Crazy stuff happens in October. Ever noticed that? For instance:
The team that lost the World Series was the team that always seemed to be winning. ... Whereas the team that won the World Series was the team that apparently decided holding a lead before the eighth inning was overrated. ... Not to mention ...
The most dominant slugger of the 2015 postseason was a man who headed into October with approximately the same career home run ratio as (we kid you not) Freddy Galvis. ... And, lest we forget, even a catcher tossing a baseball back to the pitcher suddenly ceased to be routine in this particular nuttiness-laden postseason.
So this is where we get to relive all that nuttiness -- via the Strange But True Postseason Feats of 2015.
Strangest But Truest Champions of the Year
You'd think that in order to win the World Series, it would be helpful to hold a lead once in a while. But the team that actually did win the World Series, those lovable Kansas City Royals, clearly seemed to think that was optional. So how'd they wind up riding on those parade floats? Here's the Strangest But Truest part of their story:
The Royals played 53 innings in this World Series. They held a lead after only 13 of them. That sounds like a recipe for getting swept. So instead, naturally, the Royals won in five games. But here's our advice if they have any ideas about doing this again next year: Don't try that at home! Want to guess how many teams had ever won a five-game World Series while holding a lead for that few innings? NONE, of course, according to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau.
But even if the Royals were thinking about winning in six or seven next year, it's still not a good idea. You know how many other teams have won a World Series of any length despite leading after that few innings? Elias could only find one -- Jeff Conine's 1997 Marlins. That team also led for a mere 13 innings. Then again, it had to go to extra innings in Game 7 to get the win.
Can we have a moment of sympathy for that team K.C. was playing, those New York Mets? Based on sheer arithmetic, the Mets should have been the ones jumping up and down. After all, they led in every game of this World Series. They even led in the eighth inning or later in four of them. If all World Series games were seven innings instead of nine, they'd have been the team that won in five. Unfortunately, they were required by the rules to keep playing. And that didn't work out so well.
So the Royals rampaged back to win three different games in which they trailed in the eighth inning or later. And how many teams have ever done that in the same World Series? Right you are: Zero.
Or maybe this would put that late-inning magic in better perspective: The Royals won as many games after trailing in the eighth or later of this World Series as the 10 teams that played in the previous five World Series combined! In those five World Series, the clubs that led in the eighth or later went 24-3. Uh, not this year.
By the way, we should probably mention that no team had lost even TWO games it led, in the eighth inning or later, in the same World Series since Byung-Hyun Kim started serving up late-night gopherballs for those Arizona Diamondbacks in Yankee Stadium in 2001. But mostly, we just mentioned that because we felt like typing the name, "Byung-Hyun Kim."
And in case Byung-Hyun is still reading, he might be interested to know that the Mets led after almost twice as many innings (24) in the World Series as the Royals -- and lost. Well, friends, that's just about impossible. Before this year, Elias says, the most innings any team had ever led on its way to losing a five-game (or four-game) World Series was 15 (by Placido Polanco's 2006 Tigers). And the Mets managed to lose despite leading after 24. My goodness. How the heck did that happen?
Well, it happened because all the Royals did in this postseason was set their alarms for the sixth inning -- and then wreak havoc. Think about this: They won 11 games in this postseason. They trailed in the sixth inning (or later) in six of them!
But, of course, they did that sort of thing all year, right? Wrong! The Royals' winning percentage in the postseason, when they entered the sixth inning trailing, was a ridiculous .545 (6-5). The Royals' winning percentage when they entered the sixth inning trailing during the season: .172 (11-53). That's just nuts, don't you think?
Have we mentioned that the Royals seemed to have some sort of fondness for those late innings? Heck, they considered the first six innings to be pretty much irrelevant, apparently. Check out that spread of runs scored by innings!
Wow. No wonder those teams they played kept asking themselves: "What just happened?"
And you know that expression, "No deficit was too large?" That one applied, too. Seven times this postseason, the Royals won games in which they trailed by AT LEAST two runs. Seven times. The old record was five, by the 1996 Yankees. Does this stuff blow your mind, too, or is it just us?
