There have been 2,467 Major League Baseball games played this year, but tonight, it all comes down to one contest. The Astros will face off against the Dodgers to conclude what seems to be an epic classic of a series that has seen ups and downs for both sides, and no lead safe until the final out is recorded. The Astros will go with Lance McCullers tonight, while the Dodgers will counter Yu Darvish, but you have to assume all hands are on deck, even Clayton Kershaw and perhaps even Justin Verlander, who pitched just last night.
Kansas City has seen its fair share of Game Sevens - the 1985 Royals are the only team to win two Game Sevens in one post-season. They went on the road for the first Game 7, after having stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to tie their series against the Blue Jays in 1985. Light-hitting catcher Jim Sundburg was the hero of that day, putting the Royals on the board with an RBI single in the second, then clearing the bases with a three-run triple in the sixth to put the game away.
Again they faced a 3-1 deficit in the World Series against the Cardinals that year, but battled back although not without controversy when umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta “safe” at first in the ninth inning of Game Six. That kept the door open for Dane Iorg to win the game with a single and force a Game Seven.
Now Cardinals fans like to forget this, but they had every opportunity to make Denkinger a footnote the next evening by winning Game Seven. They had 21-game winner John Tudor and his 1.93 ERA on the mound against a 21-year old kid named Bret Saberhagen. The Cardinals were a 101-win behemoth that year, going up against a 91-win team that snuck into the playoffs with a lineup of George Brett and a bunch of punch-and-judy hitters. The odds should have been with St. Louis.
But the momentum, for what that’s worth, was all on Kansas City’s side. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog was still fuming about the blown call in Game 6. Tudor was tight-lipped to the media and was described to be enjoying the World Series “about as much as a driving instructor.” Meanwhile, that 21-year old kid he was opposing had just welcomed a baby boy to the world and was probably too young to realize that he should be nervous. The Royals, as a team, seemed loose. They were playing with house money.
Tudor’s change-up was off, and the Royals pounced. Darryl Motley got things started with a second inning two-run home run. John Tudor left the game after a bases loaded walk in the third, taking out his frustrations on an electrical fan in the clubhouse. Steve Balboni singled home two more. The rout was on. The Cardinals threw out seven pitchers, who allowed 11 runs. Meanwhile, that 21-year old kid blanked the Cardinals for nine innings. The Royals had their first championship in franchise history.
It took 29 years for Royals fans to see another Game 7, but when they did, it was quite a show. I was lucky enough to attend that game (which, if you have never attended a Game 7 at Kauffman Stadium, I highly recommend it!) Jeremy Guthrie faced off against Tim Hudson, but everyone knew all hands would be on deck, including the pitcher all Royals fans feared - Madison Bumgarner.
The Giants loaded the bases in the second off Guthrie, plating two runs on sacrifice flies. But the Royals got those runs back in the bottom of the inning, when Alex Gordon doubled home Billy Butler, then scored himself on an Omar Infante sacrifice fly, forcing out Hudson.
Guthrie would exit in the fourth after putting two more on, one of whom would eventually score off reliever Kelvin Herrera. Meanwhile, the Royals couldn’t get anything going off reliever Jeremy Affeldt, and looming in the bullpen was the sight they didn’t want to see - Bumgarner warming up.
It looked like Bumgarner might be mortal, when Infante led off with a single against him. Escobar sacrificed him to second, and the Royals looked to have a shot at tying the game. Nori Aoki sliced a line drive down the left field line, but Juan Perez had him played perfectly and ran over to make the catch. Lorenzo Cain would strike out to end the threat.
With two outs in the ninth, Royals fans held on with their last thread of hope. Alex Gordon resurrected the Royals with a hit that very nearly led to fans tearing down Kauffman Stadium in jubilation. He laced a single to left-center that was misplayed by Gregor Blanco, rolling all the way to the wall, then bobbled by Juan Perez, allowing Gordon to get all the way to third.
The entire 2014 season, with its magical run late in the year, the amazing comeback against the Athletics in the Wild Card Game, their incredible steamrolling of the Angels and Orioles in the playoffs, their tight series with the Giants - it all came down to one at-bat. Heck, at the time it seemed like a decade of work by Dayton Moore and his staff was coming down to one at-bat. With a packed house using every ounce of their strength to hope and pray that Gordo could somehow get home, Salvador Perez unfortunately popped out to Pablo Sandoval to end the game. It was the most gut-punching, heart-wrenching sports moment of my life. And I was so glad I got to witness it.
Game Sevens are special. The Super Bowl has the pageantry, hockey has the heart-pounding excitement, but baseball’s Game Seven is rewarding. The entire season is a grueling marathon, covering seventh months of action, with dozens of players, and hundreds of managerial decisions. But tonight, it will come down to one game, possibly one matchup - Ben Zobrist vs. Bryan Shaw, Luis Gonzalez vs. Mariano Rivera, Gene Larkin vs. Alejandro Pena, Madison Bumgarner vs. Salvador Perez.
What a game.
Who will win tonight?
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