In the second inning, everything happened at once. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie hit Pablo Sandoval in the elbow, well, 'hit' him. Hunter Pence then singled on a two-strike count, because of course, and then Brandon Belt hit a single to load the bases with no outs. Unfortunately, starter Jeremy Guthrie was still pitching, and nobody was throwing in the bullpen. Michael Morse hit a sac fly afterwards to easily score Sandoval from third. Giants up 1 to nothing. Brandon Crawford hit a sac fly after that to score Pence from third. Giants up 2 to nothing. Mercifully, Guthrie struck out Juan Perez to end the inning. It’s true that it could have been more problematic, but Guthrie, easily the Royals worst starter for 2014, predictably gave up ground to the hot-hitting Giants.
In the bottom half of the inning, Billy Butler led off with a single right up the middle. Alex Gordon came up to bat and, Lo, Danger Ox! Gordon smashed a double to the right-center gap that scored Butler from first. Yes, that’s right, from first. Giants lead 2-1 Then, with Salvador Perez at the plate, Hudson uncorked a pitch that escaped his control, running inside and slamming Perez just above the next knee. Perez, perhaps the toughest catcher in Major League Baseball, went down to the ground immediately. I immediately began saying unkind things to Hudson aloud, and I’m sure others said worse.
Perez eventually hobbled to first base after a lengthy delay. Mike Moustakas, unfortunately, did not hit a home run as the next batter up, but did hit a ball deep enough for Gordon to tag and go to third. Omar Infante, seeing Moustakas and the Giants do their productive outs thing, obliged and hit a fly ball to center that scored Gordon from third. Game tied 2-2.
Really, that inning was basically an example of exemplary base running, with Butler’s scoring from first and Gordon’s two tagging decisions turning out to be huge.
Guthrie bounced back quite nicely in the top of the third, having a 1-2-3 inning before turning it over to the bottom of the inning. Cain worked Jeremy Affeldt and eventually hit a single to right field. Hosmer then cracked a ball up the middle, but rookie Joe Panik had an amazing play, tossing the ball to Crawford using only his glove. Crawford threw a laser to first, almost getting a sliding Hosmer out. However, Bruce Bochy challenged the play, a good choice; Hosmer was indeed out and was called out after the replay. It was a long half-inning with no outs, but fortunately that gave Perez some time to rest.
Unfortunately, the piñata bounced back towards Guthrie and hit him in the face in the top of the fourth. Sandoval hit a weak grounder to the middle of the field. Infante made a great play on the ball, bare handing the ball, but slipped on the outfield grass as he threw to first, which allowed Sandoval just enough time. Pence blooped a ball for a single, because of course. Belt’s deep fly ball to left field allowed Sandoval to get to third, and that was it for Guthrie, who was replaced by Kelvin Herrera. Herrera bullied Morse to an 0-2 count, but Morse jammed a broken-bat single to score Pence from third. Herrera did get a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning and, again, it could have been much worse.
The fourth inning began with a looping curveball that hit Gordon in the back. After a pitcher loses control, I swear the Royals must be under orders to swing at the first pitch they see. Perez did so, and grounded into a double play. A Moose groundout completed the inning, where the Royals wasted another leadoff man. Huge wasted opportunity.
And then, in the fifth…who else? Madison Bumgarner appeared, he who threw 117 pitches on Sunday. And, lo and behold, he wasn’t terribly sharp. Infante shot a liner into right field for a single. Unfortunately, the Royals were…
Ned Yost, most likely wishing to avoid a double play for the third straight inning, was dead set on Escobar sac bunting, even after Bumgarner missed severely on pitch one. Pitch 2 almost hit Escobar. Escobar then sac bunted Infante over to second base on a fastball down the middle of the plate. That ended *exactly* how you might expect. No runs, and another huge opportunity was wasted.
How else could it end?
As if it were some bizarre, horrible caricature of the Royals dream scenario, Bumgarner completely dominated over the next three innings, making the Royals hitters look like hapless fools. The Royals pitchers were unfortunately unable to contribute offensively, and their successful attempt to prevent the Giants from scoring in no way altered the score. From the moment Bumgarner stepped into the game, the Royals' season ended.
You ready for this? In three appearances against the Royals, Bumgarner's final line: 21 innings, 17 strikeouts, 9 hits, 1 walk, 1 run. The Royals averaged one baserunner every two innings against him. They were completely, unequivocally, utterly lost at the plate against him. No amount of arm stress, magic, or luck would allow them to touch Bumgarner. Domination.
Madison Bumgarner will win the MVP, and rightfully so. Without Bumgarner, the Giants lose this World Series. With him, they crush the dreams of a devoted, hungry fanbase whose World Series drought will extend to 30 years at least. The San Francisco Giants have won 3 of the past 5. The Kansas City Chiefs have not won a playoff game since 1994, and haven't won a championship since 1969. The San Francisco 49ers have won 5 Super Bowls since then and have appeared in 6.
Life is not fair.
So what of this season? Does it go down as a disappointment? I wrote on September 19 that the Royals were masters of disappointment, often breaking down when it mattered most. This certainly qualifies.
On the other hand, over the past month and a half, the Royals have completely trashed that narrative. They both transformed Kansas City and invigorated an entire baseball community. A small-town franchise first claimed a playoff spot for the first time in 29 years, then pulled off one of the most magical comebacks of playoff history against the Oakland A's. Underdogs against the best team in baseball, the Royals pulled off two straight extra-innings shockers, then came home for a knockout punch and advance to the ALCS. There, the faced the Baltimore Orioles, and were able to dominate that series from the beginning. They won 4 games to none, echoing their Oakland performance with clutch hits, home runs, and a fascinating baseball renaissance. Eight games into the postseason, and the Royals had won eight (8) of them. First time in baseball history that happened.
Then, the San Fransisco Giants came to Kansas City. The Giants, winners of two of the previous four World Series, defeated the Royals in seven games, pulling off a sucker-punch victory in front of a desperate, rabid home crowd. Bumgarner crushed the dreams of a million with his left hand.
I'm extremely proud of this team. I've had a blast covering them, and I've had a blast watching this insane run. I've thought a lot about what my thoughts would be if the Royals lost this series, this game. Of course, separation from the situation will help. Essentially, I'm extremely excited about this team. I'm happy for all of the Royals--long-timers Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, new guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez, heck, even Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
But, as exemplified in this game, where the Royals squandered an opportunity or two to go ahead, there will be a nagging doubt, an eternal asterisk to this season. World Series appearances don't grown on trees, after all. The Royals had this. They had it when they were up 4-1 in Game 4. They had it tonight, with multiple leadoff runners erased with bad decisions and at-bats.
And they didn't do it. You've got to take it when you can get it. It was a great season, a great run. I loved this season. But what if?
But what if...