Even though five of the seven games weren’t close, the 2014 World Series will be recalled as a classic for the simplest of reasons.
The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals not only took the Series to the limit, but they also saved the best for last: a spellbinding Game 7 decided with the tying run at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Seventh games are infrequent — over the past 20 years, there have been only five of them — and authentically suspenseful seventh games are uncommon enough to qualify as once-in-a-decade rarities.
My only regret about Wednesday night was the anticlimactic at-bat of Kansas City’s Salvador Perez, who represented the Royals’ last hope of solving the magnificent Madison Bumgarner. Just when it seemed as if the Giants’ outfield misplay of Alex Gordon’s two-out single might set the stage for extra innings, Perez flailed at an eye-level fastball.
“Aha,” Bumgarner likely told himself. “You will not see anything within 3 feet of your wheelhouse.”
Perez didn’t. The most exciting Game 7 since the 2001 Diamondbacks rallied to beat Yankees closer Mariano Rivera concluded with a foul pop-up.
Some other thoughts about a World Series between two wild card teams that played like champions:
• Gordon almost certainly is a goner if he attempts to score on a Little League home run in the bottom of the ninth. And yet part of me — OK, all of me — yearned for a play at the plate. It would have required shortstop Brandon Crawford to make a routine relay throw, the sort of throw big-leaguers can execute with their eyes closed.
But with two outs in the ninth inning, with the World Series at stake and more than 40,000 fans screaming, that throw hardly is routine.
• Unless you staunchly follow the Royals, you likely have never heard of Mike Jirschele, the third base coach whose stop sign prevented Gordon from bolting toward home. Had Gordon been thrown out, Jirschele forever would have been seen as the base-coach equivalent of former Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, whose 20-year career was undone by the grounder he flubbed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
• Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was “credited” with a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the fifth Wednesday, but the decision to put one down — Escobar’s, apparently — served as a get-out-of-jail-free card for Bumgarner.
The pitcher, working on two days of rest, had surrendered a leadoff single to Omar Infante, then twice missed the strike zone against Escobar. Was the imperturbable lefty possibly rattled by his new role as long reliever?
We’ll never know. Instead of forcing him to throw a strike, the Royals gave Bumgarner the easy out that settled him down.
Fifth-inning sacrifice bunts, by anybody but a pitcher in a National League park, are the worst.
• The official scorer (or scorers: it’s a three person panel during the World Series) initially cited Bumgarner as the winning pitcher in the Game 7. About 50 minutes later, the ruling was corrected, and the victory went to reliever Jeremy Affeldt.
The son of an Air Force officer, Affeldt was a 1997 graduate, along with 18 others, from Northwest Christian High in Colbert, near Spokane. Affeldt signed with the Royals, and donated some of his bonus money toward the construction of a new baseball field at his former high school, which competes at Class 2B.
Projected as a left-handed starter in Kansas City, Affeldt bounced around — from the Royals, to the Rockies, to the Reds — before finding his niche as a middle-inning reliever in San Francisco. At 35, he’s on a roll: 112/3 scoreless innings in October, and 22 consecutive postseason appearances since allowing a run.
The only pitcher who has put together a longer scoreless-inning streak during the postseason — Rivera, with 23 — is awaiting induction into the Hall of Fame.
“To be able to do it in Kansas City, with my past history, it just means a lot to me,” Affeldt told reporters after learning he was the winning pitcher of Game 7. “It means my end was better than my beginning.”
• Bovada Sports has installed the Dodgers and the Nationals, both at 15-2, as co-favorites to win the 2015 World Series. But there’s some respect for the Mariners, who at 18-1 are ranked between the Royals (16-1) and Athletics (20-1).
By the way, in their seven 2014 games against the AL champion Royals, whose season ended with the tying run on third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, the Mariners went 5-2.
Make of that what you will.
• As the raindrops keep falling during these dark (and soon to be darker) afternoons, I am reminded of the words of the great Rogers Hornsby.
“People ask me what I do in the winter when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”