Monday April 4th, 2016

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For the fifth time in their last six games, the Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets, beating them 4–3 to conclude Sunday’s Opening Day action in a game that followed ceremonies recognizing the Royals’ victory over the Mets in last year’s World Series. For the third time in those six games, the starting pitchers were Matt Harvey for New York and Edinson Volquez for Kansas City, and for the third time in those three matchups, the Royals emerged victorious.

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There were echoes of Game 1 of the World Series in Sunday’s game, both of which took place in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. In both games, the Royals took a 1–0 lead in the first after a misplay in the outfield by Yoenis Cespedes. In both games, the Royals added two runs in the sixth when Harvey was going through the Kansas City order for the third time. This time, however, the Royals didn’t need a ninth-inning comeback to set-up an extra inning victory, though the Mets did make things interesting in the final two innings.

With Kansas City up 4–0 after seven, the Mets put together a Royals’-style inning in the top of the eighth, scoring three runs on a series of well-placed singles and walks against the newest member of Kansas City’s vaunted bullpen, former K.C. closer Joakim Soria. In the ninth, facing the current Royals closer Wade Davis, the Mets put the tying and go-ahead runs on the corners with one out, but Davis rallied to strike out David Wright and Cespedes to secure the win.

In classic Royals’ style, Kansas City scored its four runs without the benefit of an extra base hit, and three of them scored in part because of a baserunner advancing two bases on a single. Meanwhile, the Royals quashed three would-be Mets rallies via a trio of excellent fielding plays that stood in sharp contrast to the Mets’ blunders that set up the first run of the game.

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That first run came in the bottom of the first. After a first-pitch groundout by Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas hit an opposite-field fly ball that found Cespedes in left and clanked in and out of his glove for an error. Three pitches later, catcher Travis d’Arnaud failed to get his glove up in time to catch a high fastball from Matt Harvey, sending Moustakas to second via a passed ball. A batter later, Moustakas went from second to home on a single to left by Eric Hosmer to give the Royals an early 1–0 lead.

In the second and third innings, the Mets put two runners on with two outs against Volquez via a walk and a single. In both innings, a stellar play by one of the Royals’ corner infielders ended the rally. In the top of the fourth, Michael Conforto drew a one-out walk, then attempted to steal second base, but Omar Infante made a great diving catch and tag of Salvador Perez’s throw, which tailed into the runner, for the second out.

Orlin Wagner/AP

Infante, who had the worst OPS+ of any player with 400 or more plate appearances last year, did a good job of getting his 2016 season off to a better start, not only with that play, but by picking up two singles and an RBI. Infante showed good hustle on the bases as well, beating out an infield single on a long throw from Wright in the fifth, then going to third on Escobar’s subsequent single up the middle.

The Royals got their second run in the fourth inning when Lorenzo Cain led off with a single, then went first-to-third on a single by Hosmer, setting up a Kendrys Morales sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Cain led off with a walk and later scored on an Alex Gordon single. Gordon then went first-to-third on a Perez single to center that drove Harvey from the game and scored on Infante’s subsequent single off Bartolo Colon.

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Harvey’s final line wasn’t pretty—6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K—but he looked sharp through the first five innings, commanding all four of his pitches. However, pitching on three day’s rest after a mere two-inning warmup on Wednesday necessitated by his last scheduled spring training start being scratched due to the discovery of blood clots in his bladder (since passed), Harvey proved unable to solve the Royals the third time through their order. That’s not new for Harvey. Last year, he held opponents to a .564 OPS the first two times through the order only to see that figure swell to .704 the third time through, and, again, he gave up the tying runs to the Royals the third time through their order in Game 1 of last year’s World Series. Still, one assumes that as he builds stamina this season, Harvey will have more success turning opposing lineups over a second time. Nonetheless, he was clearly out-pitched by Volquez (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K) on this night, something which couldn’t be said about either of their World Series matchups.

These defending pennant winners will face off again on Tuesday with Noah Syndergaard and Chris Young taking the hill. This two-game series will end there, but they will rematch again for another two-game set in New York in late June. However, with the Royals’ victory on Sunday, the Mets could win all of their remaining games against Kansas City this season and still trail it five games to four between last year’s World Series and this year’s interleague play.

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