Sports

Blasberg ’18: Diagnosis of the World Series after two games

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, October 30, 2015

From the very first pitch, the 2015 World Series was bound to be a roller coaster affair between two unlikely teams. Though the Kansas City Royals made the Series last year, they had played over two decades of mediocre baseball beforehand, posting nine consecutive losing records from 2004 to 2012. The New York Mets, on the other hand, have had a number of solid seasons — most notably 2006 and 2007 — but they have a proclivity for choking, key injuries and bad luck. Nevertheless, these two teams now meet in the Fall Classic in a matchup of some of the best hitting in the majors against arguably the best pitching.

Game 1 was interesting on many different levels. After the Mets went down in order in the top of the first, the Royals’ leadoff man Alcides Escobar hit an inside-the-park home run on Matt Harvey’s first pitch of the night. In a league of bat flips and sluggers routinely walking out of the batter’s box, inside-the-parkers are a rare marvel.

After the first inning, the game calmed down. The Mets’ shutdown pitching was credible but nothing to call home about, while the Royals’ aggressive hitting and explosive offense put up just two runs until the bottom of the ninth.

In the top of the eighth, the Mets were piecing together a small two-out rally when Wilmer Flores hit a bounding ball to first base. As that grounder slipped under the glove of the normally sure-handed Eric Hosmer and the go-ahead run crossed home, all anyone could think about was the ball that rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs against the Mets 29 years ago. But these Royals showed pluck in a game that seemed well in hand for New York closer Jeurys Familia, as Alex Gordon homered to straight away center to tie the game at four with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

Extra innings lingered on, as Bartolo Colón entered the game in relief for the Mets. Bartolo Colón! The same guy who reportedly mistook a Jimmy Buffett concert at Fenway for a buffet dinner. If someone came up to me five years ago and told me Bartolo would be coming out of the bullpen to pitch in the 2015 World Series, I would not have trusted that person to invest five cents.

Sure enough, after Colón’s wild comeback this season, he threw two-and-one-third innings of relief. As if there weren’t enough drama in the game already, Eric Hosmer redeemed himself for his Buckner-esque play by driving in the winning run in the 14th inning.

In effect, the Mets lost Game 2 when they lost Game 1. Losing such a trying, seesaw game took much of the air out of the Mets’ sails. They were two outs away from a hard fought victory on the road. Instead, they lost momentum and exhausted much of their bullpen in the process.

In Game 2, the Royals jumped on Jacob deGrom. They attacked like they have all season and all postseason. They swung at first pitches, rarely struck out and knocked in runners in scoring position, which created two big innings — one producing four runs and the other producing three. On top of the offensive performance from the Royals, Johnny Cueto pitched a gem, holding the Mets to one run on just two hits.

On Friday night, the series moves to New York. After a demoralizing loss in Game 2, the biggest consolation for the Mets is that they are coming home. The World Series’ 2-3-2 home-and-away format is such that the team without home-field advantage does have an upper hand through the middle of the series.

If the Mets had been able to steal Game 1, playing three straight home games would give them an obvious advantage. Because they are coming home in a 0-2 hole, the Mets have to approach these next three games as if they were a regular three-game series in which they need to win two.

Expecting to win all three games against the Royals is too much. Winning a three-game series is something these players have done all season. The next two pitching matchups, Noah Syndergaard vs. Yordano Ventura and Steven Matz vs. Chris Young, both favor the Mets. In order for the Mets to win two of the next three games, they need to start hitting. Throughout the postseason, they have thrived on timely hitting. All it will take for the bats to get reenergized is a loud home crowd and a mediocre Royals starter. Both conditions will converge Friday night.

The Mets did not come this far to get swept. Their unfortunate loss in Game 1 was reflected in their sorry Game 2 performance, but they have had a day off before Game 3. Game 1 had no shortage of drama, and I expect the rest of the series to provide more of the same.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 is still scarred by the Buckner play, despite being born 10 years after it. Send him thoughts and prayers at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.

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