NEW YORK — The Kansas City Royals can create a rally out of chewing gum, old bottle caps and pieces of string. This much we know. The eighth-inning comeback that devastated the New York Mets, that left them wondering how they could be bleeding so badly from the Royals’ little cuts, was nothing new for Kansas City. Late-inning rallies are their specialty. They have scored 44 runs in the seventh inning or later in this postseason. Breaking hearts is what they do.
But this one felt especially sweet, and not just because their 5–3 victory gave the Royals a 3–1 lead in the World Series and brought them to within one win of their first championship since 1985. They mostly just hinted at it, but after the war of words with Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard the night before over Syndergaard’s high, tight pitch to leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar, the Royals were looking for payback. Let the record show they got it without firing a single pitch with ill intent.
“It feels great,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “The best kind [of retaliation] would be to win a world championship. That speaks for itself.”
A night earlier, third baseman Mike Moustakas had been the angriest Royal, yelling profanities at Syndergaard from the dugout and making no secret of his displeasure when he spoke to the media afterwards. That’s why Mets fans booed him loudest of all when the Royals’ lineup was introduced before the game and whenever Moustakas came up to the plate. Unlike his fans in Kansas City, the New Yorkers definitely weren’t yelling “Moose.”
So, it was fitting that on this satisfying Saturday night for the Royals it was Moustakas who came through with the hit that decided the game. After Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy booted Hosmer’s slow ground ball, allowing a run to score that tied the game 3–3, Moustakas singled through the right side of the infield against the Mets’ suddenly vulnerable closer, Jeurys Familia, to drive in Lorenzo Cain. It hardly mattered that Salvador Perez followed with another RBI single. After Moustakas gave the Royals the lead, it seemed that everyone knew that the game was all but over.
“Familia throws a bowling-ball sinker,” Moustakas said. “Hoz did a good job of putting the ball in play and making some things happen. It’s just kind of how the ball bounced today. It kind of rolled right for us.”
More specifically, Hosmer’s tapper rolled right under the glove of Murphy, exactly the kind of misplay that seems to trigger the Royals’ comeback reflex. It was not unlike the error that Houston shortstop Carlos Correa committed against Kansas City in Game 4 of the division series, the one that led to a five-run eighth inning that won the game for the Royals when it looked like they were about to be eliminated.
That isn’t to say that the Royals are just the recipients of good fortune. They’re far more good than lucky. The eighth-inning rally began with a pair of walks by Zobrist and Cain that were wars of attrition. Cain was down 0–2 before battling through a nine-pitch at-bat that finally resulted in the walk.
“I thought that was the biggest part of the inning,” Hosmer said. “People will look at the error, but if we hadn’t found a way to put runners on and keep the pressure on them, maybe the error doesn’t get made.”
It was what we have come to know as Royals baseball.
“When teams make a mistake against us like the one tonight, there’s just a feeling,” said Royals starter Chris Young. “There’s nothing spoken, it’s just a sense that we’ve gotten the little opening we need. With the way our hitters grind out at-bats and put the ball in play, we just build the pressure, and that’s a big part of why we’re here.”
“Here” is nine innings away from a title, if all goes as planned in Game 5 on Sunday. The pitching matchup, Kansas City’s Edinson Volquez against Matt Harvey for New York, doesn’t appear to favor the Royals, particularly since Volquez just returned Saturday from visiting his family in the Dominican Republic after the death of his father, Daniel, last week. But the pitching matchups have seldom favored the Royals on paper, yet they keep winning. They have already won games started by Harvey and Jacob deGrom, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t do it again.
“We can taste it,” Hosmer said. “That’s a really good team over there that we have to beat, and we know they’ll come at us with everything they’ve got, but yeah, we can taste it.”
There were raucous sounds coming from the Kansas City clubhouse after the game, and when the doors opened to the media, everything was wet—the floor, table tops, the chairs in front of the players' lockers all had water on them. Someone asked Young what had gone on, but he wasn’t telling.
“There’s a reason you guys aren’t let in right away,” he said.
Maybe they were rehearsing for a celebration that’s soon to come.
Sunday night’s clubhouse might not just be wet, it may be sticky sweet with the byproducts of victory as well. After a year of living with the disappointment of their Game 7 loss to the Giants in last season’s World Series, redemption is at hand for the Royals, and try as they might to sound calm about it, their anticipation is obvious. The corks haven’t been popped yet, but somehow, they can smell the champagne already.