With no professional team sports being played on the North American continent right now, many have turned to classic games as a refuge to help distract them from the very difficult real world problems that we are dealing with as a sports-loving people. I am no different in this and as the time approaches where I hoped to be able to do either a Crunch-Time Breakdown or a Sports Cliff Notes of something like an NBA Conference Finals or an MLB regular season game, that obviously won’t be happening.
Hopefully a classic game can once again be a good substitute. In my choosing I decided to go with a Game 6 of a fairly recent MLB playoffs and a game that was close throughout, but I didn’t have much memory of. We will be perusing Game 6 of the 2015 American League Championship Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and hosting Kansas City Royals.
Kansas City arrives home for Game 6 up 3 games to 2 in the series. The Royals had taken an easy 2-0 lead at home in the first two games through the help of adequate starting pitching and an absolutely lock-down bullpen that became the prototype for successful bullpens throughout the league in future seasons. Toronto won Game 3 at home but was absolutely demolished in Game 4, 14-2, behind home runs by RF Alex Rios and 2B Ben Zobrist. The Royals looked ready to take the series after such a Game 4 shellacking. but the Blue Jays re-grouped and scored 5 runs off Royals Game 5 started Edinson Volquez. SS Troy Tulowitzki’s 2 hits and 3 RBI stood out as the Blue Jays sent the series back to KC, 7-1 was the final.
That brings us to the game in question. Game 6. Toronto starts the ace they have rented since the trade deadline, David Price. Kansas City starts the young, fiery, vibrant and sadly no longer with us, Yordano Ventura.
Price looks shaky early. He allows a solo homer in the 1st to former Tampa teammate Zobrist and another to Royals 3B Mike Moustakas in the 2nd. Conversely, Ventura comes out confident and guns blazing. After allowing a double to leadoff man Ben Revere in the first, he sets down ten Blue Jays in a row.
After the Moustakas blast, Price makes an adjustment and begins relying on his curveball more. The move pays off and he strikes out four batters in a row in the 4th and 5th innings and cruises deep into the middle innings, actually outlasting Ventura in this game after seeming unstable early.
Ventura has his streak of ten straight set down snapped by Toronto RF Jose Bautista’s solo home run in the 4th. One of the better sluggers of his time, its Bautista’s first homer of the series. From there, Ventura appears on the brink of unraveling for the rest of his outing. With his emotions on his sleeve, he stares down Tulowitzki after punching him out to end the top of the 4th then walks the first two batters of the 5th before Moustakas bails him out with a diving catch of a Josh Donaldson line drive at 3rd to end the frame.
However, Royals manager Ned Yost felt he needed just 5 innings from his starter and he gets them with a 2-1 lead intact. A 1-out double by Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion chases Ventura from the game in the 6th but the threat doesn’t come to pass as reliever Kelvin Herrera puts out the potential fire before it starts to blaze.
We pick up the action for our crunch-time breakdown in the top of the 7th. I’m embedding the YouTube video of the game below and I will provide timestamps for the action I describe so you can follow along. Feel free to watch the whole game if you are missing baseball and feel the need. It is what I did, and I enjoyed every minute. Being able to skip commercial breaks is a god-send. Without further delay though, enjoy!
- The Royals stick with Herrera in the 7th (2:13:40). He’s the workhorse of their bullpen in this series, pitching more than any other reliever and doing so without allowing a single run. He sets the Blue Jays down in order, the only notable occurrence being bad body language from Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin as he flies out to start the frame. This act is a carryover from how he reacted when nearly colliding with teammate 3B Josh Donaldson while trying to catch a pop-up to end the previous half inning (2:10:20).
- Price returns for the bottom of the 7th and allows a lead off single to Moustakas the at bats following the single are a pivotal point in this game (2:26:10).
- Royals catcher Salvador Perez smashes a deep drive to left that the nifty-fielding Revere leaps for and catches against the wall. He collects himself and rifles the ball back into the cutoff man. They nearly double up Moustakas in the process if only first baseman Chris Colabello is able to squeeze the return throw to the base. The play is quite the swing of emtions. If Revere doesn’t make a phenomenal play then Perez has a double and Moustakas probably scores. If Colabello holds onto the throw at first there would be 2 outs and no one on. Instead the outcome is somewhere in the middle. 1 out, and a man still on first.
- (2:30:54) Royals LF Alex Gordon then hits a hard grounder to second baseman Ryans Goins’s left that he fields with a dive. His only play is to first. Moustakas advances to second, but there are now 2 outs.
