Sam Mellinger

Royals turn Mets’ mistake into another thrilling comeback victory

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated with shortstop Alcides Escobar after Hosmer scored in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night at Citi Field in New York.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrated with shortstop Alcides Escobar after Hosmer scored in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night at Citi Field in New York. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The third hop did it. The ball was nothing off Eric Hosmer’s bat. A soft, missed, nothing chopper. If he hits this ball 100 times against a big league defense, he is out 90. Eighth inning. The Royals are down, again. The first hop went high in the air, and this is when the Royals started Royals-ing.

Hosmer ran hard, immediately. That’s important. They never assume. Especially not with Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Royals know he is a terrific hitter, but also an adventurous fielder. At the instant of contact, they all started running hard. Ben Zobrist from second. Lorenzo Cain from first. Hosmer out of the batters box. Never, ever assume. The second hop softened in the infield grass.

Murphy charged hard, immediately. He had more than enough time to get the out, but he had to field it cleanly. He knew this. But the chaos of the moment is hard to navigate. He has to judge the hop, judge the speed, and then decide which base to throw to. A lot going on. Cain screamed as he ran in front of Murphy. Maybe he took his eye off the ball. Later, Murphy would say he should’ve fielded it with two hands. The third hop scooted by, maybe glancing off his glove and rolling behind him. Mayhem, again.

Zobrist sprinted through third base on coach Mike Jirschele’s signal. That was the tying run, and from there, we all knew how this would end, didn’t we? The go-ahead run was next. Then another run. Then Wade Davis shutting it down. How many times have we seen this now?

Seven, actually, out of 10 playoff wins now that the Royals beat the Mets 5-3 in Game 4 of a World Series fully in their control. They lead three games to one. They can pop champagne with a win in Game 5 here at Citi Field on Sunday night, or take two swings at it back in Kansas City. All because of that moment. Another moment, so fun, so enormous, so close to making history.

“Wow,” Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar said. “When I see Murphy miss the ball, I say, ’Keep running! Keep running! Everybody’s happy in that moment. Everybody says, ‘We won in this inning.’ 

All around him, they envision what a world championship will feel like. Unless they’re actively trying not to imagine it. Ballplayers are funny about these things. They are so close. One more win.

The furniture in their clubhouse is soaked with water. Empty water bottles and plastic caps strewn about give away the celebration. This is what they do after wins. Sometimes, one guy gets doused. Tonight, it was everybody. If they do it again this year, it won’t be water.

“They truly don’t ever stop,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.

“This ballclub is writing its own story,” Zobrist said.

“It’s experience, it’s character, it’s a group of really talented players,” Yost said.

This isn’t supposed to happen. It doesn’t happen, actually. Not just the seven comebacks in one postseason. Five times the Royals have trailed by more than one run, and won anyway. The only other team to do that is the 1996 Yankees, the first championship of the dynasty.

“There’s definitely a feeling,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “There’s definitely a confidence that we’re never out of it.”

When they fall behind, they do their best work. It would be repetitive if it wasn’t so enthralling. It would be unrealistic if we weren’t all watching in real time.

Their greatest moments have all come after mistakes by the other side. The Astros’ Carlos Correa missing that grounder that bounced off the mound in Houston. The Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista throwing to the wrong base in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Now this.

That’s part of the story, of course. Baseball is a game of failure, it is often said, and the winners and losers are separated by how they manage. The Royals make these things count.

They’ve made their share of mistakes in this series. More than their share, actually. Alex Rios lost track of the outs in one particularly embarrassing moment. The Mets scored one run on the play, and there is a good chance they’d have scored that run even if Rios didn’t go blank-brained. He hasn’t thrown anyone out at the plate in 2015. You get the sense the Royals would’ve turned that into a string of six consecutive singles and ended up winning by five runs.

You will also remember that Hosmer — the Gold Glover — allowed the go-ahead run to score in the eighth inning of Game 1 of this World Series. The Mets scored that one run, but no more, even as the game stretched on for six more innings. The Royals definitely would not have let that game go to extras, partly because they would’ve had Davis shutting down the ninth.

The Royals tend to react to the other team making mistakes the way a hungry dog might react to you dropping a raw steak. Correa’s error kickstarted a five-run eighth inning that saved the Royals from elimination. Bautista lost track of the situation in Game 6, just a tiny sliver of opportunity that turned into the winning run on a beautiful combination of Cain’s speed and Jirschele’s preparation.

And after Murphy’s error — the ball glanced so softly off his glove that it barely rolled off the dirt and into the grass in shallow right field — Moustakas drove in the go-ahead run, and Salvador Perez drove in an insurance run with a line drive to right field.

“There’s just a belief,” pitcher Chris Young said. “There’s just a belief amongst the guys. Doesn’t matter what the score is. They’re just going to find a way to get it done.

The Royals now stand just one win from their first world championship in 30 years. If that’s the way this ends, there will be much to celebrate, of course. The franchise’s rise from punchline to pennants. The patience of Ned Yost, Dayton Moore, and David Glass. The emergence of homegrown stars like Perez, Hosmer, Moustakas, and others. Davis’ dominance. Cain’s brilliance. A city that has had precious few sports moments to celebrate over the last generation getting, finally, the biggest party in a generation.

If this ends with a parade, a large part of the winter and the future beyond will be spent going over the magic of this postseason. The disappointment felt from coming one swing short in Game 7 last year would finally be wiped away.

The Royals could not complete what would have been an epic comeback that night against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants. More than anything else, that’s the difference between the team that broke through and the one that is now just one win from history. That team got so incredibly close. This team has completed the comeback.

Over and over and over again.

Sam Mellinger, 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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