On Friday, New York’s Noah Syndergaard foreshadowed his first-pitch fling toward Alcides Escobar’s head by suggesting he held a trick up his sleeve. On Saturday, Royals manager Ned Yost submitted that in Game 4 of the World Series, the Royals had contrived “a few tricks up our sleeves, too.”
Yost deflected the ominous undercurrent of his statement by denying he meant the Royals intended to retaliate by throwing at the Mets. Which left open to interpretation just what that sleight of hand might come to entail.
The answer was no more evident by mid-game, unless you counted the Royals’ goofs and gaffes since the series moved to New York.
But then, in the eighth inning, came the grand unveiling of what the Royals had tucked away — yet another rally to flip the script for a 5-3 victory and 3-1 advantage in the Series.
The latest addition to their exotic collection of improbable escapes came with the indulgence of a Mets team that was on the verge of tying the Series at two games apiece.
Trailing 3-2 on Saturday, a Royals team that for 13 months has thrived on the sorcery of the comeback conjured yet another on decidedly slim pickings:
Walks to Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain; a tame grounder by Eric Hosmer that magically bypassed the glove of second baseman Daniel Murphy; and a Mike Moustakas single to right just past the groping Murphy.
Sal Perez made it 5-3 with the only emphatic hit of the inning, and, shazam, the Royals’ comeback recipe was punctuated by a six-out shutdown from closer Wade Davis.
“It’s just kind of how the ball bounced today,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “It kind of rolled right for us.”
While this would qualify as perhaps the fourth-best Royals comeback of this postseason, given that they trailed only by a run, it still seemed far-fetched given the tone of a game that until then was distinguished by their squandered opportunities and cartoonish misplays.
What only days ago looked like a team of destiny suddenly was playing like a team of density.
The same sort of markers of a lackadaisical mindset that emerged on Friday — with such curiosities as pitchers Yordano Ventura failing to cover first and Franklin Morales getting mental gridlock on where to throw — seemed to have had contagion into Saturday.
The lapses started early, when Zobrist in the first inning was called for interference at the plate with Escobar running from first.
And they spiraled into the spectacular when right fielder Alex Rios lost track of the number of outs with Wilmer Flores on third base.
Because of the depth of the ball and Rios’ mediocre arm, Flores likely would have scored, anyway, on an absurd play that also featured Flores appearing to leave early — but not to the extent replay could trump the original call.
In sum, these things served as symbolic indicators of a turn in the Series and might have been seen as symptomatic of some inexplicable ebb of intensity in the Royals.
But beneath all that noise was the simplistic nitty-gritty of what had been happening here.
Since the Series moved east from Kansas City with the Royals holding a 2-0 lead — which has meant a world championship for 42 of the previous 53 teams to seize such an advantage — the Mets had been the better team for most of two nights.
And the main reason was less about the Royals’ blunders than timely Mets hitting — including four home runs in two games after Michael Conforto’s two on Saturday — and Kansas City’s sudden inability to cash in its few-but-ripe opportunities against Mets pitching.
Add it all up, and the Royals had mustered one hit after the first two innings in their 9-3 loss on Friday and two runs in 14 innings into the eighth on Saturday.
This, after they’d amassed seven runs in their final four at-bats in the 7-1 victory in Game 2.
Some seemed to want to suggest that that somehow was related to Syndegaard’s cheap trick to open the game Friday.
But if that were the case, it would seem the Royals wouldn’t have followed up with six hits among their first nine official at-bats that night.
Some might have figured it was because of playing without designated hitter Kendrys Morales with the series in a National League park.
And, yes, the Royals surely are better off with Morales in the lineup, but Morales was 1 for 8 in the series in the first two games ... and this hardly is some newfangled rule.
“They are what they are,” Yost said before the game Saturday. “We go play the game under the rules that were provided for us.”
But the Royals are making their own rules when it comes to the comeback, and in so doing made good on Yost’s pre-game forecasts — including the way it pertained to how the team would respond overall to Syndegaard’s lingering first pitch.
“When that kind of stuff happens, they always find a way to get fired up and kind of take care of it themselves on the field,” Yost said. “Not by throwing at people, but by swinging the bats and playing good defense.”
And by turning the trick the Royals have mastered.