KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Magnus Carlsen and Anatoly Karpov couldn't make it to Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, so Ned Yost and Bruce Bochy were in charge of the chess match.
And much to the shock of Twitter geniuses everywhere, it was Yost who got to yell "checkmate," among other catchy sayings.
It was a tie game, 2-2, in the sixth inning when the bullpen gate opened for the first time. Out of the Kansas City Royals' bullpen popped everyone's favorite triple-digit rocket launcher, Kelvin Herrera. And the October world chess championships were on.
Ten hitters and five waves for the bullpen later, the Royals were on their way to winning themselves an actual World Series game, for the first time in 10,585 days. And Ned Yost had just done to Bruce Bochy what he did to Buck Showalter in the previous round of this tournament: outmaneuver a manager whom the rest of the planet had deemed to be the superior tactician. How 'bout that?
Except afterward, with his Royals' Series-evening 7-2 win over the San Francisco Giants in the books, Yost had a confession to make, before anyone could induct him into either Mensa or the World Grandmasters Hall of Fame:
"After the sixth inning," Yost said, happily, "my thinking is done."
That, of course, is because at that point in the game, Ned Yost is a man taking a multiple-choice quiz with no wrong answers.
He has a guy with a 1.41 ERA (Herrera) hanging around his pen, ready to devour the sixth and seventh innings of any critical October baseball game. He has a guy with a 1.00 ERA (Wade Davis) ready to overpower whatever hitters make the mistake of showing up at home plate in the eighth. And then he has a closer with a 1.44 ERA, who was just named the AL reliever of the year (Greg Holland), ready to complete the domination in the ninth.
And face it. That's totally ridiculous. Totally.
"Hey, just tonight," said the Giants' Jeremy Affeldt, "their seventh-inning guy [Herrera] came in throwing 101 [miles per hour]. I mean, 101. That's usually a closer."
Right. Usually. Everywhere else in the baseball universe maybe. But in this game, we got to witness an important distinction between Ned Yost's bullpen and Bruce Bochy's bullpen. It was the difference in this game, and it could easily turn out to be the difference in this World Series.
Yost basically has three closers to maneuver his way through the late innings, which, by his own admission, makes strategic late-game thinking optional.
Bochy, on the other hand, has to play the always-precarious mix-and-match game. And as brilliant as he normally is at playing that game, there are going to be nights when the mix doesn't fit the match.
And this night was one of them.
"Those are the matchups we were trying to get," Bochy found himself saying after using five pitchers to try to maneuver through a disastrous, five-run sixth inning. "It just didn't work out."
Yeah, you might say that. Those five runs? They were the most allowed by any team in any World Series inning in four years, since the Texas Rangers let the Giants hang a seven on the board in Game 2 of the 2010 World Series.
And those five pitchers? They were the most used by any team in any World Series inning since Game 7, 1985, aka the last time the Royals won a World Series game before this night, when the St. Louis Cardinals ripped through Bill Campbell, Jeff Lahti, Rick Horton, Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch in the fifth inning of the game that ended their season. And wow, what were the odds of that?
But the question for the masses to debate on this fateful evening was this: Did Bochy put the wrong pieces in the wrong spaces on the chessboard, or was it just one of those nights? Fascinating question, isn't it?
"I think it's baseball, you know?" said Affeldt, the fifth Giants pitcher of that inning. "I think it can happen in these situations. ... And this just happened. They hit a homer with guys on. And they hit a double with guys on. And that's how a five-run inning happens."
But a five-run inning also happens when the manager sends out his starting pitcher (Jake Peavy) to go through the lineup for the third time, and trouble ensues immediately.
Lorenzo Cain dumped a single into short center to lead off the inning. Peavy was then allowed to face the left-handed-hitting Eric Hosmer and walked him. As Bochy headed for the mound to get Peavy, Kauffman Stadium rocked into a state of sheer pandemonium.
Asked later if he'd been tempted to use one of his left-handed bullpen bullets, Javier Lopez, to face Hosmer, Bochy shook his head.
Peavy had just retired 10 straight hitters, so, in the manager's opinion, "he really was throwing the ball well. So no, I can't say I was going to make a change there because he gave up a bloop hit."
But once Bochy's bullpen parade began, he couldn't seem to make it stop. He waved for right-hander Jean Machi to try to induce a double play from Billy Butler. But Machi, who seems to have run out of premium unleaded after a season in which he held right-handed hitters to a .186 average, fell behind Butler 2-0, then served up a go-ahead single. Royals 3, Giants 2, Bochy heading for the mound one more time.
It was at that point that he went to Lopez and got a fly ball out from Alex Gordon. But the manager then went back to the chessboard and waved for rookie smokeballer Hunter Strickland. This time, the only smoke he got wound up pouring out of Strickland's ears.
Salvador Perez thumped a 97-mph cheeseball up the gap in left-center for a two-run double. Royals 5, Giants 2. Then, two pitches later, Strickland served up a waist-high, 98-mph appetizer on the inner half to Omar Infante, who pounded it into the Royals' bullpen in left for the first home run of his 145-at-bat postseason lifetime. Royals 7, Giants 2.
We'll let ESPN colleague Jim Caple explain the madness that ensued after that, when Strickland blew a fuse, spewed a little fire at Perez and inspired the benches to clear. But all Bruce Bochy could say was "the kid threw very well [in Game 1 on Tuesday night]" and "I liked my matchups."
"I think he had the right guys in the right spots," Affeldt said. "We just happened to leave balls in spots where they could be hit."
Now, obviously, executing pitches will always be what decides these October bullpen duels. And there's no arguing with the lack of that execution by a pen that was having a great postseason until that inning. At the point Bochy waved for Machi, that Giants' relief crew had a 1.69 postseason ERA and hadn't allowed a run since Kolten Wong's walk-off homer in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, 10 days and five games earlier.
But now, contrast the way Bochy had to slalom his way through the Royals' lineup to the way the manager on the other side of the field was able to handle his own late-inning crisis.
When Ned Yost's starter, Yordano Ventura, put two runners on in the sixth, the next move required the manager to consult no spreadsheets, peruse no lineup cards and think through zero situations that might loom over the horizon.
Nope. Yost just pointed at Herrera, and the rest was simple. Herrera, who hadn't pitched in a week, marched in and blitzed his way through the sixth and seventh, firing an incredible 14 fastballs at 100 miles per hour or higher in one outing -- the most in his career. But it wasn't because his adrenaline was pumping, Herrera said. It was because of all that rest.
"If you rest," he said, "you will be more strong."
Wow, apparently. So remember that, kids. And after he was through, Davis and Holland would strike out five of the seven hitters they faced in the eighth and ninth, and the Royals' supersonic bullpen had struck again. In this postseason, Herrera, Davis and Holland have now faced 115 hitters, struck out 36 of them and allowed exactly 15 hits. Crazy.
Asked what it's like to see those three zero heroes come sprinting out of the pen, one after another, Gordon laughed, "Nice and relaxing, to tell you the truth. There really hasn't been a whole lot of stress involved when they come in the game."
Boy, no kidding. On this night, all the stress was induced by the bullpen on the other side of the field. If that continues over the next week or so, Ned Yost can fold up his chessboard -- and carry it all the way to the parade floats with him.