NEW YORK — Steven Matz should have been removed sooner, Jeurys Familia should have been inserted sooner, Daniel Murphy should have fielded a slow chopper, Yoenis Cespedes should have avoided getting doubled off first base to end the game.
The Mets will kick themselves for all the things that went wrong Saturday night in their 5-3 loss to the Royals in Game 4 of the World Series. But you know what? No single play or move was decisive. Sooner or later with the Royals, it’s always checkmate.
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The Royals lead the Series, three games to one, yet they’ve trailed in the eighth inning in two of their three wins. Saturday night marked the sixth time they’ve won this postseason after falling behind by multiple runs, a major-league record.
“That sums up our team,” starting pitcher Chris Young said, talking about this victory, talking about every Royals victory. “It’s not about one player, the starting pitcher, the bullpen, the defense or the offense. It’s about the whole group.”
What a group it is, a group that is poised to finish the job it nearly completed in last year’s World Series, a group that will exploit an opponent’s every mistake while making very few of its own. The Royals bailed out right fielder Alex “How many outs?” Rios on Saturday night. They bail out manager Ned Yost on many nights. They drive opponents to distraction and misery, with the Mets merely serving as their latest foil.
Oh, the Mets will rue this one, rue that Terry Collins managed for Game 5 when he should have shown greater urgency to win Game 4. Collins started the sixth with Matz in an effort to preserve his bullpen, then started the eighth with Tyler Clippard in an effort to preserve Familia — a thought process the manager should have employed the night before, when he used Familia with a 9-3 lead.
Matz had allowed three hits and his first run in the fifth, but Collins allowed him to hit in the bottom half, trying to squeeze another inning out of the rookie left-hander after Michael Conforto’s second homer had given the Mets a 3-1 lead.
The Royals opened the sixth with a double by Ben Zobrist double and an RBI single by Lorenzo Cain, at which point Collins went to his bullpen. As it turned out, Matz allowed hits to five of his last seven hitters. He was losing it in the fifth, and Collins should have recognized that.
Now fast forward to the eighth, with the Mets still leading, 3-2. Rather than ask Familia for a six-out save — the strategy that Yost later employed with Wade Davis — Collins turned to Clippard, who had two clean outings earlier in the Series, but has been inconsistent over the past two months.
Another bad idea.
Collins said he did not want to use Familia unless the go-ahead run got on base, which is why the manager stayed with Clippard even after a one-out walk to Zobrist. Well, the game’s turning point came next, with Cain rallying from 0-2 to draw another walk. Now the go-ahead run was on base. And here came Familia, entering in a jam.
Before the start of the Series, Collins said his biggest concern was that the Royals’ skill at putting the ball in play would expose the Mets’ weaker defenders. It happened in the fifth, when Cespedes kicked a sinking liner by Salvador Perez into a double, leading to the Royals’ first run. And it happened again in the eighth, when Eric Hosmer’s chopper eluded Murphy’s glove, enabling the Royals to tie the score, 3-3.
Mike Moustakas and Perez followed with back-to-back RBI singles, leading Yost to summon Davis, his best and most rested reliever. The Mets actually had a chance to solve Davis in the ninth, getting back-to-back one-out singles from Murphy and Cespedes. But Cespedes got doubled off on Lucas Duda’s weak liner to Moustakas, and a game the Mets led with five outs to go ended in embarrassment.
Yost, too, made questionable moves on this night, pinch-hitting too early with Kendrys Morales in the fifth, pinch-hitting with Jarrod Dyson in the seventh when he might have needed him as a pinch-runner later. But Yost’s team is so good, he always seems to escape unscathed.
Life as a manager is good when your offense is relentless and resourceful. When your defense rarely produces a Murphy-like blunder. When your bullpen almost always is better than your opponent’s, as it was again on Saturday night.
“We feel like if we can keep the game close, we’re going to find a way to win it,” Yost said. “Our bullpen is so dynamic, they give us a chance to win those types of games. And it’s a team that just looks for a little crack. If we find a little crack, they’re going to make something happen.”
The Astros found that out, as did the Blue Jays. Now it’s the Mets’ turn. Blame Collins, blame Murphy, blame Cespedes, blame an offense that on Saturday night consisted almost entirely of Conforto.