One win away for K.C.
By Andy McCullough
Tribune News Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Eric Hosmer felt the smile emerge and let it envelop his face. There was no time for sheepishness, not in Game 6 of the World Series, not with a season for the ages on the brink, not with winter creeping closer with each out. Hosmer might never hit a double with less force. He might never savor one more.
The baseball bounced near the front of the plate, floated high above the drawn-in infield of the San Francisco Giants and landed in the forgiving dirt of Kauffman Stadium. Hosmer watched it roll into the unmanned outfield grass and hustled for a two-run double, a moment of levity in a 10-0 victory -- and a yet another sign of the baseball gods seeking a game seven at this ballpark, in this city, just like 1985.
"This is what everyone dreams about playing in," Hosmer said. "This is the game that you work your whole life to be in."
The Royals borrowed the 29-year-old script from the seventh game of that fabled series for the sixth game of this one. They overwhelmed the Giants duo of Jake Peavy and Yusmeiro Petit with a seven-run flurry of second-inning paper cuts. Lorenzo Cain drove in three runs to add another chapter to his October highlight reel. Mike Moustakas broke Willie Aikens' franchise record with his fifth postseason homer.
And manager Ned Yost will live his dream, a seven-game donnybrook, a World Series that goes the distance.
"When I was 10 years old," Yost said, "hitting rocks in the backyard, trying to hit it over the fence for a home run, I never one time thought 'OK, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth, game five of the World Series,' you know? It was always two outs, bottom of the ninth, game seven of the World Series."
While his teammates chased Peavy after just four outs, Yordano Ventura lasted seven innings and protected the Kansas City bullpen for tonight's finale.
He became the second rookie since 1949 to throw as many scoreless innings in the Fall Classic, and the first since the Giants' Madison Bumgarner in 2010.
Up seven runs with seven innings to go, Ventura opted not to wobble. He walked the bases loaded in the top of the third, but one 97-mph fastball later, Buster Posey tapped a double-play grounder and ruined San Francisco's best threat to make this game interesting.
Instead, it was just a blast for the 40,372 fans gathered here. A similar number will gather again to watch Jeremy Guthrie tussle with Giants veteran Tim Hudson. Looming in the San Francisco bullpen will be Bumgarner, the 6-5 southpaw bulldog who hounded the Royals in the first and fifth games of this series. The Royals can counter with a fully rested trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
"We got our three," outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. "We're going to throw them at them. They're going to throw theirs at us. Best team wins."
Dyson and his teammates sang a similar chorus inside their clubhouse after the game. They hyped the meaning of the moment, one they had spent years striving toward. Dyson spoke of the potential to "make history."
"There's only one way to make history," he said. "That's to win. We've got to win (today). That's our goal. We win, we can be in the history books."
And they may have to conquer a pitcher who belongs there. Bumgarner dissected his guests with bluntness and little humor on Sunday night at AT&T Park. The shutout left the Royals down, 3-2, and wincing upon their return.
The situation mirrored the night at this park 28 days prior, when the Royals staked their season on one game with Oakland. A comeback from a four-run deficit -- and a subsequent eight-game winning streak -- infused this group with confidence. When a reporter mentioned before the game "there is no tomorrow," Yost cut the query off.
"There is tomorrow," he said.
To get there, the Royals turned to the youngest member of their starting rotation. Ventura, 23, was the last to emerge from the dugout as his teammates took the field at 7:06 p.m. He jogged out of the dugout and slowed to a walk after entering the infield diamond.
Ventura chalked on the front of his cap a tribute to Oscar Taveras, the 22-year-old Cardinals outfielder who died in car crash Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Ventura knew Taveras, his fellow countryman, in the minor leagues. They would hang out at each other's apartments after games in the lower levels. On Ventura's hat he wrote "R.I.P. O.T. #18." The loss of his friend would not faze him.
"You've got a 23-year-old pitching in the biggest game this stadium has seen in 29 years, with our backs against the wall," Yost said. "And he goes out there in complete control of his emotions with great stuff and throws seven shutout innings."
The same could not be said of Peavy. He entered the game with a 7.05 ERA in eight previous playoff starts. The number would soon rise. Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez singled to start the second inning. Giants manager Bruce Bochy executed two moves. He rang up his bullpen and ordered Petit to start warming up. Then he maneuvered his infielders to combat Moustakas.
The shift had confounded Moustakas all season long. This time, he slipped through it. Peavy stuffed a cutter on Moustakas' hands, and Moustakas flicked it toward first base. The ball squeezed through the narrow corridor between the line and the glove of Brandon Belt. Moustakas had his sixth RBI of the postseason and the Royals had the lead.
"Against a team like that, they don't ever quit and they don't ever give up," Moustakas said. "So you've got to keep adding on."
The advantage would only swell and swell -- in part thanks to a mistake by Belt on a grounder by Alcides Escobar. As Belt fielded the ball, Peavy pointed toward the plate, which Perez was feigning a dash toward.
Belt hesitated and Perez admitted his bluff. By then, Escobar had picked up momentum. Belt shifted direction and declined to throw to second baseman Joe Panik at the bag. Instead Belt waved his arm in vain as Escobar ran by for an unorthodox infield single.
"I think he just waited a hair too long," Bochy said.
Peavy was near the end of his rope. Nori Aoki fouled off four pitches before he slapped a single underneath third baseman Pablo Sandoval's glove. Perez scored, and Bochy removed Peavy. In from the bullpen came Petit.
Petit rescued the Giants during game four, relieving Ryan Vogelsong with three scoreless frames as the Royals frittered away a three-run lead. This time, he recorded only two outs, and none before the rout was on.
"The big inning killed us," Bochy said.
The bases were loaded for Cain. He responded with a hit that has become so familiar this October. Cain lifted a two-run single that fell in shallow right-center field. Two runs scored. A wild pitch let him take second base.
The extra base proved pivotal. Bochy moved his infielders to the lip of the infield grass.
He did not want to concede a run, even with a four-run deficit. So Hosmer's chopper landed in the territory normally manned by Brandon Crawford. Instead of a harmless out, it was a double that pushed the lead to six.
All that remained was the waiting. At 7:07 p.m. today, the Royals will reconvene on this diamond to finish an odyssey that began nearly nine months ago and try to end a cycle of heartbreak that began 29 years ago. The seventh game of the World Series is all that stands between them and a championship.
"This," Hosmer said, "is why you play the game."