To win basically anything in life you generally need to catch a break or two. To win the lottery you need to get extremely lucky. To win a marathon you just have to be the fastest person out of who shows up to race. If it's your local town marathon then you probably stand a good chance to win if you're skilled. If it's the Boston Marathon then you probably need to catch several breaks to win.
That is the idea of catching a break, it is something that is out of your control. Maybe the fastest runner in the world misses his flight to Boston because a storm knocks his power out. Maybe the runner from Trinidad & Tobago sleeps through his alarm clock because of separate volume knobs for the radio and alarm. Suddenly you're the fastest person in the field and all just because you made it to the starting line on time.
That isn't necessarily how the Royals won the World Series, but it wasn't not how they won it either. We've spilled gallons of digital ink on what makes the 2015 Royals successful - their defense, their bullpen, their ability to put the ball in play. Maybe that's the equivalent to showing up to the starting line? The Royals didn't necessarily create the breaks themselves but by putting pressure on the opposing defense by putting the ball in play, they did force the issue.
We know clutch hitting in baseball isn't an actual skill or repeatable (otherwise why wouldn't they hit that way all the time?). We know that luck is uncontrollable too. However the Royals seemed to, in the words of Billy Zane, create their own luck.
By my count there were 20 total errors this postseason. Seven of those errors were committed by the team the Royals were playing (35%). Read that again - more than a third of the errors this postseason came by the team playing against the Royals. The Mets played in roughly the same amount of games as the Royals and yet the Royals had double the amount of errors by an opposing team. I'm not talking about errors the Royals or Mets committed themselves but errors by the opposing team (which in the World Series was the Royals and Mets).
There's no doubt it took several breaks for the Royals to not only win the World Series but to reach the World Series let alone the ALCS. Like the ghost of Christmas past, let's look at those breaks.
Break #1 - Home Field Advantage
There is no debate that having home field advantage helps. There just isn't. We know historically the home team does better in their park than away from it. This is a fact. It also helps that the Royals team was sort of built around the way their park plays. Kauffman suppresses home runs, that hurts the Royals. However it likely doesn't hurt the Royals as much as it hurts other teams whom are built around power (like the Blue Jays). Now this doesn't mean teams can't hit home runs at Kauffman, but that it's harder to do so.
It just so happens that the Blue Jays are a home run hitting team. They hit more home runs than any other team in baseball. Guess who hit the second most home runs? The Astros. Both the Royals ALDS and ALCS opponents built their offense around hitting long balls. The Astros hit four home runs in three games at Kauffman. They hit five home runs in two games at Minute Maid Park. The Blue Jays hit two home runs in three games at Kauffman, all coming in Game 6. The Jays hit four home runs in three games at home.
It's not 100% cause and effect that the opposing team hit more home runs in their park than Kauffman, but there's obvious evidence there knowing how Kauffman plays On September 30th the Jays had a one game lead over the Royals for home field advantage. Really it was a two game lead as they held the tiebreaker. There were five games remaining in their schedule and all they had to do was win three of them if the Royals won all five of their remaining games. The Royals of course won all five games remaining. The Jays won one of the remaining five. They lost both games of a double header to sub-.500 Baltimore and two of three games at even worse Tampa Bay.
Break #2 - Carlos Gomez is picked off
Now this one isn't necessarily a break but it's something that is worth remembering because of how rare it is First off, Wade Davis doesn't pick guys off. In 2015 he attempted 19 pick off attempts, in 2014 he attempted 13 such attempts. In those combined attempts how many runners did he pick off? Zero. No batters in the previous two seasons. Even dating back to 2013 when he started he attempted 41 such attempts and was successful on just one attempt.
Now on the basepaths the Astros pinch ran Carlos Gomez. Gomez isn't just a fast runner, but he's also a good base runner. In fact Gomez was one of the top 20 base runners in baseball by BsR. Since 2012 he's in the top 10 of BsR in the league. It takes more than just speed to be a good base runner and Gomez is a great base runner.
