By Barry Svrluga,
NEW YORK — Lock the Kansas City Royals in the garage and leave the car running. They will emerge tomorrow, squint into the sun and smile. They will fly their plane directly into a mountainside, drive their bus off a cliff. But it’s nothing more than a cartoon. When the dust clears, there they are, wiping themselves off, exchanging high-fives, smiling.
Their defining, back-from-the-brink characteristic would be laughable if the results weren’t so real. On Sunday night, for the third time in this World Series, they trailed the New York Mets in the eighth inning or later. Their attitude, basically: Whatever, man. And so they are champions.
The Royals won their first World Series championship in 30 years because they scored two runs off Mets ace Matt Harvey in the ninth — who, the debate in Queens will rage, perhaps should have been removed to start the inning. They got the decisive run in this 7-2 victory in Game 5 when a backup middle infielder named Christian Colon — a hero of the 2014 wild-card game who had nary a postseason plate appearance this fall — singled in pinch runner Jarrod Dyson in the 12th for the lead run.
How Royals, to win the World Series using two players no one at Citi Field had heard of. How Royals, to come back and win — for the eighth time in their 11 postseason victories. How Royals, to celebrate a year after they left the tying run in the seventh game of the World Series stranded 90 feet from home, a stunned crowd of 44,859 with plenty to chew on for, oh, the next generation or so. Kansas City won the series four games to one, which doesn’t begin to bring justice to how it played out.
“I felt from the beginning that with this group, after what they accomplished last year and saw the heartbreak in their eyes after Game 7, that we had unfinished business to do,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said even before the game. “And yeah, I sit there sometimes and think: This is just the way it’s supposed to be.”
They were down a run with one out in the ninth inning of the series opener. They won in 14 innings. They were down one with one out in the eighth inning of Game 4. They scored three times in the frame and coasted. And here, Sunday, they faced a crowd roaring for Harvey’s return to the mound and Harvey’s menacing mug when he took it.
But they drove the Mets’ ace from the game with a walk and Eric Hosmer’s double, and they tied it when the Mets couldn’t perform a fairly basic task — gunning Hosmer out on a throw home from first baseman Lucas Duda. The pitcher, the slide, the celebration, the tie game — it all would have seemed preposterous had this not been the Royals.
In Queens, though, they won’t talk about Kansas City’s resilience. They will talk about Harvey. So much of the early part of this Mets’ season was about the 26-year-old right-hander, whose sparkling 2013 debut was interrupted by a blown-out elbow, whose 2014 was lost to the subsequent surgery. Now, with October come and gone, the controversy over how many innings he might or might not pitch, about whether he would be available in the postseason — well, it seemed ancient. It will merely be replaced by the controversy over whether he should have pitched the ninth Sunday night.
He had put himself in position to do so. Harvey’s fastball, flat last week in Kansas City for Game 1, had life. When he struck out Mike Moustakas to whiff the side in the fourth, he hit 98 on the radar gun. But this wasn’t just power. It was pitching. His previous strikeouts that inning, of Lorenzo Cain and Hosmer, had come on a curveball and a change-up. In the entirety of his Game 1 start, he caused the Royals to swing and miss seven times. By the end of the fifth — when he sandwiched three strikeouts around a walk — he had doubled that.
The issue, for the Mets, was that Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez was largely matching him. He allowed a leadoff homer to Curtis Granderson on his third pitch, an ill-advised 0-2 change-up that Granderson deposited over the wall in right-center. This start came just five days after the death of his father, whose funeral he attended in the Dominican Republic last week. Volquez rejoined his team just Saturday evening, before Game 4, and said he was ready to pitch. The truth, though, was that no one could know how he would perform.
The Mets added a run in the sixth on Duda’s sacrifice fly. That allowed Collins to be more cavalier with his use of Harvey. Pitch counts and innings limits? They’re so September. Harvey hit for himself in the seventh. And he fired bullets at the Royals in a 1-2-3 eighth.
As the Mets batted in the bottom of that inning, pockets of “We want Har-vey!” chants spread throughout Citi Field’s upper deck. This town can devour anyone it perceives as selfish but in the next breath anoint him as one of their own. Pitching coach Dan Warthen approached Harvey first. “No way,” he appeared to say. He walked all the way to Collins. “No way.” He had thrown 102 pitches and retired six in a row. The message: Thanks for the offer of a break, guys, but I’ll be pitching the ninth.
But he walked Cain to lead off the ninth, and Hosmer then laced a double to left, cutting the lead to 2-1. Collins came out. Closer Jeurys Familia came in. Citi’s edge returned — and rightly so.
Moustakas followed with a groundball to first that moved Hosmer to third, 90 essential feet. Royals catcher Salvador Perez was next up. A flyball would have tied it. A grounder?
That’s what Perez hit. Wright, the third baseman, moved to his left and scooped it up. He looked at Hosmer, then threw to first — and Hosmer broke to the plate. Duda, the first baseman, had time to make a play. But his throw was embarrassingly offline, missing the catcher entirely. Hosmer scored. The game was tied.
It was won in the 12th, though, when Perez led off with a single. The slowest runner on either roster was then replaced by the fastest, Dyson. His mission: Steal second. It was hardly a challenge. Alex Gordon then moved him to third with a grounder to the right side. Colon, who scored the 12th-inning run against Oakland in last year’s wild-card game that started this whole wild Kansas City ride, then got his first plate appearance of the postseason. He sent Addison Reed’s 1-2 slider into left. Dyson jogged home. A Murphy error — his second in two nights — allowed another runner to reach, and Alcides Escobar piled on with an RBI double, and Cain followed with the double that cleared not just the bases but the stands.
Those items, though, are the minutia, the episodes folks from Kansas City will try to remember when they sit around bars years, decades from now and try to re-create this big, sloppy, happy mess. What they will remember: Team after team after team tried to step on the Royals’ throats, to smother them with a pillow. And the last time, they rose up once more, grabbed the World Series trophy, exchanged their hugs and flew back to Kansas City, more alive than ever.
More coverage: Box score: Royals 7, Mets 2 (12 innings) Boswell: Fittingly, Royals rally for the Series clincher Matt Harvey to Manager Terry Collins: ‘I’m going back out there’
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