NEW YORK—For seven innings it was the Kansas City Royals who had showed cracks in the familiar armour of baseball fundamentals, but in the eighth inning, with five outs to go and nursing a one-run lead, the New York Mets crumbled. And it was Daniel Murphy, the NL Championship Series MVP, who let them down in a 5-3 defeat that leaves the Mets with their backs firmly against the wall, trailing three games to one headed to Sunday’s Game 5.
With runners on first and second, manager Terry Collins pulled right-hander Tyler Clippard in favour of closer Jeurys Familia, asking for a five-out save. Familia coerced Eric Hosmer to hit a high chopper to second base, too slow to turn a double play, but it still should have left two out with runners at second and third, and the lead still intact.
Instead, Murphy raced in, came up early as he scooped at the ball and missed. It snuck under his glove and into short right field, allowing the tying run to score. Familia became slightly unglued as Mike Moustakas then singled to right for the go-ahead tally and Sal Perez provided insurance. The Royals have come from behind to win in seven of their 10 post-season victories.
“We got the groundball, we just didn’t make the play,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “It was a difficult situation and it didn’t have to be. It was just one of those situations where we couldn’t stop the bleeding. We had said before the inning, if the go-ahead run got on, we were going to use Familia. I didn’t want to have to burn Jeurys tonight for two innings if I could help it. It didn’t work.”
The Mets put themselves in an early position for a kid to lead them. It was 22-year-old rookie outfielder Michael Conforto who made history, slamming two home runs for the Mets en route to the 3-2 lead that held up until the eighth. The last Met with two home runs in a World Series game was the original Kid, Gary Carter, in Game 4 of the 1986 series at Fenway Park. The new kid, Conforto, became the youngest player to hit a home run in the World Series since Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins in 2003. He is also the first rookie to homer twice since Andruw Jones of the Braves in 1996 against the Yankees.
Another Mets rookie, 24-year-old lefthander Steven Matz, was also a key contributor. The Long Island native became the first pitcher born in the state of New York to start a post-season game for the Mets. He pitched five-plus innings and left with a 3-2 lead, qualifying for the win. It was just his third start since Sept. 24 and his first in 10 days, as he ran out of gas in the sixth inning allowing back-to-back hits, replaced by lefty Jonathan Niese.
Before the inning was over, Collins ventured to the opposite end of the age spectrum, bringing in 42-year-old Bartolo Colon to record the final out of the sixth. He became the oldest pitcher to appear in multiple post-season games in the same World Series since lefty Jim Kaat in 1982 for the Cardinals.
Matz pitched in and out of trouble. In the first inning, Alcides Escobar ripped a single to centre field extending his hitting streak in the post-season to 14 games. Escobar’s streak is the third longest ever in a single post-season, a feat that was only possible since 1985 when the LCS was extended to best-of-seven, plus in the strike year, 1981, with the first division series.
Escobar has 41 career post-season hits, five behind George Brett for the Royals’ franchise record.
The Royals pride themselves on besting opponents with superior fundamental baseball. Early on this night they stumbled, however. Following the Conforto homer, Young allowed a single by shortstop Wilmer Flores. He advanced to second on a wild pitch that Young spiked 10 feet in front of home plate and moved over to third on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Matz.
It was then that Alex Rios betrayed the Royals worship of fundamentals. Curtis Granderson lifted a lazy fly to right. Rios drifted in and forgot how many outs there were. Flores tagged and Rios took a step-and-a-half towards the dugout as if the inning was over, before reloading and throwing too late to home. It’s the sort of inattention to detail that Jays fans remember. The Mets led 2-0.
The Royals finally solved Matz in the fifth inning, scoring a run to cut the lead in half. Perez ripped a single to left centre that Cespedes kicked at full speed on one hop towards the foul line, bringing back memories of the opening game of the series when he booted a leadoff fly by Escobar along the warning track for an inside-the-park homer. Gordon then delivered a single to right that scored Perez. Conforto re-set the lead at two with a homer off lefty Danny Duffy.
In the sixth, the Royals again cut the lead to a single run on a Zobrist double and a Lorenzo Cain RBI single. The Royals are more renowned than the Mets for their bullpen and on this night, with both managers asking their pens for four-plus innings in a tight game, the differences showed.
The series continues on Sunday, with Game 1 starters Matt Harvey against Edinson Volquez, who arrived back in New York from the Dominican Republic following the funeral of his father. The Mets must win to take the series back to Kansas City.
TORONTO STAR | SPORTS