San Francisco – The Kansas City Royals are a National League team disguised in American League clothing. AT&T Park, home to the Giants, Triples Alley, garlic fries, an outfield wall with seven angles and eight cutouts, devious winds and other pitcher-friendly conditions, has mocked the typical slugging AL teams since the place opened in 2000. Entering Game 3 of the World Series Friday night, AL teams were 54-81 in the exquisite jewel box by McCovey Cove, including 15-33 since 2010 and 0-4 in the World Series.
Then the Royals walked in and the place fit them perfectly. There was an old-timey feel to Game 3 because of the oddity of the Royals playing in San Francisco in the first place. Interleague play, which began in 1997, has siphoned much of the mystery out of World Series matchups, but this was one meeting with an air of discovery and intrigue. The Royals had played only one series in San Francisco all these interleague years, and that one was so long ago -- nine years -- that the late Jose Lima was the starting pitcher and only two players Kansas City used remain as active players in the big leagues. Kansas City outfielders, like Americans on Roman holiday visiting the cathedrals and artwork, spent much of the off day before Game 3 studying and admiring the quirky dimensions and variety of surfaces off which baseballs can bounce (brick, wire, padding, metal, fans in panda headgear, etc.).
Then all the Royals did Friday night was play classic NL baseball -- and they did it better than the NL team they were playing. They won the game 3-2 without a home run but with superlative pitching, defense, productive outs and timely hitting. They beat the Giants with John McGraw baseball (at least without the bunt). This was such a decidedly old-school, deadball, Spalding guide kind of baseball that Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie became the first pitcher ever to start and win a World Series game with no walks and no strikeouts. His was the pitching line you might have expected from Mordecai Brown or Orval Overall or Smoky Joe Wood or Rube Marquard, or some other name that belongs to antiquity.
Once Guthrie left, Kansas City manager Ned Yost put the game in the good hands of the law firm of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, though this time their cease and desist work was aided by a summer intern, Brandon Finnegan, a kid who five months ago was taking college courses. Finnegan picked up two super-sized outs to end the seventh with some billable hours between Herrera and Davis.
If it wasn’t clear before this series (and it should have been crystal clear) it is now: the Giants are not winning this series if they have to go through Herrera, Davis and Holland. They have sent 26 batters to the plate against the HDH law partners and have yet to hit a ball hard -- even a foul ball. They are 1-for-22 (.045) against them with four walks.
You can expect the same rules of engagement for Game 4. These games are a race to see who has a lead after the sixth inning. The Royals are now 70-4 when they have a lead after six innings, the second-best record in baseball. (San Diego was 60-1). The Giants are 69-6 when they lead after six, the third best record in baseball. Combine their records (139-10), and there is a 93 percent chance the game is over if one team has a lead after six. If you just consider this postseason, the game really is over with a lead after six. The Royals (5-0) and Giants (7-0) are undefeated in the postseason with a lead after six. The rest of baseball is 3-6.
It makes for very exciting baseball, in a 1960s kind of way. But this kind of baseball also benefits the decidedly NL-styled Royals, who, when you think about it, stand just 12 innings away from the franchise’s second world championship: a lead after six innings twice more.
2. Bumgarner won't be back for Game 4
Yes, Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti discussed the possibility of bringing back ace Madison Bumgarner on short rest to start Game 4, but it was done only in the vein of due diligence. Any staff would be negligent not to consider all options. But the idea was never close to actually being implemented. Why? Bochy is a smart man, not a desperate one.
He knows you only pitch Bumgarner on short rest if you are prepared to do it twice – the second time in a possible Game 7. That makes no sense. The guy never has been used on short rest, so why would you ask him to do it in back-to-back starts when he is 256 innings into his season?
If you pitch Bumgarner on short rest in Game 4, you still have to pitch Ryan Vogelsong in Game 5. Your best chance of winning the World Series is keeping Bumgarner on his regular turn – an asset you would forfeit if you rolled the dice on him pitching short. And after Bumgarner pitches Game 5, he would be available to pitch two or three innings of relief in Game 7, anyway.
3. News and notes
• Circle the 11-pitch at-bat by Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer against lefthanded reliever Javier Lopez, a battle that ended with Hosmer driving in Kansas City’s third run, the run that proved to be the difference. It just may stand as the most definitive at-bat of the series. Lopez has faced 2,080 batters in his career and never had a longer at-bat; the 11 pitches matched his career high done twice – 10 years ago. Moreover, Lopez had Hosmer set up 0-and-2. Over the past two years, batters have hit only .083 off Lopez after he gets ahead 0-and-2 (4-for-48). Finally, Lopez had never given up a hit to a lefty in any bat of more than eight pitches. Just call it the Battle Royale, won by a very determined Hosmer on his 25th birthday
• Royals manager Ned Yost ran a superb NL game in Game 3, running Herrera into the game earlier than usual and getting him out at the first sign of trouble – while letting him take an at-bat in between. It was the first plate appearance of Herrera’s pro career – and his awkward yet humorous strikeout resembled somebody who had been pulled out of the stands to pinch hit. You will be waiting a long time to find another World Series game in which an AL team wins on the road without using any of its position players on the bench.
• How good are the Royals’ pitchers on the road? Their 3.10 ERA on the road this year was the lowest by any AL staff in a full season in the DH era (since 1973).
• Kansas City is 11-2 on the road since Sept. 10 … Can’t anybody here pitch six innings? For the second straight game, both starters couldn’t make it through the sixth inning. That’s now 30 starts in this postseason when a starter couldn’t make it through six and only 26 when they did. Where have you gone, postseason pitching duel? There have been 56 starts this postseason and not once did a starter throw 115 pitches.
• Umpire Jim Reynolds worked the plate for the first time since the regular season, about three weeks ago. He was scheduled to work the plate in Game 4 of the ALDS between the Angels and Royals, but never got the chance because of a Royals sweep. To keep sharp, Reynolds went to the Arizona Fall League after the ALDS to call balls and strikes.