Citi Field, Queens - Mets fans have no reason to hold their heads in shame. They were extreme underdogs coming into this series against a Kansas City Royals team that was almost predestined to win The Fall Classic.
The Mets had inexperienced but golden arms, a few veteran sluggers who could bust a game wide open, a manager who had the Midas Touch and a surging belief that this year was the year to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1986.
Harvard and Dartmouth mind Sandy Alderson took the reins from former GM Omar Minaya in 2011 with a plan. Ownership stuck by that plan and watched the woeful Mets slowly ascend to the top of the National League, outplaying and outlasting the glamour teams of the division to get to Sunday evening, where they sat three outs from prolonging the series and the Royals’ inevitable championship run.
At the end of last season, coveted general manager Dayton Moore was reported to be a potential target of the Braves, who were being led by interim GM John Hart, who hadn't decided yet whether he will take the job permanently.
KC owner David Glass refused to let Moore go, understanding that his blend of sabermetrics and old school scouting implied a genius that many baseball minds didn’t quite understand. Moore got some heat in his early years in Kansas City and was oft-criticized for the trades of Zack Greinke, and Wil Myers. In retrospect, the naysayers are praising Moore as his traded yielded speedy and clutch Alcides Escobar, 2014 ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain and shutdown closer Wade Davis, whose contributions were imperative and obvious to this championship mix.
The Royals worked their closer in the eighth and ninth innings to protect a 5-3 lead Saturday that give them a 3-1 edge in the World Series.
Good thing Moore stayed because those moves proved to be decisive ones, which made KC a devastating and complete team. Credit Mets GM Alderson with his trade deadline maneuvers and belief in his farm system, but as KC reliever Luke Hochevar stated following the Royals come-from-behind 7-2 victory in 12 innings over the Mets at Citi Field on Sunday night to win the 2015 World Series, 4-1:
“Dayton Moore came in with a plan and is proof that one man’s belief is bigger than a million people’s opinion.”
The victory, their fourth in five games, gave KC their first championship since 1985.
"To be able to win this is very, very special, with this group of guys," Royals manager Ned Yost said after the game. "With their character, with their heart, with their passion, with the energy that they bring every single day, I mean, they leave everything on the field."
With the Royals, everybody plays their part and no one man has to do too much.
A year ago, Hochevar was reduced to cheerleader status during KC’s postseason run, with Tommy John surgery in March having ended his season. This postseason, he pitched 10 scoreless innings, including two crucial ones in Game 5 to get the winning decision in the historical clincher.
Game 5 started out in the Mets favor, as a raucous Cit Field crowd attempted to help the Mets will their way to a win and get the series back to Kansas City. No one in Queens wanted to see the Royals clinch the c’hip in the belly of the beast. Curtis Granderson put NY up early with a 410-foot homer.
However, the Royals, who attack baseball games like cockroaches in a nuclear war, survived a superb performance by Matt Harvey, scoring twice in the ninth inning to tie the score at 2-2 and breaking through to score five times in the 12th against relievers Addison Reed and Bartolo Colon.
“We knew if we tied it up, we had a chance to win it,” said Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
As the series progressed the Mets magic slowly dissipated. Yoenis Cespedes stumbled to the finish line, Harvey was flawless through 8 innings and led 2-0 entering the ninth, but it was obvious he was running out of gas. King Collins, responded to the chants of his people; “Harvey, Harvey.” He stuck with The Dark Knight, which proved to be a poor strategic maneuver.
Collins and Harvey made novice mistakes. Instead of sticking to the formula that got them here, playing the odds and believing in the bullpen, they let ego influence the game against an ego-less Royals team built on winning the battle of attrition.
Harvey wanted to be the man. Collins got caught up in the moment. Hochevar feels like that was the difference in the game.
“There are no egos on this team and it doesn’t matter who is taking the ball. Guys just answer the bell when it rings and that’s what makes us good I guess."
Nothing in baseball is set in stone. Everything changes, pitch-by-pitch and game-by-game, but the Royals have continuously said they expected to be here. The sting of last year’s seven-game WS loss fueled an unstoppable and unquenchable thirst to get back to the top of the mountain and this time pierce MLB’s sacred grounds with the blue and white banner.
KC gave Harvey his props.
“Harvey was nasty tonight; he was dirty,” KC’s Eric Hosmer said. “He really stepped up for his team and had a great outing. He came out aggressive, was throwing his fastball a lot. A great outing from a great pitcher. That’s the type of pitcher when the game is on the line in a big-time situation, that’s the guy you want out there.”
But everybody from the Citi Field press box to the state of Missouri had to do a doubletake when Harvey came back out for the ninth-inning. It’s a decision that will haunt him, Collins and Mets fans for a while.
“You knew something was going to happen (in the ninth), “ Hosmer said.
The 170 plus games a World Series champion plays is the most grueling and definitive championship run in sports. It will reveal every weakness and every advantage a team holds. You can’t luck your way into a World Series appearance and the teams that win it all are usually the best.
“You knew we weren’t going to go out quietly,” Hosmer continued. ”As soon as Cain gets on there, you knew we had something brewing. That’s our style of play; be aggressive.”
The Royals like to rock teams asleep and shock them back into baseball reality. They don’t have one imposing bat that can smash 40-dingers. The lineup is balanced yet unimpressive in comparison to some of the star-studded rosters that grace MLB teams. In these playoffs, KC had an MLB record seven wins when trailing by two runs or more. The closer the game, the more the outcomes favors KC. Trying to hold a lead against these guys is like trying to drain the Hudson River with a beach bucket.
"Never die, never quit attitude,” said Cain. “I mean this entire clubhouse, front office, fans, they're all amazing. I say just it’s that never quit attitude. We continue to push no matter if it's not in our favor, continue to fight as a team."
They are sneaky good just like their catcher Salvador Perez, who hit .364 (8-for-22) with two doubles and two RBIs in the WS and can floss his MVP trophy in his home country of Venezuela this winter. His persistence, durability, professionalism and predictable, unpredictability makes him a special player. The 25-year-old backstop played every inning of the World Series except the final one.
"He just had a phenomenal series," Yost said of the 6-3, 240-pound catcher, a diamond found by Royals scouts in the Valencia, Venezuela- rough.
Perez was discovered in 2006 as a 16-year-old by Moore’s international scouting operation put in place by the general manager when he took over for the stunted organization with just three scouts outside the United States and the lowest international budget in the big leagues.
The Royals signed the raw prospect for loose change ($70,000). If he faded into the oblivion, taking a chance on him wouldn’t have hurt their pockets at all. Perez, however, had bigger goals than being a low-risk project who signed that one-in-a-million MLB contract He came up to the big leagues in 2011, but his first full season was 2013, when his contributions helped Kansas City make a 14-game jump in the win column.
Perez continues to improve every season. Since the start of 2013, Perez (who shouldn’t be underrated anymore) ranks second only to Buster Posey in games caught (430) and hits (433), and he's third behind Posey and Brian McCann in home runs (51) and RBIs (219).
He’s just one piece of a deep, Royals team who share accolades and contributions the way the 1970s NY Knicks did the basketball. That formula has proved to be a winning one for KC, who enters the offseason with team in tact and a chance to become the first back-to-back World Series champs since the Yankees three-peat (98-2000).
The Mets enter the offseason with more mystery than an Agatha Christie crime novel and a bittersweet feeling. They superseded expectations. The Mets had the lead in Games 4 and Game 5, but they couldn’t close the deal and fell short of capitalizing on an opportunity that only seems to come around for this franchise every 15 years or so.