Looking back at the World Series and all the Royals’ what-ifs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We know how close the Royals were to winning their first World Series title since 1985. And as with any World Series that goes seven games, there naturally are many "what-if" moments along the way.
Perhaps none was bigger than Alex Gordon’s hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 with the Royals down 3-2 to the Giants. Gordon’s line drive to short left-center skipped all the way to the fence, and for a moment it looked like Gordon might be able to circle the bases and tie the game.
Alas, Gordon was held at third and Sal Perez fouled out to end the game and the Series.
What if Gordon had been sent home?
That question has been debated quite a bit, in this space and elsewhere. But there were plenty of other what-if moments as we look back at a memorable World Series and think about what might have been.
GAME 4: THE VARGAS AT-BAT
The Royals were up two games to one and seemingly on their way to a commanding 3-1 advantage in the Series as they smacked the Giants with four runs in the top of the third and led 4-1.
And pitcher Jason Vargas was up with the bases loaded and two outs. Vargas took a 2-2 pitch inside and humorously lost track of the count and began trotting toward first base, thinking he had drawn a huge walk.
Vargas came back to the plate, sheepishly, and took another pitch on the 3-2 count — this time he was called out on strikes. But the thing is, the 3-2 pitch was in the same spot as the 2-2 pitch — a few inches inside, replays showed.
What if that 3-2 pitch had been correctly called a ball? The Royals would have led 5-1, and had the top of the order up. Maybe, just maybe, the rout would have been on. Instead, the Royals didn’t score again and got buried 11-4.
GAME 4: THE GIANTS’ BLOOP FEST
A few innings later in the bottom of the sixth with the score tied 4-4, rookie Brandon Finnegan came into the game, hoping to shut down the Giants to allow manager Ned Yost to get to his vaunted three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
But Finnegan was victimized by a series of broken-bat bloopers that led to three runs and paved the way for an eventual Giants rout. Finnegan made solid pitches but surrendered a blooper to left and then a blooper to right to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third before an intentional walk loaded the bases.
Then Pablo Sandoval blooped another single to center to score two runs. A grounder up the middle then plated the Giants’ third run of the inning.
What if one or two of those bloopers hadn’t fallen and Finnegan had posted a scoreless inning? The Royals likely would have felt OK about their chances in a 4-4 game entering the seventh.
GAME 7: THE PABLO HBP
All sports tend to be a game of inches, or centimeters, or what have you. And such was the case in the top of the second inning when Sandoval got hit by a pitch from Jeremy Guthrie — actually, the ball just nicked the sleeve on Sandoval’s right elbow. That suddenly got the Giants going — two ground-ball singles later and suddenly the bases were loaded. Two sacrifice flies later and it was 2-0.
What if Guthrie’s pitch had just missed Sandoval’s sleeve and he in turn had gotten Sandoval out to start that inning? A painful 3-2 Royals loss might have turned out differently.
GAME 7: THE OMAR SLIP
Once again, Sandoval was in the middle of a what-if play. With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth, he bounced a grounder up the middle that Royals second baseman Omar Infante seemed to have corralled. But suddenly, Infante slipped on the grass as he was fielding the grounder and Sandoval was safe at first.
Sandoval went to second on a single to center, to third on a flyout and scored the eventual game-winner on a broken-bat single to right by Michael Morse.
What if Infante hadn’t slipped and the Royals had kept the game tied 2-2? Would they have won it in extra innings after Madison Bumgarner finally would have had to hit the showers?
GAME 7: THE ESKY BUNT
Infante led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to right-center off Bumgarner in the pitcher’s first inning of relief. Then Alcides Escobar, who said later he was bunting on his own, sacrificed Infante to second (amid groans from the Kauffman Stadium faithful). Nori Aoki then lined out down the left-field line as the Giants had Aoki perfectly positioned. Lorenzo Cain struck out swinging to end the inning and the Royals did not threaten again until the ninth.
The argument against bunting is that Bumgarner traditionally has struggled early in games, and since this was his first inning of relief, the time to pounce on him for a couple of runs was right away.
What if the Royals hadn’t given Bumgarner a free out? Would Esky have walked (hey, anything’s possible) or slapped a single or ripped a double? Would the Royals have pushed across a run or two or three?
We’ll never know.