Royals grind out four-run fifth to take command
KANSAS CITY -- Alcides Escobar wanted to bunt because he thought it was the right thing to do. It was the fifth inning. There were runners on first and second with none out, his Royals had yet to score off Jacob deGrom and were trailing by a run. So he squared around twice, fouled off two fastballs, then hit the line-drive single that sparked the four-run inning that set up a 7-1 win in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday.
Typical Escobar, the man with a .298 career on-base percentage who hardly makes an out in the postseason.
Typical Royals, who seem to capitalize on every little opportunity, no matter how bizarre they might seem.
"Incredible," Escobar said, his team winning back-to-back games at Kauffman Stadium to take a 2-0 lead on the Mets in this best-of-seven Series.
"With Esky, he's never out of it," Royals left fielder Alex Gordon added. "Even when he has two strikes, he can put the ball in play and make something happen. The way he's swinging right now, something good is going to happen."
It took one inning for deGrom to match the amount of runs he had surrendered in 24 previous postseason frames this month. He threw 35 pitches, faced nine batters, scattered five hits and issued a walk. By the end of the night -- which finished with three runs in the bottom of the eighth -- Kansas City had notched its 10th inning of at least three runs in these playoffs.
Gordon worked a walk and Alex Rios singled to start the bottom of the fifth. Escobar followed with his RBI single, Ben Zobrist moved two runners over with a hard groundout to the right side and Lorenzo Cain lined out. Then came a two-out, two-run single by Eric Hosmer, who hit the walk-off sacrifice fly in the 14th inning of Game 1. Then two more singles by Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas, giving the Royals a 4-1 lead Johnny Cueto wouldn't dare to give up.
"Off a guy like deGrom, you know anytime you've got him on the ropes, anytime you have opportunities with guys on base, you've got to make the most out of it," said Hosmer, who entered batting .308/.374/.476 with runners on base this season.
"I just think that, as a team, we all realize how important it is and you just really see everybody bear down, put together good at-bats and fight off tough pitchers' pitches, and hope for him to leave it out over the plate so we can do some damage on it."
Escobar was never told to bunt, but he felt a responsibility to. He's the Royals' leadoff hitter and had laid down 11 sacrifice bunts during the regular season, second most among non-pitchers.
But deGrom's fastball comes hard and tends to rise. The first one started on the outside corner, came up towards Escobar's shoulder and was skied off the roof of the Mets' dugout. The second one sailed up and away, skinned the bottom of Escobar's barrel and bounced off Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
"Just put the ball in play," Escobar told himself as he stepped out of the batter's box to collect himself. "Just put the ball in play."
Escobar got a slider out over the plate, dumped it into shallow center field to plate his team's first run, and then suddenly the Royals went off. It ultimately marked the first time since Sept. 15 that deGrom had allowed more than three runs, awfully strange for a lights-out starting pitcher who held opposing hitters to a .247/.288/.340 slash line the third time through the order.
As the night went on, though, the Royals' swings began to get better. They didn't muster a hit through the first three innings, but they got three baserunners on in the fourth and didn't let up in the fifth.
"I felt we all had good at-bats off him," Cain said. "As a whole, as a team, we put good swings all night."
It was only the latest sign of how dangerous a team can be when it consistently puts the ball in play. The Royals struck out only 15.9 percent of the time during the regular season, far lower than anybody else in baseball. deGrom strikes out nearly 10 batters per nine innings, but he managed only three swings and misses among his 94 pitches.
None came against the four-seam fastball, a pitch opposing hitters slugged an unseemly .321 against this season.
The Royals wore on him.
"You put the ball in play, they say good things happen," Royals starter Chris Young said. "Our guys seem to do that. It's just a tribute to the hitters we have."