Now here come two final things you have to remember: First off, the Royals did this the hard way -- one humongous hit at a time. How many balls did they hit in the entire World Series that left the park? Exactly one, by Alex Gordon, in the ninth inning of Game 1. And that's it. But we should add: Excellent timing!
And here's the other thing you have to remember: Besides this juggernaut, only two other teams in history had ever won a World Series the way the Royals did in Game 5 -- by finding themselves at least two runs behind in the ninth inning or later of a clinching game and then roaring back to win. Hopefully, your great-grandfather filled you in on those two, since they happened in 1929 (A's) and 1939 (Yankees).
So that's how they did it. We witnessed it with our own eyeballs. We're still not sure how it was possible. But we're pretty sure it had something to do with the fact that, along the way, they unfurled their ...
Five Strangest But Truest Royals Magic Tricks
Remember the Strange But True ninth inning of the final game of the World Series? Remember Eric Hosmer making his fabled, crazed dash for home to score the tying run on a "routine" ground ball to third? It's not like you see THAT every October (or November). The last time a team scored the tying run in the ninth inning or later of a World Series game -- on an infield out -- was Game 7, 1960. Yogi Berra hit the ground ball. Mickey Mantle scored the run. How cool was that?
Remember the guy who singled in the Strange But True winning run in the 12th inning of that final game? He's going to make an awesome Mike & Mike trivia answer some day. It was -- who else? -- backup infielder Christian Colon. And naturally, before that hit, he hadn't even made it into the batter's box, let alone recorded a life-changing World Series hit, in FOUR WEEKS. He drove in zero runs in the ninth inning or later all season. And he'd never had an extra-inning RBI in any regular-season game in his career. But now he has had two postseason at-bats in his life. One was a game-tying, 12th-inning hit in the 2014 wild-card game. The other was a game-winning, 12th-inning hit in the 2015 World Series. Is he the ultimate Strange But True Royal, or what?
Remember the Strange But True way this World Series started? With Alcides Escobar chugging out an inside-the-park homer on the first pitch the Royals saw in the entire World Series? Well, holy schmoly. It was the first inside-the-park homer in a World Series game since 1929. It was the first inside-the-parker to lead off the first inning of a World Series game since the second Series game ever played, in 1903. And then there's this: This game later ended on a Hosmer walk-off sac fly. It was the 7,547th game in Royals franchise history -- regular season and postseason. Guess how many began with their leadoff hitter slashing an inside-the-park homer and their last hitter of the day turning into a walk-off hero? Yep. The correct answer would be none.
Remember the Strange But True way the Royals even got to the World Series? With Lorenzo Cain firing up his turbines in the eighth inning of American League Championship Series Game 6 and motoring all the way home from FIRST base. On a single. To score the winning run. Wow. As breathtaking as that was, though, it wasn't even the first time Cain had scored from first on a single in this postseason. He also did it in the last game of the Division Series. Now wrap your brain around this: Only three times in the entire regular season did any team score the way Cain scored the run that clinched the ALCS. No outs, man on first, comes all the way around to score on a single. But it felt like just another day in the life of those Strange But True Royals. Unbelievable.
And, finally, remember the Royals' greatest Strange But True October comeback of them all? Down four in the eighth in Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston. Then they put up five in the eighth and two in the ninth to force a Game 5? Well, if that one looked kinda familiar, do you have any recollection of that 2014 AL wild-card game? Right. The one in which the Royals trailed by four runs in the eighth inning of another postseason elimination game and found a way to win? So how many other teams have ever had a comeback like that in a postseason game that would have sent them home for the winter? Zero. And, as loyal tweeter Matt McMullen reminds us, the Royals have now had two of them -- in back-to-back postseasons. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the stuff that Strange But True Feats of the Year columns are made of. Oh, that and also ... World Series rings.
Strangest But Truest Postseason Paths of the Year
The journey to October begins on crisp February mornings. But when teams dream those October dreams on those spring training mornings, we have a hunch they don't envision trying to make it into the postseason by doing stuff like this ...
The Blue Jays went 35 games in a row without a save -- and still made the playoffs.
