The top two in the Royals batting order continue pile up the playoff numbers, and win postseason games.
Leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar and No. 2 hitter Ben Zobrist did what they do best in the batter’s box in the Royals’ 5-3 victory over the New York Mets in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday.
That doesn’t always mean a base hit, although they both reached milestones.
Zobrist started the Royals’ game winning really with a one-out walk against Mets’ relief pitcher Tyler Clippard.
The Royals trailed 3-2 at the time and were down to their final six outs. The Mets could feel the momentum continue to shift their way and tie the series.
But Zobrist’s sharp eye drew a five-pitch walk.
Lorenzo Cain then fell behind 0-2 and worked his way back for a walk. Eric Hosmer followed with a slow bounder that dribbled under the glove of second baseman Daniel Murphy and into short right field.
Zobrist scored and the Royals’ three-run rally had started without the benefit of a hit.
“It doesn’t matter how it starts,” Escobar said. “We find ways to score.”
And now the Royals are one game away from a World Series title. They tend to score their runs in bunches by, as they like to say, keeping the line moving.
It often starts with Escobar and Zobrist.
“We’re getting a lot of action at the top of the order,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
The production not only gets the Royals off on the right foot, it turns over the lineup. Saturday, when Yost decided to pinch hit Kendrys Morales earlier than he would have preferred, in the fifth inning, it was because he had Escobar and Zobrist coming up next.
The Royals had just scored a run, and Yost thought he could cash in bigger.
“We had just scored a run,” he said. “We wanted to extend the inning if we could. … We kept the inning extended for Escobar and Zobrist.”
Morales singled but the Royals didn’t score again. Still, it was a busy night of milestones for the top hitters.
Escobar led off the game with a sharp single up the middle. It wasn’t on the first pitch, as it often has been during the playoffs. That was a swing and a miss.
But with two strikes, Escobar lashed a single to center and extended his postseason hitting streak to 14.
That’s a Royals record. Escobar had been tied with Cain, whose 13-game extended over two seasons and ended in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Escobar went hitless in the Royals’ first playoff game this year, against the Houston Astros in the division series. He’s had at least one hit in every game since, and entered the game as the Royals top hitter in the playoffs with a .356 batting average.
The 14-game streak ties for the longest in a single postseason, matching Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and Marquis Grissom of the Atlanta Braves in 1995.
The single also gave Escobar 22 postseason hits, which ties the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter as the most in a postseason by a shortstop. Jeter reached 22 in 1996, 2003 and 2009.
Zobrist sees double. His sixth-inning two-base hit was eighth of the playoffs, and that also matches a postseason record.
David Freese and Albert Pujols each had eight doubles during the Cardinals’ run to the 2011 World Series title.
Zobrist’s double was his fourth of the World Series, and it led to the Royals’ second run. Lorenzo Cain followed with a single up the middle to cut the Mets’ lead to 3-2.
But it was Zobrist’s patience that got the game-winning rally started. Keeping the line moving has to start with someone. Saturday, it was Zobrist.