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"The Comeback" reviewed

How did the Royals snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

déjà vu
[dey-zhah voo, vyoo; French dey-zha vy]
noun
1. Psychology. the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.

A little more than 365 days ago the Royals played what was arguably the most exciting game in their team history. That game looked liked this

and this

and in another way, like this

That game was awesome. I was there. Sal Perez's liner down the third base line skipped by Josh Donaldson less than 20 feet away of me and I swear that I got dirt in my eyes.

Yesterday's game was pretty fun. As fun as that Wild Card game? No, probably not, but it was fun in an overall sense. It was fun in and important sense too. It's sending the Royals back home to play a decisive game five.

It wasn't exactly deja vu, but we've seen awesome comebacks in the playoffs before with this team. One that was as recent as a year ago. Is there such a thing as slanted deja vu? If so, I'm declaring yesterday's game it.

Let's set up the inning.

So of course the Royals were down pretty big. The game kinda cruised along and until the fifth inning was basically a 50/50 game throughout. Yordano Ventura got two quick outs in the fifth on a strikeout of Jason Castro and a groundout to Jose Altuve. We were pretty close to going into the sixth inning with a 2-2 tie and what would have probably been almost exactly 50/50 chances for the Royals to win.

Then Yordano Ventura walked George Springer. Two outs walks are of course better than no out walks or one out walks. However this two out walk happened to be right in front of magnificently impressive Carlos Correa who had tied the game earlier in the third inning with a home run.

Then Correa did this, because of course he did. These are the kinds of things you do when your awesome, and young, and sexy.

That didn't necessarily blow the game open, but the Astros went from ~50% chance of winning up to 70% immediately after Springer touched home safely.

Again the game cruised for another two innings before the Astros struck again. A walk to Jose Altuve from Kelvin Herrera started the inning off and then two batters later Correa attacked again.

That home run elicited Matt Vasgersian's trademark "Santa Maria!" and just like that, the Astros basically were on their way to the ALCS. That of course was before Colby Rasmus then did this

Within basically two minutes of game time, the Astros were booking their flight to Texas or Toronto.

Here's where we were at the end of the 7th inning, with the Astros win expectancy being the top half.

Nail, meet coffin.

Listen...I thought it was over. As a matter of fact I tweeted out this:

You thought it was over too. You did. Please do not lie. Everybody thought it was over and anyone who says they knew the Royals were going to come back is lying. The Royals pitching stunk and their offense was anemic all game. Historically teams in the Astros situation win 98% of the time.

The eighth inning started off kinda quiet.

Alex Rios came out swinging at the first pitch and singled to left

Then Alcides Escobar somehow poked this pitch up the middle

Look at that one again there.

There's no reason for Escobar to swing at that. Sure it's a 2-2 count and he's protecting the plate, but that ball isn't even close to a strike. But he did, and he was rewarded for a bad mistake by standing safely on first.

Next came the key to the Sean Manaea trade, Ben Zobrist,. Will Harris got ahead of Zobrist on what was probably a ball, but the home plate umpire called it a strike.

That's pretty good outside of the normally called strike zone, but whatever, Zobrist's at bat didn't end there.

After a ball in the dirt, Zobrist then hit a Texas leaguer over the middle infielders and right in front of Carlos Gomez.

Before you could even blink, the Royals suddenly had the game tying batter at the plate. The Astros went from being mortal locks of winning the game to the Royals being one 400+ foot batted ball away from tying this game and nobody was out yet.

To the plate came Lorenzo Cain, the Royals hopeful hero who could tie it up with one swing or at least score two runs on any sort of outfield single. He of course was looking to put the ball in play.

Harris threw Cain nothing but cutters

And on the third cutter he threw, Cain hit a no doubt single (the 4th consecutive single of the inning) between shortstop and third.

Cain was on first base, the go ahead run was at the plate, and Will Harris' day was done.

There isn't really a perfect time to give up a single with the bases loaded, but it did allow the Astros a to bring in their left handed reliever Tony Sipp to face lefty Eric Hosmer.

Hosmer for his career has an 89 wRC+ against lefties (11% below average). However Sipp for his career has been equally as good against both lefties as he has righties so he's not a loogy or lefty killer per se. For his career he has held both handed batters to a .299 wOBA, which is a little better than how Alex Rios has hit this year. Not dominate exactly, but still good, and Hosmer doesn't hit left handed pitchers well. I'm not sure the advantage was 100% in Sipp's favor, but it was certainly slanted towards him.

