Baseball fans rejoice: There’s still one more World Series game left to play.
That might not be such wonderful news for San Francisco Giants fans, who were hoping to see their team nail down its third World Series Championship in five years last night. But for Kansas City Royals fans – and for baseball lovers everywhere dreading the inevitable seasonal affective disorder that sets in immediately following the Fall Classic – the Royals’ 10-0 Game 6 beat-down of the Giants was just what the doctor ordered.
Aside from the Royals’ 3-2 victory in Game 3 and Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout of Kansas City in Game 5, the 2014 World Series hasn’t exactly lived up to predictions of a championship showdown decided by pitching, speed and small ball. But that’s not to say that last night’s blowout – like the other three lop-sided contests – was devoid of interesting or unusual developments.
Sure, no one expected Jake Peavy, who at least looked fairly solid for five innings in Game 2, to duplicate Bumgarner’s dominance in his second start of the Series. But surely Giants skipper Bruce Bochy hoped for better from the veteran righty than a 42-pitch, inning-and-a-third slog that eventually resulted in five Royals runs. Yusmeiro Petit, the bearded bear of a swingman who had been absolutely brilliant for the Giants this postseason, fared little better as Peavy’s successor. For the first time in his major league career, Petit entered a game with the bases loaded; he responded by giving up a two-run single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a wild pitch and back-to-back doubles by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. By the time he got Salvador Perez to end the second inning with a foul pop to Pablo Sandoval, the Giants were already looking at a 7-0 deficit.
The Giants don’t give up easily, though; and for a few minutes there in the top of the third, it looked like Royals starter Yordano Ventura might become a victim of his team’s big inning, much as Jason Vargas had in Game 4. After striking out Travis Ishikawa to begin the frame, the rookie fireballer suddenly seemed to forget how to throw strikes, walking Brandon Crawford, Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik in rapid succession. Just as he had done in the seventh inning of Game 2, Buster Posey stepped to the plate with a chance to put his team back in the game with one big swing; and just like in the seventh inning of Game 2, the Giants catcher – who is having an absolutely brutal Series at the plate so far, batting .182 with no extra-base hits – grounded out to end the inning, this time with a first-pitch swing that started a double play.
The Giants didn’t threaten much after that, and the Royals further padded their lead off relievers Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland, the latter of whom gave up his sixth home run of this postseason (a record) when Mike Moustakas took him deep in the seventh inning. Ventura, whose cap bore the legend “RIP O.T. #18” in tribute to his friend Oscar Taveras, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who died in a tragic car crash on Sunday night, seemed to get more comfortable as the game wore on, practically dancing on the mound while dealing 100 mph fastballs and snaring comebackers with a flourish. He left the game at the completion of the seventh to a rousing ovation from the Kansas City faithful.
While this World Series hasn’t been totally decided by pitching, it’s hard to think of another Fall Classic where the opposing managers’ use of their respective staffs has so dominated the conversation. The Royals’ Game 3 victory engendered enough panic among the Giants faithful that an erroneous Peter Gammons tweet about Bumgarner demanding to start Game 4 on short rest almost seemed credible; Bochy, sensible chap that he is, opted to wait until Game 5 to play his ace a second time. However, neither Bumgarner or Bochy have ruled out the possibility of a MadBum cameo in Game 7, the prospect of which surely chills the hearts of Royals fans.
Tonight’s Series finale will offer a repeat of Game 3’s starting matchup – Tim Hudson (who at 39 will become the oldest pitcher to start a seventh game in World Series history) for the Giants and Jeremy Guthrie for the Royals. That pairing, and the various bullpen moves that followed it, produced the Series’ best pitching duel, and the odds of another tense chess match tonight are fairly high. Expect Bochy to be quicker than usual with the hook, and that he’ll lean on Petit (despite his difficulties last night) to play a significant role in the game. Royals skipper Ned Yost, on the other hand, will be looking for five solid innings out of Guthrie, while hoping to once again rely upon his battle-tested bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland to protect whatever lead the KC bats can give him.
Will the Giants become the first team since the 1942-44-46 Cardinals to win three World Series on an every-other-year basis? Will the Royals’ Cinderella story culminate in their first World Series trophy since 1985? After one of the most exciting and unpredictable Octobers in recent memory, it seems almost selfish to ask for one more great ballgame. But all the ingredients for a classic Game 7 are already in place, so…C’mon, baseball gods – how about it?
Dan Epstein’s latest book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76, is now out via Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. He’s on Twitter at @BigHairPlasGras