The Royals were up on the Astros 5-4 in the 9th inning at home. Wade Davis was pitching of course and after striking out Jed Lowrie he allowed a walk to pinch hitter Preston Tucker. Astros manager AJ Hinch then swapped Tucker for Gomez. Now Gomez isn't the massive stolen base threat that Jarrod Dyson is, but if the situation called for it then Gomez would steal second. Any ball that found a gap was going to score Gomez. He's going to reach home on any normal double and if he steals second then he's scoring on a single too.
Hosmer felt right away that it was close and that maybe he got him. If anybody would know it would be he or Gomez. After a moment or two of debate Ned Yost decided to throw the flag and challenge the call.
Now here's another thing - pickoffs don't get challenged much. For 2015 (including the playoffs) I count 57 total challenge attempts for pickoffs. There were 1360 challenges this year so just ~2% of the total challenges were pickoff reviews. Even further there were 17,201 pickoffs attempted this year, so only .0033% of them were challenged.
Yeap. Gomez is out. On review it wasn't even close. The Royals production team showed it up on Crown Vision and everyone in the stadium cheered immediately knowing the result.
Gomez himself knew it too. He just stood there after the play went up on the board, waiting for the umpires to take off their headphones and tell him to go back to the dugout.
What's even crazier is that Davis didn't even throw one pitch to the batter Jose Altuve. Gomez took his place at first, Davis came set, and five seconds later Gomez was out. This was the third biggest play of the game and erased the Astros best baserunner who was also the tying run.
Break #3 - The Carlos Correa Error
I'm not sure there was a bigger turning point in the entire Royals postseason than this. In fact, it may have been the biggest turning point in any Royals season ever. Maybe that's hyperbolic, but Correa's error had a huge impact in the Royals World Series title.
The Royals were on the brink of being eliminated in ALDS. Forget a World Series title, they almost didn't survive the quarter finals essentially. I wrote way too many words on the event a few weeks back when it happened to I won't rehash things too much here (read the original article, duh).
Again though. If the ball is just a few inches to the right it goes into Tony Sipp's glove. If the deflection is a bit more to the left it goes into Correa's glove. It took two almost perfect bounces to squeeze that ball through the hole and keep the Royals title hopes alive.
Break #4 - Goins and Bautista's miscommunication
David Price had dominated the Royals for six innings leading up to the play. The Royals mustered all of one hit off of him and he had retired 18 straight batters. Then Ben Zobrist came up to the plate and made weak contact on the first pitch he sees against Price. The ball hung in the air softly and Price was on his way to 19 straight batters sat down until...
Two Blue Jays defenders (Jose Bautista and Ryan Goins) watched that ball for five or six seconds come back down to Earth, but when it landed it didn't land in either's glove.
This didn't necessarily open the floodgates per se, but it turned an out into "not an out." Bases empty, one out to a runner on, no outs. The Royals hadn't had a hit since the first batter of the game; they would then get five hits in the inning, scoring five runs total.
Break #5 - The fan interference that wasn't
This was one of the more comical moments of the Royals playoff run and spawned the Amish Home Run Kid meme that I love - a lot. Mike Moustakas hit a low soft line drive into right centerfield that at first look cleared the fence if just barely. Upon review though things got a bit murky.
Bautista immediately threw his hands up when the ball landed as fielders do when there is interference or a ground rule double. He was twenty feet away from the play with the best view. He saw now local hero Caleb Humphrey stick his glove over the wall to bring in what would have been a Moustakas double. The umpires reviewed the play but couldn't definitively prove that Caleb caught it in play so the home run stood.
Caleb would grow from a hero, to a local legend, to a God in a matter of about half an hour as he was bombarded with interviews. If he were old enough to drink I'm sure he would have been bought a few rounds. Once he is old enough though, he'll never have to pay for a drink in KC ever again.
Bless his heart though...
Break #6 - The Bautista Throw
The Blue Jays had just scored two runs in the eighth to tie ALCS Game 6. Lorenzo Cain lead off the bottom of the 8th with a single before Eric Hosmer hit the least single single I've ever seen in my life. Even crazier than the Hosmer single and a half was Cain scoring from first on the play.
I don't care how fast you are, you aren't scoring from first base on a single 99% of the time unless something else goes wrong (or right for you). For the Royals something did go right to change the play. Jose Bautista threw to second base. Not only was the ball thrown to the wrong player, but Troy Tulowitzki (who was covering second base) made a poor throw to home too.
