Game 25 // Ninth Inning, K.C. // The Moose Is Loose

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: ROYALS 7 (4) – 6 NATIONALS

 

It’s that Royals small-ball again. They did it to the Astros. Did it to the Blue Jays. Did it, for a trophy, to the Mets. Did it to the whole American League for two years running. And now, against the Nationals, they’re looking to do it again. Sending a message across the way in this potential World Series matchup, that when Kansas City is down, they’re not out; when they’ve got two strikes, there won’t be a third; when they’re in second place, they’ll come storming back out of it.

Watch out Washington. And watch out White Sox. The Royals, well, I’ll just let them speak for themselves:

What we do have is a very particular set of skills, skills we have acquired over very long careers. Skills that make us a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter AL Central go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you. I will find play you. And I will kill beat you.

So it’s against Jonathan Papelbon that the gang decided to inflict their latest act of comeback magic, and he’s up there on the mound with the unsuspecting swagger of a bully messing with the wrong kid.

Down 6-4, a sleeping giant woke up.

On a 3-1 count from Papelbon, Alex Gordon flashes a defensive swing at a low fastball, deflecting it on a sharp roll to the left side of the infield like a hard bunt, just finding a hole in the shift. The scrappiest of a team known for the scrappy.

Then, Salvador Perez, “Salvy,” coming up empty on an outside slider, looking for a first-pitch fastball to latch onto. 0-1 count, and on the next pitch from Papelbon: base-hit rocketed to left field. Gordon’s all the way to third, Perez at first, with the winning run now striding up to the plate. No outs.

One step closer to a Taken-style takedown of this Nats team, but Papelbon’s got filthy stuff at times and isn’t one to roll over easily.

The fans are going wild, by the way, from the cheap seats to the luxury boxes, singing “We Will Rock You” loud and clear into the TV crowd mics. I’m thinking, in this giant swarm of baseball loyalty, this geographic center of America, this deepest, proudest, baseball mecca—who else has fans like these??

Terrance Gore comes on to pinch-hit for Perez. Bold move by Ned Yost.

Meanwhile, Wilson Ramos goes out to talk to Papelbon, who I’ve yet to see exercise his patented “junk” grab, and nor is Dusty Baker busy toothpicking away. When did this change? Next thing I know, you’ll tell me Bryce Harper will have shaved his hipster-hawk hairdo, scrubbed off his eye black, shown some humility.

Wait, I take that back. Papelbon just went for the jewels, for lack of a better word. A not-so-subtle downstairs adjustment, and we’re back to the game. Don’t want to see that again.

With Gore taking a huge lead, there’s a quick pickoff attempt to first. Close, but no cigar. Papelbon then delays, delays, delays, holds… throws to first again. Safe. And then another throw to first.

The next moment he actually delivers home with it, and Gore is gone for second, a perfect jump, met with a perfect throw, the ball shooting into Daniel Murphy’s glove as he slaps Gore’s feet just as he slides into the bag. The ump’s call? Pauses, pauses, almost longer than Papelbon. Safe. He’s got the uncertain look on his face like he knows he’ll be replay-challenged, until he peeks around the runner and sees the ball dribble out of the glove. Right call.

The fans now peak at double-volume, chanting “Let’s goooo Roooyyyalssss.”

It’s Omar Infante at the plate, runners on second and third now, down by two, no outs, a tie more than expected at this point. But can they win it, right here and now?

Infante strikes out, after a long, long at-bat. Anything but that would’ve been golden.

But now, in place of Christian Colón, who now retreats back to the dugout, the great Mike Moustakas comes in—for the huge pinch-hit opportunity. His second career at-bat against Papelbon.

“Moooooooooooose”—the entire stadium yells, with the kind of booing-mimicry assigned only to the biggest of fan favorites, with just the right vowel sounds to their names. Moustakas has, for several years now, been vaulted into this select group, up there with Moises Aloooouuuu and Jay Bruuuuuce (plus Muuuhhhhsin Muhammad, if we’re counting football). And it’s the perfect cover for the few rogue Nationals fans too scared to audibly boo, too die-hard to hold it in. I was saying boo-urns…

Papelbon, at this point, is struggling in vain to protect himself from this crafty, slowly brewing Royals attack—mixing up his pitches, avoiding the heart of the plate. working long at-bats with a marked tension on his face that isn’t going away anytime soon.

The fans all have their hands together, alternating prayers and call-and-response Let’s-go-Royals claps in unison. Moustakas gets a high fastball—foul-tipped and it’s 2-2. One more out here and K.C. might be done for. This at-bat is big.

Looking to funnel his braggadocio into another strikeout and the win, Papelbon watches for the sign, and readies for the next pitch. Then he steps off the rubber. He’s clearly spooked, as he jogs off the mound to chat again with Ramos.

He sets up again. But the mound visit was of no use. Moustakas hits a hard ground-ball past of the mound. Streaking on a line toward second base—and it’s through! He’s snuck one through a hole up the middle with the infielders shifted, and two Royals come home to score. Tie game.

“The Moose has gotten loose!” says one of the Kansas City TV guys.

Eric Hosmer leads the cheers from the dugout, and there’s new life in the ballpark. Jarrod Dyson comes up, vibing off the momentum, and he rips a line drive to left—but caught with a stroke of bad luck. Hit right to Chris Heisey.

Two outs now. But this has been great, right? We’ll have extras in Kansas City. Another chance to win. Would be hard to get another.

But then…

Alcides Escobar comes up. Curveball hanging over the middle. Line drive hit over the shortstop. Moustakas to third. And now, suddenly, this one might be on the brink. The switch has been flipped.

Nats’ manager Dusty Baker comes out to chat with Papelbon, the PA system playing “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” as Baker sticks with his man and the Royals internally rejoice. They’ve got this guy’s number.

Lorenzo Cain time now. The fans still on their feet. Papelbon’s on his 25th pitch now. And he delivers the twenty-sixth. There wouldn’t be another.

Cain: a deep drive, left-center field, going, going, there’s no outs left for a tag-up RBI, it’s looking to drop but just holding in the air for Michael Taylor—he lays out all the way, in mid-flight reaches for the ball. But it drops. Rolls to the warning track. Moustakas trots home. Game. Royals win.

As if he took the words right out of my mouth, the Royals’ TV guy says what everyone else is thinking (hoping): “This could be the win that Turns. Them. Around.”

 

 

Previously:

6th Inning: KCR vs. NYM

5th Inning: BOS vs. NYY

3rd Inning: NYM vs. SFG

6th Inning: LAD vs. MIA

5th Inning: HOU vs. BOS

3rd Inning: WSH vs. ATL

7th Inning: BAL vs. BOS

8th Inning: SFG vs. LAD

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