The Blue Jays also had a losing record as late as July 28 -- and still made the playoffs.
The Rangers had a minus-42 run differential (and a losing record) as late as Aug. 13 -- and still made the playoffs.
Even more amazing, the Rangers were the last team in baseball to win two games in a row (took them all the way until May 5) -- and still made the playoffs.
Possibly even more amazing than that, on Oct. 3, the Rangers blew a four-run lead in the ninth when they had a chance to clinch their division -- and still made the playoffs.
The Astros went 22 games in a row in August and September without winning two in a row -- and still made the playoffs.
The Dodgers went 42 consecutive innings without scoring a run on the road -- and still made the playoffs.
The Pirates had a losing record against every team in their division -- and still made the playoffs.
The Mets scored fewer runs, from Opening Day through July, than any team in baseball -- and still made the World Series.
The Royals, who obviously didn't want to break out their late-inning domination too early in the year, were the last team in baseball with a walk-off win (finally did that on July 3) -- and still won the World Series.
The Mets and Dodgers both got no-hit twice this year -- and still made the playoffs. But at least they had company. There were six no-hitters thrown against National League teams this year. And how many of them were against teams that made the playoffs? Every stinking one of them. Of course!
Strangest But Truest October Bombardier of the Year
For eight years, we could see that Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy had a highly useful talent for the always invaluable bat-meets-ball portion of baseball. But one thing we never figured we'd see was this same Daniel Murphy spending the first couple of weeks of October reminding us of George H. Bambino Ruth.
Don't ask us how this stuff happens. If baseball made more sense than that, you'd never get to read columns like this. So just kick back and remind yourself that this man did all this stuff in his actual life. Not that it would be any easier on an Xbox.
Have you seen this guy play much? He'd never hit five home runs in any calendar month of any regular season. He then hit SEVEN home runs in October. Hey, of course he did.
More than 900 regular-season games into Murphy's career, he'd only homered in back-to-back regular-season games once. And then, in October, he hit a home run in back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back POSTSEASON games. Right.
Now would be a perfect time to mention that Hank Aaron hit six postseason home runs in his whole career (over 17 games and 74 plate appearances). And Murphy hit postseason home runs in six games IN A ROW. Baseball.
No player had ever homered in six straight games in any of the Mets' 54 regular seasons. So it made perfect sense that Murphy would then homer in six games in a row in this postseason. Wait -- what?
Here's just an abbreviated list of players who have never, ever hit a home run in six games in a row in the regular season: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. But Murphy did it in the POSTSEASON. Seriously.
Regular-season home runs this year by Murphy against humans who throw left-handed: one. Postseason home runs by Murphy against humans who throw left-handed: three. Two off Clayton Kershaw. One off Jon Lester. Crazy.
Want to take a wild stab at how many regular-season home runs Murphy had ever hit against Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta and Lester? That would be zero. But he homered against all of them in this postseason. Naturally.
Finally, imagine how hard it would be to homer against three pitchers like this in the same postseason -- the pitcher who led the major leagues in strikeouts, the pitcher who led the major leagues in ERA and the pitcher who led the major leagues in wins. Well, it must be kinda challenging, because no one had ever done it. Or, at least, no one had ever done it until this October, when Murphy homered off Kershaw, Greinke and Arrieta. Un-be-lieve-able.
Ten More strange But True October Classics
The Cardinals should have known they were in trouble this October when they scored six runs in a National League Division Series game started by Arrieta -- and still lost. Before that, they'd won their previous 54 games in a row when they scored six runs or more -- off anybody.
Where were you during what might have been the Strangest But Truest postseason inning ever? Seventh inning, ALDS Game 5, Rangers-Blue Jays. Featuring all of this ... What could have been the series-deciding run scoring when Russell Martin made what he thought was about his billionth run-of-the-mill toss back to the pitcher, only to watch it somehow deflect off the bat of the hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, and dribble up the third-base line. ... The Rangers making suicidal errors on three consecutive hitters to kick off the bottom of the inning. ... Two bench-clearing screaming matches erupting over one epic Jose Bautista bat flip. . . . And the whole thing unfolding over 53 minutes of unforgettable Strange But True Madness. Whew!
