So this is what the playoffs are like?
In the biggest game for the Kansas City Royals franchise since Back to the Future was closing in on the $175 million mark at the box office, James Shields only completed five innings. He allowed two runners in the top of the sixth and got the hook. Those runners ended up being his third and fourth earned runs. The fourth run was the go-ahead run for Oakland.
It didn't matter.
With a well-rested bullpen featuring three shut-down relievers and Herrera available to get out of the jam, Ned Yost went to Yordano Ventura to try to get out of the jam. Ventura was pulled after an ineffective four innings on Sunday in which he allowed four earned and took 73 pitches to take care of four-innings-worth of White Sox hitters. Ventura was wild and then grooved a pitch to Brandon Moss--the same Brandon Moss who five innings earlier took Shields deep. The previously ice cold Brandon Moss hung demoralizing dong to straightaway center--a moon-shot of the three-run variety.
Somehow it didn't matter.
Kelvin Herrera ended up allowing an inherited Ventura runner to score and another of his own. As Oakland's five-run sixth inning came to a close, the Royals trailed 7 - 3.
Miraculously, it did not matter.
The Royals whimpered through a quick three outs in the bottom of the sixth. Kelvin Herrera worked around a two-out infield single in the top of the seventh, but the Royals trailed the A's by four runs and had a mere nine outs with which to plate at least four Royals.
Infante reached on a two-out bunt single in the bottom of the seventh, but the Royals were again unable to score.
Wade Davis cruised through the eighth. Six outs remained to erase the four-run deficit.
To kick off the eighth, Alcides Escobar singled. Escobar stole second and advanced to third on a Norichika Aoki ground-out. Lorenzo Cain singled in Escobar and then swiped second himself. Eric Hosmer walked, and Luke Gregerson relieved Jon Lester. Billy Butler singled to right-center, driving in Cain and advancing Hosmer to third. He was immediately lifted for Terrance Gore, and after a horrifying base-running gaffe in the first inning, there's no arguing that he shouldn't have been lifted. Gore immediately stole second, the Royals' third stolen base of the inning. Gregerson uncorked a wild pitch. Hosmer scored. Gore advanced to third. Alex Gordon walked. Salvador Perez struck out, but Gordon stole second, the Royals' fourth steal of the inning. With Gordon representing the go-ahead run at second, Omar Infante whiffed and the Royal rally was over.
Greg Holland struggled, loaded the bases, but eventually worked his way through the ninth.
The Royals had a mere three outs to plate the game-tying run.
Josh Willingham, The Ham, entered as a pinch-hitter for Mike Moustakas in a double switch that plugged Jayson Nix in at third. The Ham singled and immediately made his way to the dugout with Jarrod Dyson taking his spot at first. Escobar--and by simply typing his name, you instinctively know what happened here--bunted Dyson over to second.
Two outs remain.
With the left-handed Aoki at-bat, Dyson stole third. It was magnificent.
Aoki hit a deep fly ball to right field. Tie game.
Lorenzo Cain lined out sharply to short, but objective realized.
The Royals tied the game after trailing by four with six outs remaining, and Ned Yost gave away one of those six outs with the Escobar bunt.
Brandon Finnegan came in to kick off the tenth. Three up. Three down. Domination.
Hosmer singled to lead off the bottom of the tenth. Christian Colon bunted him over because--in addition to being an Old World seed-eating songbird in the finch family--bunting wins championships. Gordon grounded out to short, moving Hosmer to third, only to have Salvador Perez ground weakly to second base, stranding the winning run at third.
Finnegan came back out in the eleventh. At this point, the Royals Hall of Fame is making space for his certain induction into their hallowed halls.
He struck out Coco Crisp to start things off. Then Sam Fuld bunted right back to Finnegan for an easy put-out at first. Josh Donaldson singled, but Finnegan reached back and blew Brandon Moss away (with a gift of a third strike call, but the fact remains that he was straight shoving).
Omar Infante got things going for Kansas City with another lead-off single. Same small-ball bullshit. Same result. Infante was stranded at third as Jayson Nix struck out looking with a gift call that evened the inning-ending backward-K gifts at one apiece.
