Last year, the Royals came into the fourth game of the World Series with a 2-1 series edge. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead. They were just five innings away from all but finishing San Francisco. That's when the bullpen imploded, the bats went cold, and Ned Yost made some truly head-scratching moves.
While that debacle tied the series and today's loss only cut the Mets' deficit to 2-1, this Friday night in October felt all too similar.
With the crowd hot and Mets starter Noah Syndergaard lighting up the radar gun, the Royals drew first blood in Queens. Ben Zobrist rocked a one-out double to dead center field before eventually scoring on Eric Hosmer's RBI groundout. Yordano Ventura needed just six pitches to not only surrender the lead but to put his team in a hole; he allowed Curtis Granderson to single before David Wright walloped a two-run shot over the left-field wall. 2-1, Mets.
Kansas City immediately clawed back into the game. Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Alex Rios opened the second inning with three straight singles to tie the game, but Gordon was gunned down by Michael Conforto trying to go first-to-third on the last of the hits. Even though Rios would later to score on a passed ball, you got the feeling like the Royals really let Sydnergaard off the hook. With one out in the second inning, the Mets' bullpen was already alive. Kansas City just couldn't throw the knockout punch.
In the bottom of the third, the Mets struck again with a two-run homer. Ventura piped an 0-2 pitch to the pitcher, Syndergaard, who lined a single into right field. Granderson hit a laser two-run shot to right field to put the Mets back ahead to stay. One inning later, Ventura was knocked from the game when the first three Mets reached, giving New York a 5-3 advantage.
Syndergaard then locked down and worked perfect third, fourth, and fifth frames. Kansas City's best chance to score came in the sixth inning. With two outs, Mike Moustakas reached on an infield single before Perez and Gordon worked consecutive walks. Rios had an opportunity to tie the game when he came up with the bases loaded and two outs, but he grounded out to short to end the threat.
Syndergaard's night ended after the sixth. He really settled in and put forth an impressive start when his team needed it most. He gave up three runs on seven hits in six innings, striking out six Royals over 104 pitches. Interestingly, he fanned more batters than Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom combined for in the first two games of the series.
Also in the sixth, Raul Mondesi pinch hit and struck out in his first career plate appearance, becoming the first player in MLB history to make his major league debut in the World Series.
As for the rest of the Royals' pitching staff, Danny Duffy was able to hold the deficit by inducing two outs to end the fourth inning. Luke Hochevar was impressive in a clean fifth, but apparently, that wasn't good enough for Ned Yost to allow him another inning. In the sixth, Yost foolishly gave the ball to left-hander Franklin Morales, despite the fact that the first four men to bat against him were righties. Predictably, four of the five men Morales faced reach, scoring a run to extend the lead to 6-3.
The strangest play of the night (maybe the postseason) was a head-scratching fielder's choice off the bat of Granderson. He chopped a comebacker right back to Morales, but the pitcher froze to decide where he wanted to throw the ball. He then fired it wide of second base. As a result, all runners were safe, and Kelvin Herrera was summoned to pitch in a bases-loaded mess. He allowed three additional runs to score. That made it 9-3 Mets, and that held through the final out.
Kansas City's bats did nothing over the last three innings. Ryan Madson worked the seventh inning. Kris Medlen, who...may be needed at some point in the next couple of games, was thrown out for mop-up duty to work the eighth. I...okay, Ned.
The comparisons to 2014's game four are interesting. In that game, the Royals led 4-2 before Jason Vargas allowed a leadoff double in the fifth. Yost opted to go to Jason Frasor, Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, and Tim Collins, who went on to allow nine runs. Yost opted to keep Herrera and Wade Davis in the bullpen despite the fifth-inning lead, only to use them the next day...when Kansas City was losing. Tonight, when the game was still close, pitching Morales instead of sticking with Hochevar or using Herrera to start the frame was truly mind-boggling.
During the three-game stint in San Francisco last year, Jayson Nix batted twice. Herrera batted once. Billy Butler batted once. Tonight, Raul Mondesi batted in a close game. Kendrys Morales did not hit until there were two outs in the ninth inning. Many people wanted him to pinch-hit for Rios in the bases-loaded/two-out situation in the sixth inning. But he did not.
The Royals still hold a 2-1 series advantage. Tomorrow, they go for the decisive 3-1 lead behind the right arm of Chris Young, who has been so good for Kansas City all year. He threw three hitless innings to earn the win in game one. He will be opposed by Steven Matz, a rookie left-hander.
What's the concern level, Royals fans? Terrified? Nervous? Is this one ay-okay? Kansas City wasn't sweeping the Mets' amazing pitching staff anyway, but still, this feels like an opportunity wasted.