Armed with perhaps the most dominant late-inning relief corps in the majors, the Royals were 65-5 when leading after six innings this year. So even though Game 2 started ominously, with a leadoff home run by Gregor Blanco, all Kansas City needed to even the series was for its rookie starter, Yordano Ventura, to keep the offense in the game long enough for them to get to his counterpart, Jake Peavy.
Ventura stuck to the script, holding the Giants to just one more run in his next 4 1/3 innings on the hill, before Kelvin Herrera stranded two inherited runners to preserve a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth. That set the stage for the Royals to pull away in an eventual 7-2 victory that knotted the World Series at one game apiece.
Here are five things you didn’t know about the game.
1. The Royals had two reasons to feel confident about carrying a draw into the bottom of the sixth: Their three-headed bullpen monster of Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, and Peavy’s postseason credentials. In eight career playoff assignments preceding Game 2, the right-hander had never recorded 18 outs.
Peavy needed 20 pitches to get out of the first inning, but he spent just seven and eight in the fourth and fifth, respectively, leaving his count at 57. Efficiency was on the right-hander’s side, but the lineup wasn’t, as he’d have to navigate the heart of Ned Yost’s order for the third time. Manager Bruce Bochy elected to let him try, but a single by Lorenzo Cain and a walk drawn by Eric Hosmer prompted the skipper to give Peavy the hook.
That’s when the Royals’ bullpen advantage became apparent for the first time in the series.
Jean Machi took over for Peavy and promptly coughed up the lead on a single by Billy Butler. Two batters later, Salvador Perez doubled home a pair off of Hunter Strickland. Omar Infante followed with a two-run bomb, and the rout was on at Kauffman Stadium.
2. Infante’s long ball was the fifth surrendered by Strickland this October, a heaping slice of humble pie for the first-year reliever, who served up only three in 38 2/3 minor-league frames before joining the Giants as a September call-up. Despite his high-90s gas, Strickland now holds the record for big flies allowed in a single postseason, a loud indication that he’ll need to improve his command to lock down a late-inning role with the club going forward.
He might also need to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. The Royals’ bench briefly emptied as Perez and Infante touched home plate, because Strickland appeared to yell something at Kansas City’s catcher. Strickland said after the game that the dustup was merely a misunderstanding.
3. The Royals had two singles, a double, and a walk in the first inning — production that typically yields more than one run when the pitcher does not benefit from a double play or an out on the bases. Fortunately for Peavy, his battery-mate, Buster Posey, gunned down Alcides Escobar attempting to steal second after a leadoff infield single. That would ultimately prevent the hosts from putting a crooked number on the board.
Kansas City’s team speed was a hot topic heading into the World Series, after Jarrod Dyson, Terrance Gore, and Co. wreaked havoc on the A’s, Angels, and Orioles to the tune of 13 stolen bases in eight games. Two games into the Fall Classic, it hasn’t been a factor: Neither side has swiped a bag, and the Royals are 0-for-1.
4. To the extent that head-to-head experience against a pitcher matters to hitters, the Royals had a distinct advantage on Wednesday. They’d collectively logged 190 plate appearances against Peavy, many of them during the 33-year-old’s time with the White Sox. None of the Giants had ever stared down Ventura.
Given Butler’s past encounters with Peavy, it should come as no surprise that the designated hitter played a pivotal role in Game 2. Butler had faced the righty 37 times and gone 14-for-33 (.424 average) with a double and three home runs. His 1.214 lifetime OPS off of Peavy was tops among right-handed batters who’ve seen him more than 25 times, nearly 100 points better than the next-best mark, held by Albert Pujols (1.122).
Butler singled home Cain to tie the game in the opening frame, and his presence in the on-deck circle likely sealed Bochy’s decision to go to the bullpen. The 28-year-old cashed in a belt-high mistake from Machi to become the first Royal to notch tying and go-ahead knocks in the same postseason contest since George Brett did it in Game 3 of the 1985 ALCS.
5. After shutting down the Rangers in the deciding Game 5 of the 2010 World Series and contributing critical innings out of the bullpen en route to the Giants’ 2012 title, Tim Lincecum had an uneventful first two rounds of the 2014 postseason. Uneventful, mostly, because he hadn’t seen the mound.
The right-hander did not appear in Game 1, but he made headlines anyway by missing the pregame introductions. Bochy revealed on Tuesday that Lincecum was throwing up before the series opener, though he felt better shortly after first pitch and could have been used if necessary.
On Wednesday, Lincecum finally made his 2014 playoff debut in mop-up duty. He cruised through the seventh and retired the first two Royals batters in the eighth, before slipping on a follow-through and calling for the trainer. Lincecum left the game with what Bochy later said was lower-back tightness, and his status for the rest of the series is unclear. Since the Giants made it this far without using their erstwhile ace, they likely would not miss a beat if one of Erik Cordier, Juan Gutierrez or George Kontos were to replace him on the roster.
Daniel Rathman is a writer and editor for Baseball Prospectus. He has previously been a new media intern for New England Sports Network and served as editor-in-chief of The Tufts Daily during the spring of 2012. Daniel is also a second-year urban planning student at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and a research assistant at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.
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