey would relinquish his team’s generous offering, with Ben Zobrist’s leadoff double and Lorenzo Cain’s single and stolen base amounting to two runs, on a sacrifice fly from Eric Hosmer and a Mike Moustakas RBI single to center on a hard hit ground ball, evening the score at 3-all.
The game entered the tenth inning, knotted at 4-4, prolonging an inevitable Met defeat. Having already resorted to Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, and Familia for what was to be a lockdown, four-out save, Collins was forced to use Jonathon Niese and Bartolo Colon, the latter of whom yielded another Hosmer sacrifice fly after loading the bases in the bottom of the 14th inning.
All told, Reed, Clippard, Niese, and Colon matched the vaunted Royals’ bullpen pitch for pitch. In particular, Clippard and Niese, with five strikeouts between them in 2 2/3 innings’ of work, were dominant.
What a great moment for a widely respected professional like Chris Young, to have that success on that stage at age 36.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 28, 2015
Unfortunately for the Mets, so, too, was former Metropolitan Chris Young, who struck out four over three innings, giving up no hits and one walk. Young, projected to be the Game 4 starter the same way he was for the Royals in the ALCS, threw 53 pitches in all, which may limit his ability to go long on Saturday, if need be. Regardless, Young, not Wade Davis or Kelvin Herrera, was and has been the star of the Kansas City bullpen this postseason, an unsung hero the Mets nearly found in Juan Lagares, who made an immediate impact once Conforto was removed to make way for Cespedes in left. Lagares’s performance—2-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base that temporarily became the lead run in the eighth—nearly made a genius of Terry Collins, who, earlier in the day, was named The Sporting News’ Manager of the Year alongside his American League counterpart Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins.
In the bottom of the eleventh, after a Lagares leadoff single, a Flores sacrifice bunt, and a walk to Curtis Granderson, all eyes were on David Wright, who came to the plate with runners on first and second and two out, facing Ryan Madson, who had already surrendered four home runs in six innings of work this postseason. The stars were aligned for the Met captain to take the lead, but Madson struck him out, extinguishing the threat to make way for Chris Young, who gave the Mets nothing in the way of hope.
Speaking of hope, the Mets find themselves without much of it, given how proficiently the insatiable Royals, looking to avenge last year’s World Series loss to the Giants in seven games, have played.
Every facet of the Royals’ ability to execute and perform the way they have performed all season was on full display on Tuesday night: from Escobar’s advantageous leadoff home run to the speedy Cain eventually becoming Kansas City’s second run—triggered by his stealing second base—and Gordon planting a Jeurys Familia fastball 438-feet away from home plate.
Much has been made of the Royals’ capacity to run the bases, use their speed, play small ball (two runs, including the game-winning score, came by way of a sac fly), and hammer fastballs, and Game 1 was very much decided by Kansas City’s ability to mimic their season-long successes in all of those departments.
Despite the Mets being the better “contact hitting” club last night, peppering hard-hit, seeing-eye singles, one after the other, just past the gloves of the Royals’ defense, Kansas City did not take their homefield advantage for granted, substantial considering how a band of Royals—six, including Cain, Gordon, Herrera, Davis, Escobar, and Moustakas, were voted in to participate in the Midsummer Classic, with eight of nine position players leading in votes in the balloting at one point—helped preserve the advantage in a 6-3 win for the American League All-Stars at Great American Ballpark.
If anything, the Mets must now look to their crosstown rivals for hope: in 2009, the Yankees were the last club to win the World Series after losing Game 1. Despite a demoralizing loss that saw ace and that season’s ALCS MVP CC Sabathia falter, Phillies’ ace Cliff Lee dominate, and Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley thrive off the prowess of two monster home runs, the Yankees, having lost their homefield advantage after the series opening loss, went on to win the Series in six games, which the team from Flushing is very much still in-line to accomplish, especially with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard taking the mound in Games 2 and 3 respectively, and with Steven Matz now having a decided advantage over whomever Royals’ manager Ned Yost may rely on in Game 4, be it an already depleted Chris Young or Edinson Volquez going on short rest.
While things looked desperate for those 2009 Yankees (heck, any series deficit triggers pandemonium in the Big Apple), Girardi kept his players loose, focused, and driven enough to avenge one of the franchise’s most heart-rending Series’ losses, a seven-gamer to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.
With the echoes of the Bernie Madoff scandal and the 2006 NLCS loss to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals remaining on their ledger, the New York Mets have that same vengeance in mind, no matter what the Royals accomplished in Game 1.
The series is very much still in the Mets’ grasp and control, with a chance to split in Kansas City on Wednesday night and three straight games yet to play in Citi Field, the stadium’s first ever experience in the World Series and the Mets’ first homefield swing during the World Series in fifteen years.
With momentum “only being as good as the next starting pitcher,” deGrom will take his brilliance in the playoffs thus far to Kauffman Stadium with a chance to even the Series in Game 2 on Wednesday night. For the Mets, hopefully their de facto ace is facing Johnny Cueto of Game 4 of the ALCS. Otherwise, an 0-2 deficit looms large on the verge of a pivotal Game 3 that ultimately rests on the shoulders of Noah Syndergaard, who, despite his dominance, is but a rookie.
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