Finnegan walked to the mound again to start the twelfth. He didn't look to have his command the third trip to the rubber and walked Josh Reddick to lead off the inning. Jed Lowrie sacrifice-bunted Reddick over to second because the parking lot at the K was smothering each team's offensive attack. Jason Frasor entered in relief of Finnegan, and But I Don't Know What To Do With Those Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs uncorked a breaking ball in the dirt that Perez was unable to keep in front of him, allowing Reddick to advance to third. Alberto Callaspo fisted a single to shallow left field, and the A's suddenly led the Royals by the score of 8 - 7.
But I Don't Know What To Do With Those Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs buckled down and got out of the inning without allowing any more damage. He struck out Derek Norris and induced a pop out in foul territory down the first-base line.
If that wild pitch is blocked, the lead is preserved. This is not a banner day for Perez, who up to this point has not only not blocked an at least conceivably blockable pitch in the dirt but has stranded three runners in scoring position to end innings, while going 0 - 5 at the plate with two strikeouts and having the ignominious distinction of stepping to the plate five times and being retired each time while seeing maybe three strikes the whole night.
Lorenzo Cain, whose third-inning double tied the game and whose ensuing run put the Royals on top, did not come through to start the home half of the twelfth.
The Royals and their dwindling playoff hopes are down to a scant two outs. 29 years of frustration and irrelevance seemed a foregone conclusion at this point.
Eric Hosmer, the one-time Savior, the one once anointed the Son of God by so many--including yours truly--only to look lost at the plate for months at a time while the impression of a future Hall of Famer fades faster than the image of Marty McFly's siblings as he loses motor function playing on stage with Marvin Berry, steps to the plate on a night in which He and only He seem unwilling to allow for the Royals' hopes to be extinguished.
The Son of God had come to the plate five other times this evening. Four of those times saw him reach base, two by way of the walk and twice on singles in which he willed himself to first. With one out and the Royals' entire season on the line, Eric Hosmer worked the count and throttled a two-strike Dan Otero offering to the wall in left-center. Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld both closed in on the ball but were unable to corral the Son of God's screamer, colliding at the wall in a heap, and sending Eric Hosmer to third.
Believe. He is risen!
Christian Colon hit a weak chopper to Josh Donaldson driving in Hosmer, reaching first safely, and tying up the game. Again. Reports of coronary events in the Kansas City metro area went through the roof at this point.
Dan Otero was lifted for Jason Hammel, one of the other pitchers that the A's acquired at the deadline--and at the expense of their farm system/future. Christian Colon promptly stole second, the Royals' seventh stolen base in the game. With two outs remaining and the man who just a month ago was being discussed seriously as an MVP candidate in a world without Mike Trout at the plate, hope sprung eternal.
Only Alex Gordon popped out in foul territory to third baseman Josh Donaldson.
One out remained with the Royals' rally still in play. Colon stood at second. Perez, the man who looked completely and utterly lost at the plate for the last month of the season, stepped to the plate.
And he poked a ball he had no business swinging at down the third-base line past a diving Josh Donaldson, who missed the ball by mere inches.
Despite squandering multiple opportunities and being potentially undone by particularly poor performances from James Shields, Yordano Ventura, and Salvador Perez, not to mention Ned Yost's questionable call to go with Ventura in the sixth when either the battle-tested Kelvin Herrera or the left-handed rookie with ice in his veins Brandon Finnegan waited in the wings, the Royals won the most thrilling game any of us have witnessed the Royals playing in nearly three decades.
In the first (of five) game thread(s), I described the feelings that were coursing through my person as follows:
Can you feel that? An unfamiliar, simultaneous amalgam of excitement, dread, certainty of failure, blind optimism of success, pending horror, sexual arousal, crippling impotence, realizations that this may never happen again, faint hopes that this will not recur, more sexual arousal, even more crippling impotence, glow-basking, fear-masking, and premature heart palpitations all accompanied by the malodorous combination of befouled undergarments and fear-elicited sweat pouring from every gland?
Every one of those extremes was touched upon and then revisited ten times over.
If this is what the postseason is like, I don't know if I can handle much more of it.
And I wouldn't want it any other way.
What an insane goddamn game.