Royals make big statement with big inning

And we have a series! For everyone worried about a San Francisco Giants sweep, the Kansas City Royals had something to say about that. It was great to see the Royals fans enjoying a victory -- a game much more tense and exciting than the 7-2 final score indicates. As manager Ned Yost said after the game, "Our fans were just rabid. They were into the game from the first pitch. ... I don't know [how] they keep their energy going, but they sure do. It's a fun atmosphere."

If you missed it, you missed a good one.

Here are five key moments:

1. Royals take the lead in the sixth inning.

As fascinating as the top of the sixth inning was, the bottom of the sixth was even more interesting.

Jake Peavy began the inning having retired 10 in a row, as he settled down after a shaky first two innings. But there was this relevant fact to consider: The third time through the order batters had hit .323/.387/.545 against him this year, a big increase from .229 and .224 the first time through the order. No. 3 hitter Lorenzo Cain was leading off. The bullpen was quiet.

Did Bruce Bochy wait too long? It's certainly easy to second guess the way the inning unfolded, but there was second-guessing going on before the Royals rallied. But even though Peavy had retired 10 in a row, it's a stretch to say he was dealing out there -- he had just one strikeout. There was also the fact that Bochy hadn't hesitated to pull Peavy in his two previous postseason starts, once after 5⅔ innings even though he hadn't allowed a run (although he was at more than 100 pitches) and then after four innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cain hit a soft line-drive single to begin the inning and only then did the bullpen get going, but it was too late to bring in a lefty to face Eric Hosmer, who walked on a 3-2 curveball after Peavy fell behind 3-0. Bochy then turned to Jean Machi, a ground-ball specialist, to face double-play prone Billy Butler, but Machi fell behind 2-0 and Butler lined a 2-0 fastball at the knees into left field, with the speedy Cain doing his best Usain Bolt impersonation to easily score the go-ahead run.

With two runners on and ahead in the count, Butler said he was looking fastball: "The last thing he wants to do is put another guy on there to load the bases up with nobody out. So I knew he was going to attack me with a fastball. ... So sometimes it works out that way. I could hit it at somebody as well in that one, but it worked out and [I] hit it hard."

OK, so Bochy messed up, right? Well, let's keep in mind that the players get the hits and give up the hits. I do think there were two or three different ways that Bochy could have attacked the inning:

  • Bring in Machi to start the frame to face Cain, Hosmer and Butler, meaning he'd face two right-handed batters out of the first three.

  • Bring in Javier Lopez, who started warming up after the Cain hit, to face Hosmer. I'm not sure he had enough time to warm up, but keep in mind that Lopez is a true LOOGY, a guy Bochy prefers not to use against right-handed batters, so you probably don't want him facing Butler. Although if he gets Hosmer, I'd probably take the chance to let him get through Hosmer and Alex Gordon. Or you could bring in Machi to face Butler and Jeremy Affeldt to face Gordon if needed. But then you're really burning through the bullpen and it's only the sixth inning.

  • The third option would have been to use Yusmeiro Petit, who has pitched nine innings this postseason in two outings and allowed just two hits. He could have started the frame and been a candidate to go two innings to bridge the gap to Lopez, Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. On the other hand -- with the score tied and staring at the Royals' bullpen you had to have the possibility of extra innings in the back of your mind.

Anyway, it's easy to roast Bochy after the inning exploded, but it wasn't an easy inning to manage once Cain got the leadoff single.

2. The Hunter Strickland Experience.

Back to the rest of the sixth inning. After Butler's hit, Lopez came on and got Gordon on a fly ball to left. Bochy then went to the rookie right-hander Strickland, a September call-up who throws 100 mph and throws it very straight. As you can see from the stat above, hitters haven't had too much problem squaring up his heater this October. Bryce Harper tagged him for about 1,000 feet of home runs.

Anyway, Strickland threw a wild pitch and then Salvador Perez drilled a 97-mph fastball into the left-center gap for a two-run double and Omar Infante hit a 1-0 98-mph heater over the fence in left field, leading to a fracas between Strickland and Perez. As former major leaguers Curt Schilling and Greg Swindell tweeted, Stickland simply lost his cool.

"I think it was just frustration on his part," Bochy said. "He's a really intense kid. That's probably an area he needs to show some poise. ... These are some things we'll to talk to him about." We can probably assume we've seen the last of Strickland in an important situation, however. I'm not sure if Bochy can go to him again in a tight situation.

3. Kelvin Herrera gets out of a jam in the sixth inning.

Before all that happened, Herrera rescued Yordano Ventura and Yost by getting out of a two-on, one-out jam. I thought Yost waited a batter too long to go to his vaunted bullpen -- he has supreme faith in Ventura, that's for sure -- but Herrera entered and got Brandon Belt to fly out to left and Mike Morse to ground out to shortstop, Alcides Escobar making a nice play on a tough hop. The final score of 7-2 doesn't tell the story of how big those two outs were.

In the end, give Yost credit for going to one of his three ace relievers before the seventh inning. It's not exactly Dick Howser using six bench players in the ninth of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, but it's an important improvement from the way Yost managed the wild-card game.

4. Top of the fourth looms big. Sort of.

The inning began when Cain couldn't run down Pablo Sandoval's double to deep center -- a catchable ball, but with the wall looming, a tough play. Brandon Belt then lined a double into the right-field corner to tie the game. Then came a play you don't see too often -- in fact, Doug Kern of ESPN Stats & Information confirmed that we've never seen it in World Series play.

Fly ball to right field, not really all that deep, Norichika Aoki lets loose with a throw toward third base but it was off target, the ball bounced away from cutoff man Escobar, and Belt took a few steps too many off second, only to get caught as Ventura picked up the loose ball and fired to second to get Belt.

Just your routine 9-6-1-4 double play (although it wasn't technically ruled a double play since Aoki's throw was offline). A bad mistake by Belt and it cost the Giants an important out in a tie game.

5. Gregor Blanco leads off the game with a home run.

I looked it up, so trust me: Blanco has hit a ball 394 feet before. Just never one in such stunning fashion. Blanco hit the 19th leadoff home run in World Series history and the first since Dustin Pedroia in 2007. Considering Blanco had just 16 home runs in his career in more than 2,000 at-bats, it certainly was an unexpected jolt of power for the Giants.

However, a couple notes here. Four of Blanco's home runs this season came from Aug. 24 on, after he had become a regular in place of the injured Angel Pagan, so he had shown a bit more power of late. He also showed he can occasionally turn on a good fastball, like he did on Aug. 24, when he hit a Stephen Strasburg 95-mph heater out in right-center.

The other key: Ventura throws a lot of fastballs. I noted before the game how he had increased his fastball percentage from 68 percent in the regular season to 73 and 78 percent in his two previous playoff starts. He threw Blanco eight straight fastballs. Blanco fouled off three of them and then drilled the eighth one, a 98-mph heater that was middle up.