Thursday October 23rd, 2014

Blown out by the Giants in Game 1, the Royals desperately needed to even the World Series before leaving Kansas City. Thanks to a five-run outburst in the sixth inning capped by Omar Infante's homer, the Royals was able to do just that. Here's a quick look at some key points from their 7-2 win.

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1. Bochy's Bumbling

For all the praise Giants manager Bruce Bochy has received for guiding his team to its third World Series appearance in five years and for his perennial facility in handling his bullpen, his flat-footed approach in the sixth inning led to the Royals breaking open what had been a 2-2 tie. Starter Jake Peavy had settled down after wobbling through the first two innings. He threw 20 pitches in the first while allowing one run, then yielded another in the second. Nonetheless, he entered the frame having retired 10 in a row on 28 pitches — 15 in the fourth and fifth combined — with his pitch count at just 57 before Lorenzo Cain led off the sixth with a single.

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The problem was that despite Peavy's relatively low pitch count, his track record showed he had never completed the sixth in his seven previous postseason starts, including 5 2/3 and 4 innings in his two such starts with the Giants. Furthermore, batters hit a sizzling .323/.387/.545 against him this year his third time through the order. Bochy had to have known both of these things, and not only should have had a pitcher ready in the bullpen at the first sign of trouble, he should have had a lefty prepared to face the next batter, Eric Hosmer, given his hefty platoon split (.265/.308/.363 versus lefties in his career, compared to .280/.338/.444 against righties). Southpaw Jeremy Affeldt, who's nearly as effective against hitters of the opposite hand, would have been an ideal choice given the lefty-righty-lefty-righty sequence after Cain.

Instead, Peavy walked Hosmer while righty Jean Machi warmed up. When Machi entered to face righty Billy Butler, he fell behind 2-0, then served up a 93 mph fastball that Butler ripped to leftfield for the go-ahead run, his second RBI single of the game. Only then did Bochy go to lefty Javier Lopez, who retired Alex Gordon on a flyout before departing as quickly as he arrived in favor of not-ready-for-primetime righty Hunter Strickland, a 25-year-old rookie who allowed four home runs in 4 1/3 innings in the Division and Championship Series. Facing Salvador Perez, Strickland threw a wild pitch that took away the double play and moved both runners into scoring position, then yielded a two-run double to left-centerfield.

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Two pitches later, Infante — who hit just .252/.295/.337 with six homers during the regular season and only one after June 27 — pounded a 98 mph fastball over the leftfield wall for a two-run homer, giving the Royals a 7-2 lead. For added entertainment value, Strickland apparently took issue with Perez as he rounded the bases, exchanging words with the catcher as both benches emptied.

2. Opening Salvo

Gregor Blanco gave the Giants an instant leg up with a leadoff home run off 23-year-old rookie starter Yordano Ventura. Via the Play Index, it was the first such shot in a World Series game since 2004 and the 10th in series history. (Note: leadoff homers are by first batters of the entire game, i.e. the away team. This list does not include leadoff homers in the bottom of the first inning.) The company is pretty good:

Year Game Batter Team Opp Pitcher
1909 5 Davy Jones Tigers Pirates Babe Adams
1953 5 Gene Woodling Yankees Dodgers Johnny Podres
1954 2 Al Smith Indians Giants Johnny Antonelli
1968 4 Lou Brock Cardinals Tigers Denny McLain
1972 5 Pete Rose Reds A's Catfish Hunter
1986 3 Lenny Dykstra Mets Red Sox Oil Can Boyd
1989 4 Rickey Henderson A's Giants Don Robinson
2000 4 Derek Jeter Yankees Mets Bobby Jones
2004 4 Johnny Damon Red Sox Cardinals Jason Marquis

If you're scoring at home, that's two Hall of Famers (Brock and Henderson) plus a third on the way (Jeter), along with another who would be there if not for his gambling (Rose) — all with more than 3,000 hits — plus a guy who tallied 2,769 hits of his own (Damon).

Blanco hit just five homers in the regular season and has just 15 over the course of his six-year career, including one on Aug. 21, 2010, his only homer during a 49-game stint with the Royals. Then again, he's been powering up lately, with four of this year's five regular season home runs coming in the span from Aug. 24 to Sept. 22.

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3. Ventura overcomes Ugly D

The rookie fireballer overcame Blanco’s homer by retiring nine of the next 11 hitters he faced, but the Giants tied the game in the fourth inning, aided by some uncharacteristic lapses by the generally stellar Royals outfield defense. Pablo Sandoval's leadoff double to deep centerfield marked the rare occasion when Lorenzo Cain failed to make a play. He missed an over-the-shoulder catch near the wall with the ball caroming off the heel of his glove. Two batters later, Brandon Belt hit a double to rightfield, abetted by Nori Aoki inadvertently knocking the ball about 20 feet away with his glove as he attempted a sliding stop.

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Oddly enough, yet another Royals' defensive miscue helped them escape even bigger trouble in that inning. After Michael Morse flew out to Aoki for the second out, Belt bluffed tagging up. The rightfielder's throw back to the infield deflected off the glove of Alcides Escobar, but Ventura, who was backing up the play near the third base line, threw down to Infante at second to double off Belt, who had hesitated once the ball came. Score that a 9-6-1-4 double pay.

Thanks to that, and some triple-digit heat from reliever Kelvin Herrera — eight out of his nine pitches — when he entered with men on first and second and one out in the sixth, Ventura escaped having allowed just two runs in 5 1/3 innings despite yielding eight hits, three of them for extra bases. He struck out just two while throwing 87 pitches. Of Ventura's 63 fastballs (two- and four-seam), he generated just one swing and miss, compared to three from 13 curveballs and one from 11 changeups.

Herrera wound up walking two batters in the seventh, but he, Wade Davis and Greg Holland sealed the split by combining to deliver 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work, striking out six while allowing just one hit, a broken-bat single by Crawford with two outs in the ninth inning. The trio has combined for an 0.91 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings this postseason.

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