At the end of the seventh inning, the Royals' season looked to be over. Despite jumping on the board first with a two-run shot from Salvador Perez in the second, the Royals' offense was unable to solve the puzzle of Lance McCullers's two pitches, and the dependable Royals' pen turned a one-run game into what seemed like a hopeless one in the bottom of the seventh, with Kansas City trailing the Houston Astros 6 - 2.
Turning to their de facto ace to try to turn the tide of the series and send the series back to Kansas City for a decisive Game Five, the Royals hoped for a dominant appearance from Yordano Ventura. While he struck out Astros aplenty, Houston got to Ventura and drove him from the game with the Royals trailing by a run.
The flame-throwing righty actually looked fairly good for the most part. Ventura struck out eight in five innings while issuing three free passes (one intentionally) and one hit-by-pitch. He ceded just four hits in his five frames worked, unfortunately two of those four hits left the park.
That hit batsmen was Carlos Correa, who Ventura hit in the first inning with a live fastball that just tailed too much and hit him in the elbow. Correa exacted his revenge on Ventura in the bottom of the third, when he clubbed a game-tying dong to deep left-center field.
This was the third home run of the first three innings of the game, the second for the Astros, who also got a lead-off dong shot from Carlos Gomez in the second.
There would be more, but Correa looked to be the real story until the eighth inning happened.
In the bottom of the fifth in a game in which the Royals absolutely had to win, Ned Yost elected to ignore the fact that starting pitchers tend to fare quite poorly when facing the order for the third time.
Were it a regular season game, sending Ventura out there would have been understandable.
In an elimination game, Ventura came back out to face Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, and George Springer, the latter two for the third time. After Ventura recorded two outs, Springer drew a walk, and Ventura stayed in the game to face Carlos Correa, who crushed him in their last meeting. Correa stroked a double for to put the Astros up 3 - 2.
Ventura intentionally walked the red-hot catfish Colby Rasmus and eventually got Evan Gattis to fly out to end the inning, but the damage was done, and the Astros led, seemingly for good.
It should be noted that with Correa at the plate, Ned Yost had no surefire solution to the situation. Still, a member of the vaunted bullpen was much more likely to finish off Correa than Ventura, who he has seen twice and already sent deep.
Of course, when one of those men did get the chance to face Correa with the game on the line a couple innings later following a Kelvin Herrera walk of Jose Altuve to start his second inning of work, he did not produce desirable results.
Ryan Madson came into the game to clean up Herrera's small mess and struck out George Springer for the first out of the bottom of the seventh. The person who follows Springer in the order is phenom shortstop Carlos Correa.
This went poorly.
Carlos Correa hung his second demoralizing dong of the afternoon, this one to put the Astros up 5 - 2. Rasmus followed Correa with a hung dong--though a decidedly less sexy one--of his own and suddenly the Royals trailed by not one, but four runs. 6 - 2, Astros.
With his four-hit game featuring two huge dongs, Correa seemed to be announcing his place amongst the game's top talents. This was his coming out party, and the Royals looked on, playing the part of his first victims.
To make matters worse, the Royals' offense looked overmatched, struggling mightily against Astros' rookie right-hander Lance McCullers, and help was unlikely to be on the way from Houston's strong bullpen. Other than a second-inning Mike Moustakas walk followed by a majestic oppo-dong from Salvador Perez, the Royals managed just four other base-runners against the rookie in 6.1 labor-intensive but harmless innings. Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez each withstood being hit by pitches, neither looking to be anything other than pitches that got away from the rookie. Getting by entirely on his four-seamer/knuckle-curve combination, McCullers had the Royals baffled throughout the afternoon.
The combination of a starting pitcher developed through the draft and the emergence of a massive superstar from jump street seemed an emphatic extension of a middle finger to the Royals, whose stars never come about with such ease.
Salvador Perez earned a one-out hit-by-pitch in the top of the seventh inning and gave way to pinch-runner-extraordinaire Terrance Gore. Perez is probably the slowest Royal on the basepaths, but this substitution probably owed as much to the possible concussion he had in the bottom of the previous inning when a foul tip hit him in the mask.
With Gordon at the bat, Will Harris entered in relief of Lance McCullers, who had just thrown his 110th pitch of the day. Gore took off for second on the first pitch to Gordon and slid in safely. Gordon proved unable to check his swing on a high two-strike fastball, and Alex Rios came to the plate.