- Price is removed after this third hard hit balls in the inning. He nearly makes it through the order 3 full times and on the 3rd time through the Royals only go 1 for 8.
- (2:35:54) Aaron Sanchez enters in relief, one of the few relievers Toronto manager John Gibbons trusts. He hasn’t allowed a run in the playoffs but immediately allows a rocket of a single to left to 9-hitter Alex Rios. For all the defensive effort in the inning, Moustakas still scores. 3-1 Royals. Insurance run acheived.
- Removing Price is dubious in my eyes. Like I said, the Royals were 1 for 8 the 3rd time through their order and Rios was the 9-hitter. The other side of the coin is that Rios had hit the ball well in his last at bat and according to the broadcast had good historical numbers against Price. Was it the right call? That’s hard to judge, but the truth is that Sanchez immediately allows the inherited runner to score.
- The inning ends however, without further damage, but during a mound visit the broadcast accidentally shows a graphic promoting Game 1 of the World Series between the Royals and Mets, even though the Royals obviously haven’t won yet (2:40:47). Earlier in the inning, broadcaster Joe Buck had slipped up and said this was going to be soon to be free agent David Price’s last time in a Toronto uniform (2:32:53). Signs that the fix is in?! Hardly. I hate people that claim sports are fixed. Its still funny though.
- Ryan Madson relieves Herrera in the top of the 8th and immediately allows a slap infield single to the left side against Revere (2:46:55). Sure, its a 3-1 lead, but the tying run now comes to the plate in the forms of Toronto’s top sluggers Donaldson (the AL MVP), Bautista and Encarnacion (the three of them combined for 120 HRs that season) again with no one out. Wade Davis, the Royals lockdown closer is warming in the pen. The broadcast repeatedly suggests going to Davis. Yost sticks with Madson.
- Madson locks up Donaldson with a 97-mph 2-seamer for strike three (2:48:10). But up comes Bautista who picks out a fastball at the top of the zone and smashes it over the left-field fence for his 2nd homer of the game (2:49:15). We are tied. Bautista hit a heck of a pitch. 96 mph and at the top of the zone, but you can see Perez wanted the ball down and away. No such luck.
- The broadcast is critical of Yost for sticking with Madson. I think its silly. Madson had allowed a mere infield single and then blew away Donaldson. If you’re that jumpy to get your closer in the game, then just bring him in to start the 8th. If not, then let your qualified set up man try to do his job. It just didn’t work out. Once again, its 3-3.
- I would have gone away from Madson after the homer though. Yost stays with him to face Encarnacion who walks (2:51:50). THEN Yost brings in Davis.
- Davis gets Colabello to pop up but a wild pitch with Tulowitzki at the plate sends Encarnacion to 2nd (2:57:40). Davis is behind 2-0 to a very good hitter with the go-ahead run on 2nd and the struggling Russell Martin on deck. Rather than walk Tulo, he battles back from a 3-1 count and strikes him out with heat on the outside corner. Great perseverance by Wade Davis, the tie is at least preserved.
- Rain had been in the forecast all night, and it finally comes. Between half innings the tarp is laid out and the game is delayed. Its a 40 minute delay in all and the suspense builds. As the tarp comes off it is 3-3 and we are entering the bottom of the 8th. During the delay Toronto manager John Gibbons is interviewed (3:06:10). He’s very straight forward in his answers including his mention of his desperation for bullpen help. He hopes the delay is short so he could allow Sanchez to continue to pitch. It isn’t. Instead he relies on closer Roberto Osuna (insert booing) upon our return.
- Royals CF Lorenzo Cain leads off and puts up an great at bat (3:46:40). He sees 8 pitches and ultimately works a walk on a full count, laying off a good slider down low. Remember, we are coming right off a rain delay and Osuna is a closer at the top of his game. It would have been all too easy to not be focused enough to put up the at bat that Cain does.
- The amazing then happens. If you only want to watch one sequence of this game, then pick this one (3:52:00). 1B and clean-up hitter Eric Hosmer singles on a line drive down the line to right. Bautista does a great job of cutting the ball off (with a bum ankle no less, we learn that in the Gibbons interview too) before it gets to the wall and holds Hosmer to a single. He also fires a strike to the infield, but there is confusion. Goins is lined up wrongly for the cutoff throw so Bautista gets the ball into Tulowitzki at 2nd base. This confusion doesn’t just allow the smart and speedy Cain to go from first to third, but he comes all the way around and scores on a single due to incredibly heads-up baserunning. The Royals steal the lead away, 4-3.
