The Kansas City Royals finally captured the last 90 feet that eluded them in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, when Alex Gordon was only able to watch from third as Salvador Perez popped out to end their Cinderella season.
As the Royals sat and watched in disbelief while the San Francisco Giants claimed their third World Series title in five seasons, feelings of emptiness, despair, disappointment or, as manager Ned Yost described it, “A punch in the gut,” loomed over the Royals clubhouse. From then on the Royals played the entire 2015 season with a chip on their shoulder. With a knowledge that they would not falter in making it back to the biggest stage in baseball.
All throughout the postseason the Royals were pushed to the brink of elimination but would not die. In the ALDS, the Houston Astros had the Royals within six outs of elimination only for the Royals to come storming back and eventually win the series.
In the ALCS, the Toronto Blue Jays, who featured a power laden lineup that was supposed to demolish a sub-par Kansas City rotation, discovered what the Astros had before them: the Royals had a lineup that never quit and put together great at-bat after great at-bat to continue to chip away no matter the score. Perhaps there was no more relevant example of this than in Game 2 of the ALCS when the Blue Jays ace, David Price, was pitching with a two-run lead in the seventh inning and the Royals took advantage of an early inning blunder when Ryan Goins let a pop up drop in between himself and right fielder Jose Bautista. This play opened the door for a five run inning and eventually a Royals victory.
The World Series began. The New York Mets anxiously waited five long days to see who they would be facing after sweeping the Chicago Cubs right out of the NLCS.
In Game 1, history happened but a mere half inning into the game. Matt Harvey‘s first delivery to the plate resulted in an inside-the-park home run by Alcides Escobar and got the Royals off to a fast start.
The Mets would not trail for long. In the top of the fifth, Curtis Granderson launched a solo shot to give the Mets a lead. Michael Conforto padded the score with a sacrifice fly, putting the Mets up 3-1. But in true Royals fashion, they began to chip away at the deficit, making it a 4-3 game going into the 9th inning.
Enter Mariano Rivera. Well, not Rivera, but pretty darn close. Jeurys Familia hadn’t blown a save since July and had multiple four or more out saves coming into his first appearance in the World Series. Familia had been so dominate that he had allowed but one hit in nine and two-thirds playoff innings with an unblemished ERA.
Salvador Perez had the daunting task of trying to make contact and get on base to lead off the ninth. Familia made quick work of him, getting the Royals backstop to ground out to short.
Enter Alex Gordon and the at-bat that sealed the Royals fate as World Series Champions and the Mets as the runner-ups.
Seven pitches into the ninth inning, Familia had one out and Alex Gordon in a 1-1 count. Fun fact: Gordon posted a .300/.344/.333 slash in 1-1 counts over his 2015 season, and did not have a single home run in that count. But Gordon did hit .290/.403/.419 with two home runs in high leverage situations in 2015.
Familia, with his outstanding arsenal of weapons to get hitters out, decided his high 90’s fastball would be his weapon of choice to try and get Gordon out and put the Mets a single out away from leading 1-0 in the World Series.
Travis d’Arnaud called for a sinker low and away, obviously trying to not let Gordon pull the ball but instead get him to hit a ball somewhere to the left side of the field where he is not known for his power. Familia agreed with the pitch selection and threw the pitch that sealed the Mets fate and began the fulfillment of the Royals year long road to redemption.
As the ball came towards the plate it was clear he had missed his spot. d’Arnaud’s glove went from low and away to reaching up towards the middle of the plate. Except the ball would not find his mitt. There was a lot of statistics flying around before the series on how the Royals were an outstanding team when it came to hitting fastballs 95 MPH and above. Gordon did nothing to prove the statistics wrong as he turned on the 97 MPH heater and launched it to centerfield.
Kauffman stadium grew louder as the flight of the ball flew farther from home plate. Mets center fielder Juan Lagares gave chase but could only watch as the ball sailed 431 feet and over the center field fence. A once seemingly hopeless affair was now tied.
Familia retired the next two batters, but the damage was done. The Royals went on to win the game in 14 innings and stole a game that they should have lost. But the recipe for victory was now in place and the Royals would continue to abuse the Mets all throughout the series until their championship clinching Game 5 victory.
Gordon’s home run set the tone for the Royals come-from-behind mantra. In the series, the Royals only lead for a total of 13 innings. Prior to the seventh inning, the Royals’ hitters posted a pedestrian .222./.262/.362 slash line. From the seventh inning on, they slashed .325/.392/.485. No team with at least 100 postseason at-bats came within 140 points of the Royals batting average.
In Game 2, the Royals blew out the Mets to take a commanding 2-0 lead. In Game 3, Noah Syndergaard started off the game with a pitch to let Escobar know that he wasn’t afraid to use his fastball, while leading the Mets to their only series victory. In Game 4, the Mets were leading going into the eighth and would yet again fall victim to the Royals late innings heroics, when the Royals scored three runs in the eighth as Familia blew his second save of the series. In Game 5 Matt Harvey took a complete game shutout into the ninth inning until, for the final time, the Royals would yet again come from behind and tie the game. Familia — who would set the World Series record for blown saves, although all the blame cannot be placed on him, — failed one last time as the Royals tied the game and eventually would blow the game open in the 12th inning and finally complete their journey and capture the World Series title that was only 90 feet away last season.
Although Gordon’s home run only helped to put the Royals up a single game in the World Series, it is unquestionable that his at-bat set the tone for the World Series and gave the Mets a preview of what they would encounter for the rest of a series: a team that would not quit and would string together tough at-bat after tough at-bat until they eventually came out on top.
You can only put so much weight on one at-bat, but Gordon’s game tying shot in Game 1 sealed the Mets fate and put the Royals on the right track to fulfill theirs.