Royals finish what they started in epic Game 1

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It started the way no World Series game had started in 112 years, with the shock of an inside-the-park home run on the very first pitch of the bottom of the first inning.

It ended the way so many of these Kansas City Royals October classics have seemed to end these past two years:

With one more heart-pounding, late-inning moment. With one more game-winning wave of the bat. With one more chance for 40,320 occupants of Kauffman Stadium to ask themselves, "Did that really happen?"

But in between, what we had here, as Tuesday night melted into Wednesday morning, was a World Series Game 1 unlike any of the 110 Series openers that came before it.

It was 5 hours and 9 minutes of magic and madness. It was Royals 5, New York Mets 4, in 14 wild and crazy innings. And if this is what the rest of this 2015 World Series has in store for us, we can guarantee we'll all be talking about it for the next century. Assuming we can sneak in a few naps somewhere between now and 2115.

"I've been saying this the whole night: This game's going to show you something new every single day," said Royals pitcher Danny Duffy, after his team's latest, greatest night on the October stage. "And especially this team, with what we've been doing. To win the way we won, we were wigging out, man. It was a pretty cool way to get the World Series started."

As he spoke, with the clock ticking toward 1 a.m. local time, the men around him were still having trouble digesting it all. And who could blame them?

They had just been part of a game featuring 36 players, 13 pitchers firing 417 pitches, a five-minute TV power-failure delay, a game-changing error that almost evoked the ghost of Bill Buckner, a game-tying ninth-inning homer off a closer (Jeurys Familia) who hadn't blown a save in over 12 weeks and a late-inning bullpen duel between the oldest pitcher ever to lose a World Series game (Bartolo Colon) and the second 6-foot-10 emergency reliever in World Series history (Chris Young).

So when it was over, in the clubhouse of the winners, there was elation. And there was exhaustion. And it was hard to say which of those forces was more powerful.

"What time is it, like 1 o'clock?" yawned Lorenzo Cain. "So my bed is calling my name."

But we can only imagine that when Cain's head hit the pillow, it had to hit him that what he had been part of, on this night, was something special, something unforgettable. And maybe we can sum it up this way:

Before this amazing evening, the Royals had played 7,546 games in franchise history -- regular season and postseason. But they had never, ever played a game in which their first hitter of the day slashed an inside-the-park homer and their last hitter of the day was a walk-off hero.

Well, it happened in this game. In Game 1 of the World Series. Because, well, baseball happened. It happened to the most unorthodox leadoff hitter in baseball, Alcides Escobar, who smoked the first pitch he saw toward deep left-center field, slicing through the early-evening mist, descending to a spot where neither Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes nor left fielder Michael Conforto was sure whose ball it was to catch.

So naturally, neither of them caught it. And when it caromed off Cespedes' leg and hopped along the warning track, Escobar motored around the bases in 15 seconds flat, with the first inside-the-park homer in a World Series game since good old George "Mule" Haas hit one for the Philadelphia A's in 1929. And it was the first inside-the-park homer surrendered to the leadoff batter in the first inning since Patsy Dougherty of the Boston Americans accomplished the feat in 1903 during the second World Series game ever played.

"I think I've never seen that before," Escobar said later, nearly as breathless as he was when he crossed home plate. "First game of the World Series. First pitch of the game. Inside-the-park home run. That's crazy."

But if he thought that was crazy, hey, that was kind of fitting, because there were five more hours of craziness to follow. And no one was more grateful for all five hours of it than Eric Hosmer, the man who would finally end this marathon with the first walk-off sacrifice fly in a World Series since Jerry Willard hit one for the 1991 Atlanta Braves.

One minute, he was making a crushing eighth-inning error that allowed what looked like the winning run to score. (And you trivia fans will want to know that it just happened to be the first World Series error that let in a go-ahead run, in the eighth inning or later, since Buckner's fabled, life-changing E3 during Game 6 in 1986 against -- right you are -- the Mets.)

But the next minute, Hosmer's friend and teammate Alex Gordon was giving him a shot at redemption with a stunning game-tying homer off Jeurys Familia in the ninth. And when Gordon's shot disappeared over the center-field fence, "I was the happiest person in the stadium, I think," Hosmer said.

When Gordon hopped back into the dugout, Hosmer marched up and just threw his arms around his longtime buddy.

"I had no words," Hosmer said later, with a grateful chuckle. "All I could tell him was, 'I just want to hug you right now.' That's why he's my hero. That's why he's a lot of people's hero right now in Kansas City."

But because of that home run, there was still a time, a place, an opportunity for Hosmer to become a hero himself on this night. And that, he said, "is the beauty of this game. You always get another opportunity."

Hosmer's chance would come more than an hour and a half later, though. As he strode toward the plate on the wrong side of midnight, the bases were loaded, his heart was thumping and the 40,320 paying customers around him hadn't remembered to sit down for the past five innings. Not for a single pitch. It was quite a sight -- and sound -- to behold.

Escobar had led off the 14th by reaching base on a David Wright throwing error. Then Ben Zobrist moved the winning run to third with a single through the right side. And when the Mets intentionally walked Cain to load the bases for Hosmer, the K felt ready to explode.

Asked to describe the message he was hearing from that little voice in his head as he wriggled into the box, Hosmer replied: "It's time for you to do your part."

"Obviously, it came down to me right there," he said. "And I was the reason that run came in [in the eighth inning] in the first place, to let them go ahead. So that's what I was thinking: 'It's just time to do your part.'"

Sixty feet away was a pitcher, Colon, who hadn't issued a bases-loaded walk in four years. So Hosmer knew he would have to make this happen, because Colon wouldn't gift wrap it for him.

The count ran to 2-and-2. Hosmer backed out of the box, took a brief stroll to compose himself, adjusted his batting gloves, tapped his spikes, then dug in, wheeled his bat and waited, as the rising decibel level swirled around him.

Colon served up a fifth straight fastball, waist-high, in on the hands. Hosmer lofted it into the Missouri night, took one step, then stood in place to watch it soar toward deep right field. He flipped his bat, turned toward his dugout, pointed at the teammates who had made this moment possible and waited for the celebration to come thundering his way.

Asked if he could ever recall unfurling a bat flip after a sac fly before, he said, "No. No. No. No. No. Never. But if it's a World Series game and you're going to walk it off, I guess that's when it's called for."

Heck, why not? It was 12:18 a.m., Jubilation Daylight Time. The longest Game 1 of any World Series in history had just ended. The Royals had just come from at least two runs behind to win for the fifth time in this postseason. And they'd found a way to win one more October classic. Somehow. So stay tuned. Who knows what they might have in store next?

"Yeah, we definitely know how to find our way into some crazy games," Hosmer said. "And we definitely know how to make it exciting."