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"The Ball Always Finds The Weakest Defender": Reflections on the Mets' World Series Loss

I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.

I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.

The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).

However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.

The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.

It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.

Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.

A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.

In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.

You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.

Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.

And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.

It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.

Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.

Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.

After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.

They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.

Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.

Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.

Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.

But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.

Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.

For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Cain's Speed & Murphy's Power Lead Royals and Mets to World Series

The Royals’ return to the World Series is no surprise to me. They ran away with the
AL Central title and didn’t play a meaningful game after the All-Star Game until the playoffs began.

Then down to the last six outs of their season, they rallied for five runs in the eighth inning to tie the upstart Houston Astros in the AL Division Series. They dispatched Houston the next day and kept the upper hand against the homer-happy Toronto Blue Jays throughout the AL Championship Series.

Just as he did in one of the Houston games, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain provided a unforgettable moment by scoring the deciding run in the bottom of the eighth all the way from first base on a single to right field.

It was a moment of redemption for Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele who held Alex Gordon at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of last year’s World Series won by the Giants led by overpowering southpaw Madison Bumgarner.

Cain is a much faster runner than Gordon and once right fielder Jose Bautista threw the ball to second base to hold Eric Hosmer to a single there was no stopping Cain’s feet and Jirschele’s whirling arms.

Nobody, even their most ardent supporters, expected the Mets to reach the World Series. Yet behind great young starting pitching and formidable closer in Jeurys Familia, they swept the overmatched Chicago Cubs after winning a tough best-of-five series over the LA Dodgers.

Hindsight tells us that the Cubs had exhausted their energy by knocking their arch-rival Cardinals out of the playoffs. Once the Mets took a lead on Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta early in game two of the NLCS, I was not surprised by their pulling off the sweep in Chicago.

The confidence level of the Mets has to be at an all-time high. They beat LA’s two great starters, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and then Arrieta and Jon Lester of the Cubs. Daniel Murphy, never known as a power hitter, homered off all of them, including twice off Kershaw.

Murphy also provided a positive Murphy Moment as a base runner in the clinching Game 5 against LA. His manager Terry Collins evidently coined the term Murphy Moment for his notorious base-running gaffes.

Yet in the deciding game against LA, with the Mets down a run and Murphy on first base, he alertly sped to third after a walk to Yoenis Cespedes when he saw no Dodger covering the bag. All LA infielders had shifted to the right side of the diamond and neither pitcher Greinke nor catcher Yosmani Grandal broke to cover third.

The next batter hit a short fly ball to right field and Murphy tagged up to score the tying run. Two innings later he homered for the deciding run.

It should be a great competitive World Series. So much juicy questions loom:

Will Murphy after nearly a week off still be red-hot at the plate?

Will Kansas City’s starting pitching, its only seeming weak point, rise to the occasion?

Can the Mets’ bullpen in front of Familia, its own weak spot, pitch better?

Which of each team’s dominant closers, Familia and the Royals’ Wade Davis, will prove mortal? In the clincher against Toronto, Davis worked out of a major jam with two runners in scoring position and only one out.

Kansas City has the home field advantage because the American League won the All-Star Game, a silly reason to bestow that honor. This year the benefit has worked out fairly because Kansas City did have the best regular season record in all of baseball.

I’m not a betting man but I think that edge might prove the difference. Certainly the teams look evenly matched for a long absorbing series.

Of course, yaneverknow, yaneverknow, in baseball.

That’s all for now. Always remember in baseball and in life:
Take it easy but take it!
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