With Rios batting, Gore took off for third and slid in to third well ahead of the tag. During an injury delay (Luis Valbuena came up lame after nominal contact on the play), A.J. Hinch was alerted to the fact that Gore may have come off the bag after the tag had been applied and held. The replay crew in New York felt that Gore's back foot did come off the bag and that Valbuena held the tag through the break of contact with the bag and ruled Gore out at third.
After the player representing the game-tying run ran into an out, any hope for a Royals' comeback seemed foolish when Correa and Rasmus went back-to-back off of Madson in the aforementioned exchange in the bottom of the seventh.
Down four runs with an offense that looked worse than lost, Alex Rios stepped back into the box to face Will Harris again after their face-off in the seventh was arrested by Gore's caught-stealing.
Alex Rios stroked a single off of Harris.
Alcides Escobar followed with a single of his own.
Ben Zobrist singled.
Lorenzo Cain? He singled, too. Rios scores. Everyone moves up a base.
A.J. Hinch finally let Harris off the hook and fingered Tony Sipp. Being fingered must have grossed out Sipp because he yielded another single, this one to the struggling Eric Hosmer. For those counting along at home, that was the fifth straight single for the Royals. Escobar crossed the plate to draw the Royals to a two-run deficit, 6 - 4.
Because Carlos Correa had been too good earlier in the game, the Baseball Gods ruled that he needed to commit an error allowing Kendrys Morales to reach base safely on a sure force at second. The ball took a high hop on a chopped grounder and glanced of his glove, skittering into the outfield. Zobrist and Cain crossed home safely for fifth and sixth Kansas City runs.
Jarrod Dyson entered as a pinch-runner for Morales and distracted Sipp before successfully stealing second. Sipp then struck out Moustakas only to get the hook from Hinch. Hinch pointed suggestively at the bullpen and summoned Luke Gregerson to the mound.
Drew Butera stepped to the plate in Salvador Perez's place after Perez and facing the Houston closer, gritted out a ten-pitch plate appearance before working the most improbable of walks in the history of mankind. Alex Gordon followed with a ground ball to the right side of the infield that plated Eric Hosmer and avoided the double-play. Because he's slightly more of a threat than Butera, Rios worked a walk, reloading the bases for the Royals. Alcides Escobar, the eleventh Royal to come to the plate in the inning, struck out looking on a pitch that was arguably high, bringing the Royals' eighth to an end, but not before they could plate five runs and snatch the lead in a situation devoid of hope three outs earlier.
For anyone questioning why such a scenario should be devoid of hope, look no further than this factoid.
Last season, the Royals made history in the AL Wild Card game. They just did it again to force Game 5 vs Astros. pic.twitter.com/XCppkoN3ks— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2015
Teams do not do this. Ever. Well, apparently teams other than the Royals. They have never faced as large a deficit in an elimination game and come back to win.
All of the teams.
The Royals? Apparently they do it once apostseason.
Yost turned to The Cyborg in the bottom of the eighth with the margin of error being non-existent, and Wade Davis sent down the side in order.
Ben Zobrist walked to lead off the top of the ninth, and after Cain struck out, Eric Hosmer stepped to the plate and decided that in one swing of the bat, he would rewrite the narrative for his performance this series. The Son of God CRUSHED a pitch to deep right-center field. 453 feet of Majesty. Dong was hung.
Davis came back out to maintain the score, and Carlos Correa singled to start the inning off.
Fortunately, cyborgs cannot be rattled.
He struck out Rasmus and pinch-hitter Preston Tucker--both looking, reportedly suspended in a state of abject terror--before inducing a routine fly ball to right field from Carlos Gomez, who homered for the first Astros' run in the second inning.
With a loss and the end of the season feeling a certainty, the Royals miraculously channeled the energy of their Wild Card game in 2014. The Royals' bats were listless, and a four-run deficit seemed an impossible mountain to climb. Rather than buckle at the prospect of climbing Mt. Everest in a hellish blizzard, the Royals scored seven unanswered runs in the last two innings and go back to Kauffman Stadium to face off against Houston for a one-and-done must-win Game Five for the right to go to the American League Championship Series.
Say what you will about these Royals, but they don't make it easy for their opponents to put a game away.