I asked for weird baseball, and Game 1 of the World Series delivered. On Tuesday night, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets played an epic marathon that ended in a Royals victory after 14 innings. That the game lasted so long was itself a rare occurrence in MLB history; this match was only the 10th playoff game to go for at least 14 innings. But even ignoring the length of the game, the contest was defined by improbability from start to finish.
It all started in the bottom of the first inning with one of the rarest events in baseball: an inside-the-parker. Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar knocked a fly ball toward deep center that Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes booted off the wall. That misplay allowed Escobar to show off his wheels and make it all the way home. An inside-the-park home run hadn’t happened in the World Series since 1929.1
Things quieted down through the next few innings, until it was 3-3 in the top of the eighth. Light-hitting Mets center fielder Juan Lagares was facing fireball-spewing Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, who’s one of three relief aces in the Kansas City bullpen. On paper it looked like a big mismatch: Lagares’s meager .257/.297/.368 stats up against Herrera’s 97-mph heat and 2.71 ERA. Yet after Lagares battled for eight pitches — four more than Herrera averages per batter — Lagares laced a single.
That became crucial later in the inning, when Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer made an error fielding a Wilmer Flores ground ball that allowed Lagares to score for a brief Mets lead. Defensively, Hosmer is the weakest link on the Royals roster. Even so, Hosmer’s always been sure-handed, with a .994 career fielding percentage — it’s his range that’s weak. Seeing Hosmer bungle a routine grounder on the grandest stage was unexpected.
But all of that was not nearly as unexpected as seeing Lorenzo Cain attempt a sacrifice bunt in the seventh. Cain has only two regular-season sacrifice bunt attempts in six seasons of MLB experience, and neither was successful. Moreover, Cain is the second-best hitter in the Royals lineup, with a strong 129 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), so he had plenty to lose by giving up an out. It was mystifying to see him attempting a sacrifice bunt with two men on in the bottom of the eighth. Unlike other Yost-inspired small-ball maneuvers, this one didn’t pay off, as Cain bunted most of the way toward a strikeout despite some eminently hittable pitches.
Hot Takedown: A World Series sabermetrics spectacular.
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That was OK, because Cain was rescued in the next inning by an incredible Alex Gordon dinger. Facing dominating Mets closer Jeurys Familia, Gordon squared up on a 97-mph sinker that curled its way over the middle of the plate. Like Lagares’s single, Gordon’s home run was an exceptionally improbable event. Familia hadn’t blown a save in three months, and fastballs at that velocity are hard to turn into homers — especially for Gordon. But Gordon was quick to punish Familia’s rare mistake.
Tied at 4-4, the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, the Royals had a great chance to win when catcher Salvador Perez managed to hit an infield single with two out. Like most catchers, Perez is not notable for his speed, and his 5 percent infield hit rate ranks 87th-lowest (out of 335 qualifiers) in the league since his debut in 2011. Yet Perez legged out the single because his hit glanced off the third-base bag, giving him ample time to reach first.
In the end, it came down to a sacrifice fly that walked the Royals off in the bottom of the 14th inning. But at a certain point, just after Chris Young somehow bounced a wild pitch in the dirt immediately off the backstop and into Perez’s waiting hands, I realized that the game was adding improbable events faster than I could cover them. Indeed, this story only hits on the highlights: There were also base-loading intentional walks, questionable relief pitching choices and a television outage that stopped play altogether. If this game was any indication of how the Series will unfold, we should be prepared for seven games of bizarre happenings that defy the probabilities.