By Andy McCullough
Tribune News Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Salvador Perez pointed to his mouth and then to his chest. The objects of his ire were the blazing eyes and flapping lips of San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland.
The Royals had just treated Strickland like a piÃ±ata, busting open the sixth inning in a 7-2 victory, evening this World Series at 1-1 and reminding the Giants of the throbbing heart inside the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium.
The game had shifted from a nail-biter to a laugher during a 32-minute inning. Billy Butler roped a go-ahead single and basked in a curtain call. Perez crushed a two-run double. Omar Infante followed with a two-run homer against Strickland.
Infante pounded his chest as he touched first base, but Strickland found himself distracted by Perez, who stared at him as he rounded third base.
"When I got to home plate, he just turned to me like 'Hey, get out of here,' " Perez said. "He looked at me. I was like 'Why did you look at me? Omar hit a homer. Look at Omar.' "
Unable to procure outs, Strickland opted to spark a brouhaha. The imbroglio started in schoolyard fashion: Strickland eyeballed Perez's celebration after his double. So Perez eyed Strickland heading home, and then waited for Infante at the plate. Strickland motioned for Perez to approach the mound.
"Come on," Strickland appeared to shout. "Let's go."
Perez was interested. He had to be restrained by his teammates and the umpiring crew. The benches emptied and Danny Duffy led a trio of relievers on a sprint from the bullpen, only to find the temperature descending. After displaying a mastery over the Royals in game one, the Giants lost their cool, if only for a moment.
Perez flashed a small grin as he watched Strickland leave the game. Kansas City humbled San Francisco in the sixth, a day after the Giants thumped Royals starter James Shields.
Each club has now unleashed a volley of blows. The World Series is alive and well.
"How are we supposed to come back from what happened?" third baseman Mike Moustakas called out as reporters entered the clubhouse after the game, a reference to the line of questioning his team faced the day before.
"It's crazy," outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. "I hope that no one doubted us. Understand that we have a really good team. We're going to continue to fight."
Added outfielder Jarrod Dyson: "We don't worry about losses. We've lost before. We know what losing feels like. It's all about how you bounce back from it."
As the players take a day off today, they can reflect on the events of the sixth. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy opened himself up to criticism with his pitching maneuvers. An October gaffe from Bochy, a World Series champion in 2010 and 2012, is a rarity. But he opened the door for his hosts, only to watch the Royals blast it off its hinges.
First, Bochy let starter Jake Peavy face the heart of the Royals order for a third time. Cain rapped a single and Eric Hosmer worked a walk. Bochy tabbed Jean Machi, a groundball specialist, to face Butler, an inadvertent double-play savant. Butler counteracted with the best possible medicine: a line drive for an RBI single, his second of the game -- this one over the head of shortstop Brandon Crawford.
"Especially after last night," Butler said, "I felt it was definitely a must-win for us."
As the stadium reeled, Butler was removed for a pinch runner. Called back during a pitching change, he tipped his cap and flashed his rosy cheeks to the crowd. Javier Lopez, a lefty specialist, replaced Machi and got Alex Gordon to fly out. Bochy thought another right-handed pitcher would be wise. Choosing Strickland, who has now given up five homers in six games this postseason, was not.
"I got caught up," Strickland said. "And I obviously didn't control my emotions like I should have."
And to think, when the sixth inning began, it was the Royals who appeared in danger.
Yordano Ventura held the Giants to two runs in 5.1 innings. He left a gathering blaze for Kelvin Herrera to extinguish. Herrera fought fire with fire. His fastball touched 101 mph five times in a nine-pitch sequence, and his other three fastballs clocked in at a mere 100 mph. He shattered two bats and recorded two outs to maintain a 2-2 deadlock. Herrera picked up five outs in all, then ceded the mound to Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
"It's a huge luxury for me," manager Ned Yost said. "After the sixth inning, my thinking is done."
The previous night left the team in a precarious position. The Royals expended Duffy, their designated long reliever, in a three-inning stint relieving Shields. If Ventura experienced a hiccup -- either one wrought by the attack of the Giants or by his cranky right shoulder -- Yost indicated before the game the team may have to use game-four starter Jason Vargas in relief.
The possibility felt real. Ventura departed his last start, in the second game of the American League Championship Series, due to tightness in his right shoulder. The team relayed that an MRI revealed no structural damage to the joint. Yet the concern still lingered, in part because Ventura had already thrown 46 innings more than his career high.
As an organization, the Royals do not believe in artificial innings limits. They maintain a dialogue between their coaching staff, training staff and medical staff with pitchers like Ventura. Before the game general manager Dayton Moore expressed his faith in the ease of Ventura's delivery and the consistency of his resiliency.
The matchup pitted Ventura's premier weapon versus San Francisco's most conspicuous offensive asset. Ventura relies upon his fastball, that 97-mph pitch that rises into triple digits. The Giants hit .377 against pitches at 95 mph and up during the playoffs -- an average that rose during the game's first at-bat.
Ventura engaged in an eight-pitch duel with slap-hitting outfielder Gregor Blanco, a nominal backup with 15 homers in 681 regular-season games. Ventura unleashed fastballs up in the zone, but umpire Greg Cooper would not indulge him with strikes inside. With the count full, Blanco turned around a 98-mph pitch and deposited it into the San Francisco bullpen.
For the second night in a row, the Giants landed the first blow. The difference Wednesday was the Royals answered this time, a day after being stymied by Madison Bumgarner.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, after Alcides Escobar had reached on an infield single and ran himself into an out when caught stealing second base, Cain slashed a hit into left. A dive from outfielder Travis Ishikawa proved unproductive. The ball bounced past him, and Cain galloped to second.
Ishikawa is a first baseman forced into outfield duty by late-season injuries to Michael Morse and Angel Pagan. The inexperience showed. When Butler smacked a single past Crawford, Ishikawa came up throwing. He missed the cutoff man, and Cain raced home.
In the next inning, Peavy threw a pair of balls to Infante and was forced to spot an 89-mph fastball for a strike.
A sore shoulder has nagged Infante for months. He recorded precisely zero extra-base hits in his first 32 at-bats this postseason. He snapped the streak with a double to left. Two batters later, Escobar dumped a double into right and the Royals had their first lead of this World Series.
Ventura gave back the lead after two doubles in the fourth. But once Herrera snuffed out San Francisco in the sixth, the Royals appeared in command. It was Strickland who lost control, and Kansas City who benefited.
"I don't know what happened with that guy," Perez said. "But we don't want to fight on the field. I'm not that kind of person, that kind of player. I just like to play hard, enjoy the game and try to get a 'W' for my team."