Not only was Tulo's throw poor, but the throw to him from Bautista was a lofty ball that bounced. A good throw by Tulo might get Cain, and a correct and strong throw by Bautista either holds Cain at third (although third base coach Mike Jirschele said he was sending Cain no matter what) or gets Cain out on the relay perhaps.
Break #7 - Escobar's inside the park home run
Was there a more fun way to start a World Series? Everyone everywhere that has ever lived on any plane of existence knew that Alcides Escobar was going to swing on the first pitch of the game. This is what he does. As a pitcher all you have to do is not throw him a first pitch fastball in the zone. What did Mets Matt Harvey do?
Yeap. First pitch, fastball, in the zone. Escobar got good wood on the ball and hit it deep but it carried a bit longer than he'd like and seemed to be nothing more than a harmless fly out. Instead Mets left fielder Michael Conforto and centerfield Yoenis Cespedes (who by the way demanded to play centerfield and not DH - which may be another break of its own) felt like recreating the Goins/Bautista error above.
Cespedes as a last ditch effort tried backhanding the ball but missed it entirely and then kicked it into left field away from Conforto and himself. Alcides Escobar isn't the fastest player but he's got at least average speed. With the misplay in center he turned a likely fly out into an inside the park home run as the Royals went up 1-0 in Game 1 after just one pitch.
Break #8 - The Daniel Murphy Error
If the Correa error isn't the biggest single event of the playoffs for the Royals then this Murphy error is. The Royals were up 2-1 in the series but down 3-2 in the eighth with the excellent Jeurys Familia in the game to collect the final few outs for the Mets.
With a runner on first and second Eric Hosmer ground weakly to Daniel Murphy who had to run in to meet the ball. There was no chance at getting a double play to end the inning, but the Mets could have at least gotten one out. Instead, Murphy just missed the scoop and Ben Zobrist scored from second to tie the game.
An inch or two lower with his glove and Murphy handles this one. Instead the Royals tie the game then plate two more runs on back-to-back hits to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Break #9 - The Cespedes Foul
With the bases loaded, up by one run, and no outs Yoenis Cespedes (arguably the Mets best hitter) stepped to the plate with an eye to blow the game open. Edinson Volquez shouldn't have still been in the game at this point. He was facing the third time through the Mets order and had just loaded the bases on a walk, single, and an error. It should have been time for Ned Yost to go to a reliever, but Yost being Yost let Volquez work out of the jam.
On a 0-1 pitch, Cespedes fouled a ball off his knee.
Cespedes would stay on the ground for a few minutes and the Mets trainer would come out to examine him and work out the leg. Mets manager Terry Collins should have probably pulled Cespedes from the game. He could barely even stand up once he got to his feet let alone run to first base. However though Cespedes stayed in the game (remember the bases were loaded with no outs) and hit a harmless infield fly Alcides Escobar.
An infield fly might have been the best case scenario for the Mets though. If Cespedes hit a ground ball the Royals may have been able to turn a triple play as there was no way Cespedes was getting to first in a reasonable amount of time. He could barely walk let alone run.
The Mets would cash in a run the next batter on a Lucas Duda sacrifice fly but it could have been much worse for Kansas City.
Break #10 - The Duda Throw
There was a lot of talk about the Royals advanced scouting department coming through in the playoffs for KC. They supposedly spotted that Jose Bautista throws to second base instead of first and that David Price tips his changeup. They also reportedly knew that Duda throws poorly to home and when is bad against aggressive baserunning. That might be a little rich in narrative but Duda seemingly fulfilled his reputation.
Eric Hosmer got a lot of credit for his baserunning. Joe Buck called it "unbelievable" as he watched it unfold. Really though the story of the play was the bad throw by Duda. In fact, you could argue that Hosmer actually read the play wrong and should have been farther down the basepath.
The poor throw from Duda made up for the poor read from Hosmer (who even with a good read made the right decision to go home on the play) and the Royals caught their final break of the year. The break that would send this game even further into the night and on to a World Series title.