Judging the Royals

The fourth inning: the moment the World Series got away

Manager Ned Yost (left) took the ball from starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and brought in reliever Kelvin Herrera in the fourth inning of game seven of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Manager Ned Yost (left) took the ball from starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and brought in reliever Kelvin Herrera in the fourth inning of game seven of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, started the fourth inning with an infield single to Royals second baseman Omar Infante. Hunter Pence — the guy with a swing that would make a hitting coach cringe — singled to center, and Sandoval moved up 90 feet. Then Brandon Belt hit a deep fly ball to left field. Sandoval went back to second to tag up, and after left fielder Alex Gordon caught the ball, Pablo took off for third base and made it.

With the score 2-2, one down and a runner on third, the Royals needed a strikeout. A simple ball in play could score the go-ahead run. So manager Ned Yost pulled starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, went to his bullpen and brought in flamethrower Kelvin Herrera.

Michael Morse fouled off two fastballs, and then, with the count 0-2, Herrera threw a third fastball — too close to the strike zone — and Morse dumped a single into right field. Sandoval scored the Giants’ third run, and San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy was three outs from giving the ball to Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner vs. HDH

Before the game started, Ned Yost said that if Guthrie could give the Royals four innings, they would be in good shape. Ned figured he could squeeze five innings out of the best bullpen in baseball. All the Royals had to do was grab a lead and give the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

The Giants had a similar plan: Grab a lead and give the ball to Madison Bumgarner, the starting pitcher who won on Sunday and was willing to throw in relief, if needed.

When Morse dumped that 0-2 pitch into right field and Sandoval scored, the game shifted. The Giants had the run they needed and the pitching to make it hold up.

The final out

It was a crazy ninth inning. With two outs, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco misplayed an Alex Gordon single, the ball rolled to the wall and Gordon wound up on third. Salvador Perez, who had been struggling with pitch selection, chased pitches up out of the zone to get to two strikes and when he finally did get a strike, hit a foul pop-up to third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

Alex Gordon stood helplessly and watched the ball come down and settle in Sandoval’s glove.

After 162 games in the regular season, winning the wild card game, winning the division series, winning the league championship and pushing the World Series to a seventh game, the Royals, as Ned Yost put it, lost by 90 feet.

The second inning: Both teams score

Guthrie started things off by barely clipping Sandoval on the elbow, and after Pablo reached first base, Guthrie gave up an 0-2 hit to Pence. Belt singled and with the bases loaded and nobody out. Guthrie needed a double-play ground ball to minimize the damage.

Guthrie threw sinkers to Morse and Brandon Crawford, but the sinkers were up in the zone, and both Morse and Crawford were able to hit sacrifice flys and score the Giants’ first two runs.

The Royals responded immediately. Billy Butler singled, and Alex Gordon hit a double. When Butler leads off an inning with a single, it can be a challenge to get him around the bases. Billy tends to play the game 90 feet at a time. But Gordon drove the ball to the wall, and Billy scored from first. Alex moved up to third on a fly ball and scored when Infante hit a sac fly to center field, and the game was tied.

Pitch selection kills another inning

Former Royal Jeremy Affeldt hit Alex Gordon with a pitch to start the fourth inning. The crowd booed, but the count was 2-2, and the pitch was a curve. If a pitcher is going to intentionally hit a batter, he does it with a fastball. They hurt more. Hitting Gordon with a curve is like hitting a Buick with a marshmallow.

A promising inning was cut short when Perez swung at the first pitch he saw, a fastball that was well off the plate. The Giants turned a double play, and that was pretty much it for the fourth.

Replacing Ishikawa pays off

Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman, had been playing left field for the Giants and had his issues fielding that position. Manager Bruce Bochy replaced Ishikawa with Juan Perez in game seven, and it paid off.

Infante singled to start the fifth inning, but with Bumgarner on the mound, a stolen base was not possible. Bumgarner is just too quick to home plate. Alcides Escobar laid down a bunt, Infante moved into scoring position, and that left things up to Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain.

Aoki is a good opposite-field hitter but doesn’t have much power that way. That was why left fielder Juan Perez was playing shallow. And if Nori did manage to dump a single in front of Perez, it would have been hard for Infante to score. Perez was just too close to the infield. Aoki hit a line drive that would have scored Infante had Perez been playing back, but the Giants left fielder raced over and made the catch — a catch Ishikawa might not have made.

Cain struck out, and the Royals missed another scoring opportunity.

Two important game seven factors

You can’t sum up a single game with just two factors — lots of stuff happens that goes unnoticed — but here’s what stood out after game seven:

The Royals gave up key hits on 0-2 pitches. Pitches that were too hittable, and that was something that plagued them all series: two-strike hits by the Giants.

Pitch selection by the Royals. For much of the season, Royals hitters chased pitches out of the strike zone, and smart pitchers took advantage of that. Bumgarner was elevating his fastball above the zone — higher than high — and Royals hitters were chasing those pitches.

It’s been a long season

I’ve been writing about this team almost every day since mid-March. A 162-game season is a grind, and this season the Royals played an extra month of baseball. But it was a really fun month of baseball. Royals fans — and guys with websites — should have no complaints. This has been one of the best years in Kansas City Royals history.

It’s been a terrific season, and once again, I learned a lot. If you learned with me or found anything interesting on this website, you owe a debt of gratitude to the players and coaches who took the time to explain what they were doing. Without them, there would be no website.

And thanks to all our readers. Without you, there’s no point in doing this.