- Let me say that again, Cain scores from first on a freaking single! In the 8th inning of an elimination game! How is this play never mentioned or brought up ever? It was incredibly clutch and I completely forgot that it existed. If Derek Jeter or David Ortiz had done what Lorenzo Cain did, this play would already have its own statue at Cooperstown and national broadcasts would mention it every time any runner ever goes from first to third. Cain manufactured this run all by himself.
- (3:54:00) Turns out though that Cain would’ve scored anyway. DH Kendrys Morales singles as the next batter and the threat of a rally is on with men on first and second and still no one out, but Osuna settles down and gets Moustakas to pop out (3:57:30) and Perez to hit into a double play (3:59:10). The damage is minimized, but the Blue Jays must score to keep their season alive.
- Due to the rain delay, Royals closer Wade Davis hasn’t pitched in over an hour, but he’s back out on the mound and facing the bottom third of the Toronto order, looking to clinch a trip to the World Series for Kansas City.
- I am surprised Gibbons doesn’t pitch hit for Martin, who hasn’t gotten a hit to this point in the series, but it pays off that he bats. Martin singles to center to start the ninth (4:03:00). Dalton Pompey pinch runs for him and not only steals 2nd base (4:04:00) but also 3rd (4:07:05). The usually speedy Royals are suddenly being victimized by their own game. The tying run is on 3rd and there’s no one out.
- This all happens with Kevin Pillar at the plate, who ultimately walks (4:08:10). It looks like a mistake to bring Davis back out. With men on the corners and no one out, the Blue Jays desperately need to just put the ball in play. They have Dioner Navarro pinch hit for Goins. Navarro’s K rate is 15%, 9 percent better than Goins’s 24%. Pillar steals second and brings the go-ahead run into scoring position, but Navarro strikes out in the process (4:10:58). 1 out.
- Revere comes up and immediately gets ahead 2-0 in the count. A strike follows and then a VERY questionable fastball up and away that also gets called a strike (you be the judge, 4:13:10). Revere also fails to just put the ball in play. He strikes out on a 2-2 slider. He’s beside himself, probably both for the bad 2-1 strike call and for not executing. 2 down. The tying and go-ahead runs are still in scoring position.
- Davis still has to face AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Royals legend George Brett checks his heart rate and pulse from one of the suites in the ballpark. But the drama turns out to be no matter (4:16:10). Donaldson grounds one to Moustakas. The opportunity to score by just putting the ball in play has come to pass. Mous fires across the diamond to Hosmer and the Royals are going to the World Series. 4-3 is our final.
Toronto goes 0 for 12 with Runners in Scoring Position for the game. That, along with the controversy involved in Moustakas’s homer in the 2nd which was reviewed and upheld, Toronto’s inability to double-up Moustakas on the phenomenal play Revere made at the wall in left, and Cain’s incredible base-running are the keys to this game. The Royals simply executed better than the Blue Jays, despite the great efforts of David Price, who would leave in the off-season for Boston.
Speaking of pitching, the game misses Yordano Ventura. I had forgotten how fun it was to watch his personality play baseball. I loved his competitive spirit in this game, even if he hadn’t entirely harnessed it yet. What a shame that he was never able to have the opportunity to meet his potential.
I only vaguely remembered little parts of this game from back in 2015, and I can’t understand why. In a way I’m thankful now because I was riveted throughout. This game is now an instant classic to me. I consider the Royals a division rival and I still found it great. Why I don’t hear about this game more and especially Cain’s base-running, is beyond me.
I thought for sure the Royals style of play was going to be the wave of the future. With teams resorting to the shift more and more I thought for sure the counter-move would be to put the ball in play and wreak havoc on the shift with speed and good base-running. It turns out I was completely wrong. Teams just try to hit the ball over the fence along with the shift. What did get preserved from this Royals team though was their bullpen, who’s only runs allowed in the series came on the 2-run bomb Madson allowed to Bautista.
This game reminds me of a time not too long ago, but long ago enough for me to be nostalgic. The game was played slightly differently and there were enough names that are now gone or in different places that it made me smile to remember (in fact, I don’t think a single one of the players I mentioned one either side is still with one of these teams). I will leave you with this, take the time some time to pick out a game you wouldn’t normal think about from sports history and give it a shot. If you haven’t done this yet, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with how much the simple pleasure of the memories might bring.