By Mark Fitzpatrick
Where do we begin?
Six innings of gutsy pitching from a guy who buried his father just days before?
An extra-inning rally keyed by a player without a plate appearance since October 4th?
Two innings of hitless relief from a pitcher once judged a draft-pick washout, who missed the entire 2014 season with an injury?
Another come-from-behind win for one of the most remarkable teams in baseball history, just one year after losing the World Series with the tying run 90 feet away?
Whatever topic you’d like to choose, you can now sit back and comprehend the incomprehensible: the Kansas City Royals are the 2015 World Champions!
I never thought I would see this happen again in my lifetime. When the economics of baseball changed after the 1994 strike, it looked like the small market teams would become an afterthought.
But the 2015 Royals were on a mission from the beginning of the season, and on Sunday they left no doubt that they are the best team in baseball.
The Royals came from behind in all four of their wins during this World Series. In three of those games they trailed in the eighth inning or later. They were behind in eight of their 11 post-season wins. And seven of those times those deficits were more than one run.
Savor this statistic: there were 53 innings played in the 2015 World Series, and the Royals had the lead after a grand total of 13–four of which were the last inning of a game.
The most stunning win of the 2015 post-season was Game 4 of the ALDS against Houston, when the Royals were down 6-2 and six outs away from an elimination. But the clinching Game 5 of the World Series will be indelibly etched in our memories. Edinson Volquez returned from his father’s funeral in the Dominican Republic to allow only two hits and one earned run through six innings, only to be outdueled by the Mets’ Matt Harvey. Harvey shut out the Royals through eight innings on four hits with nine strikeouts, and took a 2-0 lead into the ninth.
Then something interesting and pivotal happened, and through the magic of HDTV we saw it all unfold in living color. Harvey was informed by his pitching coach Dan Warthen that he was done for the night. His response was easily readable on his lips–“No way.” He appealed to manager Terry Collins to stay in the game, and Collins relented. With the Citi Field crowd chanting, “HAR-VEY, HAR-VEY”, he exited the dugout to start the ninth.
I had no problem with Collins’ decision to let his pitcher return to the mound, but after Lorenzo Cain worked a lead-off walk, Harvey should have been pulled. Instead, he was left in to face Eric Hosmer, who doubled down the left field line to score Cain and cut the deficit in half. Collins then went to his closer, Jeurys Familia. Mike Moustakas moved Hosmer to third with a ground out to set up the play of the game. On Sal Perez’ ground out to third, Hosmer made an aggressive move toward home plate after the throw to first, and Lucas Duda’s relay throw home was wide left. Hosmer scored, and the Royals had tied it with two runs in the ninth.
The Royals’ superior bullpen inspired confidence that they would prevail, but it took until the 12th inning for the break through. Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar combined for five innings of one-hit relief to set up the decisive inning. With one out and a runner at third, Christian Colon, a maligned first-round draft pick in 2010, was sent in to pinch hit. It was his first at bat of the post-season, and he delivered with an RBI single. The Royals scored four more runs on doubles by Alcides Escobar and Cain, and with a 7-2 score it was easy work for closer Wade Davis to put the finishing touches on KC’s second World Championship.
Colon has had two post-season at-bats in his career. The first drove in the tying run in the historic 2014 Wild Card game, and he subsequently scored the winning run. His second at bat drove in the winning run in the 2015 World Series. His career post-season stats: 2-2 for a 1.000 batting average with two RBI and two runs scored.
Hochevar, the first player chosen in the 2006 draft, was a bust as a starter and eventually moved to the bullpen, only to miss the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. He got the win on Sunday, capping a post-season in which he did not allow a run in 10 2/3 innings.
Perez was named the World Series Most Valuable Player, but there were at least five other Royals who could have been voted the award. This team’s energy and synergy cannot be overstated. They embody the team concept more than any group I have ever witnessed.
See you at tomorrow’s parade. This team, and this town, could not be more deserving.
Guest blogger Mark Fitzpatrick is senior vice president for Missouri Bank & Trust in Kansas City.