The Mets' Strangest But Truest October feat? They beat the top three finishers in the NL Cy Young election (Arrieta, Greinke, Kershaw) in the same postseason. And how many teams before them had ever beaten the top three in any Cy Young election in any Octoberfest? None. Of course.
Did you know that Ken Griffey Jr. played 2,671 big league games and never played in a World Series? So we're guessing Raul A. Mondesi isn't his favorite active player then -- because he showed up in a real, live World Series box score this year (Game 3) after playing in NO regular-season big league games. Mondesi's father played in 1,525 games, by the way -- and he never played in a World Series, either. Bizarre.
While we're on this Strange But True Rookie roll, how 'bout Kyle Schwarber? As loyal tweeter Michael Adamo reported, he hit home runs in Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues, the wild-card game, the Division Series and the LCS all in the same year. ... And not only that, Schwarber also became the first player ever to hit a postseason home run and win the MVP of the Futures Game in the same year. ... And not only that, for his finest Strange But True trick, he hit a majestic NLDS home run that landed on top of the right-field video board at Wrigley Field -- and stayed there. Let's see Jordan Spieth stick that lob wedge some time.
More Cubs Strange But Trueness: In Game 3 of the Division Series, their 1-2-3-4-5-6 hitters all homered. In one day. According to Elias, there have only been two REGULAR-SEASON season games in history in which any team's 1-2-3-4-5-6 hitters homered. But one of those came this year, when the Mets got homers from their 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 hitters in an August game in Philadelphia. So in other words, this happened once in 139 seasons -- and then happened twice in two months. Because the universe is a big fan of Strange But Trueness, it turns out.
Bet you never thought you'd hear the name Keone Kela in the same breath as two all-time baseball legends. But here goes: In Game 2 of the ALDS, the Rangers won a 14-inning game, and that made Kela the third pitcher in history to win a postseason game of 14 innings or longer on Oct. 9. So who were the others? Oh, just Roger Clemens and Babe Ruth. Whoever they are.
Digest these two facts: One, Wade Davis hadn't picked a runner off any base in two years. And two, no pitcher had picked off any runner in the ninth inning of a one-run postseason win in over 40 years (since Mike Marshall ambushed Herb Washington in the 1974 World Series). So you know where this is leading. Ninth inning, ALDS Game 2. Carlos Gomez gets picked off first by -- you've got it -- Wade Davis. Never saw that coming.
Other stuff you probably never saw coming: Arrieta stole as many postseason bases (one) as the guy who led his team in steals this season, Dexter Fowler. ... Sean Rodriguez started at first for the Pirates in the wild-card game -- and got pinch hit for before he ever made it to the plate. ... After waiting 12 years to play in a World Series game in his home park, David Wright hit the amazing Strange But True home run in his very first at-bat at Citi Field in Game 3 of the World Series. ... On the other hand, Ben Zobrist hit more doubles in the postseason (eight) than Wright hit during the season (seven). ... David Price made three postseason starts, and the Blue Jays lost all three of them. During the season, naturally, Price made 11 starts for the Blue Jays -- and they lost only two of them. ... Cliff Pennington had more postseason pitching appearances (one) than hits (none). Which is notable because Cliff Pennington isn't a pitcher. ... And in the first nine postseason plate appearances of his life, Jorge Soler reached base in (gasp) all nine of them. Which figured, since he reached base five times in the entire month of September.
But all that just set the stage for the No. 1 Strangest But Truest Postseason Feat of the year: Remember the Rangers' aforementioned 14-inning ALDS game? Well, you'll never guess who knocked in the game-winning run. It was a fellow named Hanser Alberto, whose claim to fame was this: He tallied zero hits for them after Sept. 1. And now the cool part: Only one other man before him had ever delivered a game-winning postseason hit in the ninth inning or later after going 0-for-September/October. And it was -- wait for it -- Willie Mays, for the Mets in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series. So how about that? The Say Hey Kid meets the Say Who's That Kid. It could only have happened in the Strange But True Postseason of 2015.