Vahe Gregorian

Defense fails Royals at the wrong time

Kansas City Royals second baseman Omar Infante (14) misses a ball in the sixth inning during Saturday's Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants Game 5 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Oct. 26, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Kansas City Royals second baseman Omar Infante (14) misses a ball in the sixth inning during Saturday's Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants Game 5 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Oct. 26, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The Kansas City Star

Even in an era where every element of baseball can be reduced to analytics and metrics and purported predictability, the World Series, and this one in particular, retains its appeal.

Because number-crunching really tells you nothing about the nitty-gritty: The World Series still is about flesh and blood and men, not machines, and quirky bounces and reaches exceeding grasps, not a programmable result of some glorified video game.

That explains a lot about why the Royals could rampage to the grandest stage with a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

And it also helps account for how in a 48-hour span they’ve gone from the verge of seizing a stranglehold on the Series to the precipice of losing it altogether after a 5-0 loss on Sunday at AT&T Park left them lagging three games to two entering game six on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.

Any notion of momentum meant nothing after they took a 2-1 series lead on Friday, and it may or may not mean anything now, even though they were dominated in all aspects of Sunday’s game.

Not when in an instant what’s down may be up and what’s up could be down and what’s certain is a guess and what’s improbable emerges.

“You can’t predict anything in baseball,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “This game’s too crazy. There’s too many things that could happen that you can’t explain.”

Such was the scene on Sunday in this matchup, appropriately, of wild-card winners.

In a cruel irony for the Royals, for a second straight night, one of the most dynamic and reliable elements of their game — one on which they soared here — turned its back on them.

A day after their pitching melted down in an 11-4 loss, the defense simply was a couple beats less than perfect. And that was too much for them to sustain on a night when the offense continued to hibernate: The Royals have now amassed just seven runs in their last three games.

The box score won’t display any errors by the Royals, who have four Gold Glove finalists — remarkably, not including Lorenzo Cain — and have spent much of the postseason assaulting, bewildering and demoralizing opponents with defense.

But on a night they had zero margin for error with San Francisco’s stifling Madison Bumgarner on the mound against a slumping James Shields, the Royals strayed across that warning line early.

Three defensive miscues accommodated the only two runs the Giants would need to make the score seem insurmountable.

Two of the lapses were by shortstop Alcides Escobar, one of the would-be Gold Glove men, who seemed to pluck too fast at one ball to his backhand and miscalculate either the spin or the trajectory on another that dipped under him.

“If he catches those balls, it’s probably zero-zero going into the eighth inning,” manager Ned Yost said, more factually than scoldingly.

Each misplay was more subtle than egregious.

The very fact they were notable reflects how regularly Escobar gobbles up such balls, how he has come to make the spectacular appear routine.

“We’re used to seeing (Escobar) make those plays; they’re both very tough plays,” Yost said.

But even as Shields at last largely had his groove back, it was those rare blemishes in the field that enabled the pivotal first two runs to score.

Hunter Pence contrived his way on with a base hit past Escobar to open the second and finagled his way home after a bunt hit, a sacrifice fly and an RBI groundout.

Pablo Sandoval opened the fourth with a single, rumbled to second after Travis Ishikawa’s hard grounder eluded Escobar and scored after pausing at third when Jarrod Dyson couldn’t cleanly handle Brandon Crawford’s pop hit in front of him.

“The ball that Pence hit, he hit it so hard it kind of skipped on (Escobar) and shot by,” Yost said. “And the one that Ishikawa hit kind of hit and bounded up a little bit on him.”

Escobar said he believed he had no play on Pence. Of the one by Ishikawa, he lamented, “I’ve made that play before.”

Difficult as the plays were, the maddening part is that’s true.

And that, really, was that for the Royals, who were bedeviled by Bumgarner and were effectively done long before the Giants piled on with three runs in the eighth.

So now it’s back to Kansas City for the next installment of As The Series Turns.

For everything else this Royals team represents, its greatest trait has been its reservoir of resilience.

Now that goes up against the fact that the only sure thing in baseball, and in this World Series, is that nothing is certain.

Stay tuned for the fickle final twists of plot and fate.

“We’re not panicking,” Moustakas said. “We’re going to go out there and play hard like we always do. And we’re going to see what happens. We’ve got too great of a team in here and too good (a group) of guys to let any of (the turnaround) bother us.”

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments