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Royals, determined to finish the job this time, outlast Mets in Game 1

Back in the World Series, the Royals are out to finish what they started in 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This time, the Royals brought the runner home from third. There was symbolism in this moment, a year or a lifetime after Alex Gordon was left on third in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, a loss to the Giants. This time, the Royals are determined to finish the job.

Alcides Escobar scored on the simplest of plays, a little timely hitting in the form of a sac fly combined with a healthy pouring of speed, but that’s what the Royals do. They do a little of everything until it’s enough. This 14-inning World Series Game 1 lasted long enough for Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to go from goat to hero, and that’s another thing about the Royals. They must lead the major leagues in resilience.

This game reminded us there is no clock in baseball. But the game itself is like a minute hand, slowly circling around until it hits each number again.

Royals walk off Mets in 14th inning in thrilling World Series Game 1

In the eighth inning, Hosmer made an error that nearly cost his team the game. With a runner on second and the game tied, 3–3, New York’s Wilmer Flores hit a sharp ground ball toward Hosmer at first. Hosmer should have made sure he kept the ball in front of him, so the runner couldn’t score. But that’s easy to type and harder to do in an instant. As Hosmer said later, “It’s one of those plays where you’ve got to decide whether you’re going in and get it, or sit back and get the hop. I was a little in between, but tried to go and charge it.”

The ball hit the side of his glove; Hosmer admitted he “definitely” should have made the play. The runner scored; Hosmer thought that would win the game for the Mets.

But then came the ninth. Gordon took the Mets' dominant closer, Jeurys Familia, as deep as any hitter can, over the centerfield fence. Hosmer was stunned. He didn’t even know what to say. He hugged Gordon.

“I was the happiest person in the stadium at that point,” Hosmer said. “I had no words, That’s all I could tell him, was, ‘I just want to hug you right now.’”

The minute hand was swinging toward Hosmer again. He struck out swinging in the bottom of the 10th. He was intentionally walked in the 12th​, and the Royals failed to score.

And then came the 14th.

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Baseball’s longest games often end suddenly, with one swing. That was not the case in Game 1. In the 14th​ inning, the Mets slowly suffocated. Third baseman David Wright bobbled an Escobar ground ball, and his rushed throw to first base pulled Lucas Duda off the bag; Escobar was safe. Duda had to hold the speedy shortstop on first, and that allowed Ben Zobrist to poke a single through the hole that Duda had vacated. Escobar advanced to third with no outs. The Mets were running low on oxygen.

Mets manager Terry Collins chose to load the bases with no outs, intentionally walking Lorenzo Cain. That is never a comfortable decision, because it forces the pitcher, in this case Bartolo Colon, to be perfect, but Collins didn’t have much choice. He wanted the force out at home.

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And who was up? Hosmer. He said later that he was thinking, “It’s time for you to do your part.” He knew: “I was the reason why that run came in in the first place, for them to go ahead.” If not for Gordon’s home run, Hosmer would have been done giving his postgame interviews by this point—done telling the world, over and over, that he blamed himself for losing the game. Instead, he had a chance to win it.

As soon as he hit a fly ball, he knew: He’d hit it deep enough. He flipped his bat to celebrate. Escobar scored. The Royals won, 5–4.

And then … well, the Royals were subdued afterward. That was partly because they found out after the game that the father of Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez had died on Tuesday.

But this is a different Royals team from the one that lost to the Giants in the World Series last year. That team was on a magic-carpet ride; this one knows it belongs. You can sense it in the clubhouse, which had a perpetually giddy feel last October. The Royals are not a happy little story any more.

Hosmer explained the team effort that captured Game 1 by saying, “That’s why we’re the best team in the world right here.” It didn’t seem like bragging or youthful exuberance; it just seemed true.

In Hosmer’s clubhouse stall hung a signed Tom Brady jersey, made out simply to “Hoz.” Brady knows something about being the surprising newcomer on the big stage and sticking around. He also knows about failing and coming right back and succeeding. The Royals can’t call plays for their best players, but Hosmer may be right: They may have the best team in the world right here, ready to finish the job.