Sipp isn't much of a flame thrower, especially for a reliever, as his average fastball velocity is ~91 MPH.

Hosmer fouled off what was ball one.

Then he made the same mistake with the next pitch with what was ball two

Then Sipp threw a ball well in the dirt

Looking to not make the same mistake three times, Hosmer laid off. Sipp wasn't going to throw him a strike, or at least anything hittable. Hosmer had already just swung at two clear balls and maybe feeling the pressure of needing to not strike out he'd swing at anything and try to put the ball in play.

Sipp then did it again. Giving Hosmer nothing even close to the plate, and Hosmer was patient and let it go by unharmed.

Let's stop right here for a moment and step back to examine the situation.

The Royals were down still by three runs at 6-3. The bases were loaded and nobody was out with a run already home this inning. The Royals had one of their better hitters this year at the plate, but he was facing a same handed pitcher which he struggles with.

Here is where the Royals were at this point on the win expectancy chart. The game odds weren't overwhelmingly in favor of the Astros, but it they were still pretty strong at 71%.

Then Sipp finally threw Hosmer a strike.

Hosmer wasn't looking fastball there by the look of his swing, but he still managed to get the tip of the bat head on the ball and sent it into right field. The Royals were one run closer to a tie and two runs closer to the lead.

Eric had just one hit in the 15 prior plate appearances, yet he was standing safely on first on the 16th plate appearance.

The Royals were decidedly less efficient in the eighth inning than the previous seven innings, but still they found themselves just two runs away from being even.

Let's check the win expectancy chart again now:

And there it is. With one soft swing of the bat, the Royals were suddenly back at ~50/50 chances of winning. Just about 10 minutes earlier the Astros were calling their assistant to the traveling secretary to schedule flights to Toronto/Texas and book hotel rooms...now, they had to put the phone down and look up at the game.

Of course the inning wasn't over yet. There was still nobody out and the bases were still loaded. Tony Sipp was still out on the mound with two runners behind him that he didn't put there with switch hitting Kendrys Morales coming up with the tying run just short 180 feet away.

Sipp got Morales to swing at a first pitch changeup, a pitch that is his best overall pitch but one that he only throws in an 0-0 count just 16% of the time.

Morales wasn't even close. He was expecting either a first pitch fastball or slider which Sipp throws 55% and 16% of the time on 0-0.

Now it gets even trickier for Morales. Sipp goes from majority first pitch fastball to basically a 33% split between his fastball, changeup, and slider.

Sipp opted to go with the changeup again, but this time it didn't have the same late life as the previous one and instead hung a bit longer like a curveball does. Morales waited back and timed it well but didn't make great barrel contact on it.

In a monumental play such as this there are of course several things here.

First, this ball hits off Sipp's glove.

If he fields this ball, if it's just a few inches further to his left then it's probably a double play. Zobrist is out at home and Morales is out at first. Maybe it's just one out at home, but two outs seems pretty reasonable. The Royals could have had a runner at second and third with two outs, down by two still or at the minimum the bases loaded with one out. Instead there were Royals batters on all three bases, no outs, and a tie score.

And it was all thanks to this:

Four frames that completely changed this entire game. Four frames that was the difference between two outs and down by one and no outs and tied. Four frames that allowed Lorenzo Cain to score from second.

Kendrys Morales was a hero in four frames. Carlos Correa was the scapegoat in the same four frames.

We talk a lot about football being a game of inches, and baseball is a game of milliseconds. Carlos Correa was milliseconds away from changing this whole game.

Four frames is the difference between this

and this

Here we are now

When Will Harris took the mound the Astros had given the airlines the company credit card information for flights to Toronto/Texas. When Lorenzo Cain touched home plate safely the Astros were hoping that bought refundable tickets.

The Royals started the inning with ~6% chance of winning. When that ball skipped off Carlos Correa's glove they were at 76% chance of winning and still...no one was out.

Mike Moustakas would strike out, Drew Butera would walk, and then Alex Gordon would deliver the go ahead groundout to put the Royals ahead 7-6.

The game of course continued one.

Eric Hosmer did this

Wade Davis did this

And this

And the Royals outfielders did this

The Astros hadn't played a home playoff game since 2005. This is what happened to them. The baseball God (or Gods if you're polytheistic) gave them hope then snatched victory away from them brutally. Royals fans went from dreaming about next April to dreaming about this Wednesday.

Finally: