NEW YORK -- When I think of the Kansas City Royals, I go to of one of my earliest baseball memories: Chris Chambliss hitting the home run to win the 1976 ALCS for the New York Yankees. I think of Freddie Patek crying in the dugout after another playoff loss and of George Brett going yard off Goose Gossage to finally exorcise those Yankee demons in 1980. That team lost the World Series, but the 1985 team, with a few aging leftovers -- Brett, Frank White, Hal McRae -- and a young rotation led by 21-year-old stud Bret Saberhagen won that infamous Game 6 and then Game 7 to finally give Kansas City a World Series title.
I think of my old friends Rob and Rany, who for so long wrote a blog on the Royals in the midst of disastrous season after disastrous season after unthinkably horrid season and somehow clung to the hope that the Royals would one day rebuild. I think of another old friend, Brad, who grew up in North Dakota rooting for those Brett teams and remained a die-hard fan through all those lean years. I think of my aunt, who didn't care one iota about sports until moving to Lawrence, Kansas, a couple years ago. Last year, like everyone in the region, she started watching the Royals. She had a stroke in the middle of the World Series last year, and all she remembers from that time are the games on the TV at the hospital. I had dinner with her before Game 1 of this year's World Series. She's doing great. Mike Moustakas is her favorite player.
I think of Curt Nelson, the director of the Royals' Hall of Fame. I had a fun talk with him back in Kansas City. "The best thing about what's happened the past two years," he told me, "is that a new generation of fans will have their memories. I already have mine. Now they get some of their own."
Yes, they do. This World Series was certainly closer than the five-game length would indicate. In the end, it played out exactly to each team's strengths and weaknesses: the Royals' bullpen, speed and defense versus the Mets' bullpen depth and mediocre defense that turned embarrassingly awful in these games.
Once again, the Royals rallied from a two-run deficit. It was, remarkably, their seventh comeback win in this year's playoffs. They were 6-5 in the postseason when trailing after five innings. In this game, they trailed after eight.
The 2015 Royals are, indeed, absolutely relentless. Here is the Top 5 of Game 5:
1. Christian Colon delivers the go-ahead hit. With one out in the 12th and pinch runner Jarrod Dyson at third -- running for Salvador Perez, who had led off the inning with a bloop single down the right-field line -- Colon lined a 1-2 slider into left field for a base hit. It was his first plate appearance since the final game of the regular season.
The Mets fell apart from there -- Daniel Murphy made another error -- but Colon added his name alongside the likes of Dane Iorg and Darryl Motley as Royals heroes forever.
2. Eric Hosmer's mad dash. This is why we love this sport. Throw out your analytics and your triple-slash lines and your WAR and your second-guessing and all of that. When the World Series is on the line and it's a tough battle with close, grind-'em-out games, it comes down to making plays at the game's critical moments. This is when we form those memories that stick in our minds that are already cluttered with baseball.
That, ultimately, is what the Royals did and what the Mets failed to do. Hosmer stood on third base in the ninth inning as the tying run, with one out, the infield in and Jeurys Familia on in relief of Matt Harvey trying to get this World Series back to Kansas City. Perez hit a little chopper to David Wright's left, Wright fielded it, took a quick glance at Hosmer and threw to first. Hosmer then made a dash for home plate. First baseman Lucas Duda turned and made a wild throw, and Hosmer scored the tying run.
Did Hosmer make a smart play? A risky play? A bad play that simply happened to work out? A good throw from Duda -- as you can see in the Tweet below -- would clearly nail Hosmer for the game-ending out, and then we're headed back to Kansas City for Game 6 and asking Hosmer about his bone-headed decision. But Hosmer made a play, and Duda didn't, and that's what we'll stash away in our brains. A good defensive first baseman has the instinct to make a good throw there. In a way, it was an ultimate Royals play and an example of their baserunning that hammered the Mets in this game.
For the Mets, it was another defensive play not made: Yoenis Cespedes' not catching Alcides Escobar's fly ball in Game 1, Wright's error that led to the winning run in that game, Murphy's critical error in Game 4.
Before the game, Ned Yost was asked if he feels fated that things are on his side. "Yeah, I do. I really do," he said.
3. Terry Collins leaves Matt Harvey in for the ninth.
Every Mets fan in attendance would have left Harvey in to start the ninth. It was his game, he was at 102 pitches, he had a two-run lead, and sometimes you have to remind yourself, as Tom Kelly said of leaving Jack Morris in for the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, "It's just a baseball game." Except Morris threw another shutout frame and got the win when the Minnesota Twins scored. Harvey couldn't finish his game.
Just like in Game 4, give Lorenzo Cain credit for a well-earned walk. He took a 95 mph fastball for a ball, another fastball for a strike and a changeup on the corner for strike two. The 1-2 pitch was a fastball up high, 94 mph, when Harvey had been 96 and 97 much of the game. Cain fouled off a slider, took a 96 mph fastball up and away and then took ball four on a slider low and away. Cain isn't the most patient of hitters; that's not Royals baseball. With the season on the line, Cain brought out a new bag of tricks. But it was a Royals-type plate appearance with that two-strike foul ball to stay alive. Contact, baby, just make contact.
Here's a crucial piece of information: Harvey got 15 swings and misses in the game, a much more dominant effort than Game 1, of course (in which he had only eight). But he had only one of those 15 after the fifth inning. Collins wanted to take Harvey out after eight, and Harvey talked his way into staying in the game. "I let my heart get in the way of my gut," Collins said after the game. "It's my fault."
Like the fans who gave Harvey a standing ovation when he came out for the ninth, I would have kept him in the game, so no second-guessing there. But after the walk to Cain? That you can second guess, with lefties Hosmer and Moustakas coming up for the fourth time, the pitch count up over 100 and a regular-season platoon split for Harvey 132 points worse against lefties. I wouldn't destroy Collins here -- of course, it's easy to second guess after what happened -- but all the signals were pointing to bringing Familia in after the walk.
Anyway, Cain stole second on the first pitch, and then Hosmer lined a 94 mph double over Michael Conforto's head deep into the left-field corner for an RBI double, and that was it for Harvey, destined for a no-decision that should have been so much more.
4. Luke Hochevar. It seems as if every World Series champion has one of its non-closer relievers step up and get big outs. Remember Jeremy Affeldt throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the San Francisco Giants in Game 7? Hochevar was that guy this year for the Royals. He threw two scoreless innings to get the win and finish a postseason in which he threw 10 2/3 scoreless innings. What a story: The Royals kept him in the rotation forever during the bad years, and he got lit up season after season. They finally moved him to the bullpen, then he had Tommy John surgery, then he came back this year. Well-earned victory, Luke.
5. Salvador Perez, MVP. Of course. He signed with the Royals when he was 16. He fouled out to end last year's World Series with the tying run 90 feet away. He catches more innings than any catcher in baseball, and many consider him the heart and soul of the Royals. He hit .364/.391/.455 in this World Series, with three runs and two RBIs, and his single in the 12th inning started everything.
But man, can we just give a free car to everyone on the team?