Other than a change in venue, 2016 started much like 2015 ended for the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. Well, it did once the hour-long celebration of the Royals' first championship in three decades concluded, an epic salt-rubbing in the fresh wounds of last year's runners-up, who watched as the nightmares that haunted them for the last five months played out on a gigantic screen in front of a celebratory crowd of more than 40,000 at a sold-out Kauffman Stadium.
With the bulk of the starting lineups held over from the World Series, the Opening Day rematch of the starting pitchers who took the ball on the fifth and final game of last season struck an eerie chord. The five months that passed seemed to melt into the ether, leaving anyone paying attention then and now with the strong sense of déjà vu and the rational concern that perhaps they experienced five months of lost time.
Unlike Game Five, the 2016 Royals did not wait until the ninth inning to get the scoring started against Mets' ace Matt Harvey. After Edinson Volquez worked through the first three Mets in order, Mike Moustakas roped a liner in the general direction of Yoenis Cespedes. Just as he did in the World Series, the Mets' big offseason re-signing misplayed what could have been (and in this particular case, absolutely should have been) an out. As the ball bounced off the heel of Cespedes's mitt, Moustakas coasted into first. Lorenzo Cain followed with a walk - his first of two on the evening - and Eric Hosmer chopped a grounder through the left side of the infield to plate the first run of the Royals' season.
The Royals' attack fell quiet in the second and third innings as Harvey put the unearned run in the rear-view mirror, but two pitches into the fourth, he found himself in familiar territory. Cain led off, pouncing on Harvey's first offering, and singled to center field. Hosmer chopped the first pitch he saw through the right side of the infield, sending the speedy Cain racing to third. Kendrys Morales sent a charge into a 2-1 95-MPH fastball from Harvey, flying out to center but driving in Cain.
Cain sparked the Royals again in the sixth, working a full-count walk for this third time aboard in his first three trips to the plate. Hosmer caught the Mets off-guard, poking a bunt toward third for an infield single to put two on with no outs. The exceptionally slow Kendrys Morales followed with a grounder to second, resulting in a predictable 4-6-3 double play.
Conveniently for the Royals and inconveniently for the Mets, Alex Gordon had no interest making Harvey's night easier. Gordon poked a sinking liner just out of the reach of a charging Juan Lagares. Cain sped in from third, and the Royals held a 3 - 0 lead.
Salvador Perez rifled a grounder up the middle, and before the sixth had concluded, Matt Harvey was getting the hook from manager Terry Collins.
With the Mets not needing their fifth starter until the second week of the season, Bartolo Colon entered in relief of Harvey. Like Perez before him, Omar Infante poked a grounder up the middle, plating the fourth run charged to the Mets starter, three of which were earned.
Colon eventually got the Mets out of the sixth, but the Mets trailed the reigning World Champions 4 - 0.
For his part, Royals' starter Edinson Volquez worked through some struggles with his command but limited the Mets' offense to five baserunners in six innings. Granted, three reached via free passes, but Volquez also struck out five, and held the Mets scoreless through six innings of work.
With a four-run lead to hand over to the Royals' bullpen and no need to worry about rest with a day off on Monday, most would have assumed that the game was over. With Kelvin Herrera working a scoreless if not stress-free seventh, a general lack of concern seemed to be substantiated.
Enter Joakim Soria.
Summoning the Devil's magic generally reserved for the Royals, the Mets' offense poked and walked their way to three runs of the one-time Royals' closer. Laboring his way through seven batters, Soria walked two Mets and yielded three singles before mercifully getting yanked in favor Luke Hochevar. To the family of the man who just woke from a six-year coma in Excelsior Springs to read that sentence and die from the shock at someone being relieved to see Luke Hochevar save the Royals from a mess created by Joakim Soria, Royals Review's staff extends a heartfelt apology. We are sorry for your loss.
Hochevar did what Soria couldn't and recorded the third out of the eighth.
After a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, Wade Davis entered the game. Facing Travis d'Arnaud, Davis painted the corner with a 2-2 cutter. Unfortunately for Davis and the Royals, this call - as many others, cutting both ways, were from home plate umpire Gerry Davis on Opening Night - was blown. Davis tried to get d'Arnaud to chase on the full-count offering but instead watched as the Mets' catcher raced to first with an urgency that seemed to intimate that he felt he had gotten away with something and didn't want to risk the fates taking the break away.
Alejandro de Aza pinch-hit for Lagares and grounded into a fielder's choice for the first out of the ninth. After jumping ahead of Curtis Granderson 0-2, Davis yielded a groundball single up the middle to put runners at the corners with one out.
Mr. Met David Wright stepped to the plate. With three pitches, Wade Davis got the Mets' third baseman looking for the penultimate Mets' out.
To the plate stepped the mighty Yoenis Cespedes, given the chance to make up for his misplay in the first that at this final juncture stood as the difference on the scoreboard. In an eight-pitch battle in front of a raucous Opening Day crowd, Cespedes and Davis tried desperately to outwit, overpower, and submit the other to his will. Eight charged pitches with surprisingly nasty curves thrown into the mix seemingly just for the occasion of facing the titanic Cuban slugger.
With the eighth pitch of the at-bat, after three two-strike offerings were spoiled, Wade Davis uncorked a four-seamer that tailed away. Cespedes chased the could-have-been ball, and the Royals celebrated the 2016 opener with a hard-fought win.
The Royals and Mets will get a day off tomorrow before concluding this two-game season-opening series on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium with Chris Young and Noah Syndergaard showing the ultimate contrast in styles when the teams resume action.