Kansas City Gets To The New York Bullpen Again

For the fourth time in four World Series games, a New York Mets starter was gone before the seventh inning. And for the third time in those games, the Kansas City Royals made the Mets pay, with a three-run rally in the eighth to win 5-3 and move to the brink of their first title since 1985.

Steven Matz pitched excellent baseball for New York last night, leaving in the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead (he would be billed for one more run that scored in the top of the sixth). And given that Matz isn’t one of the workhorses of the Mets’ staff, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to go deep into Game 4. But the extended opportunities the Royals got against the New York bullpen underscored their success and why they are poised to win this World Series.

The key decision for Mets manager Terry Collins came with one out in the eighth with Lorenzo Cain at the plate. Tyler Clippard was on the mound and closer Jeruys Familia was ready in the bullpen. Fox Sports analyst Tom Verducci opined that it was time for Familia. Clippard got Cain in an 0-2 hole, but then lost him with a walk. It was then that Collins went to Familia.

I didn’t have a problem with the decision to stick with Clippard. I understand Verducci’s logic—this isn’t the regular season and the bullpen formulas have to go out the window with a one-run lead in a must-win game. My issue was that I didn’t have huge confidence in Familia—he’d already given up a game-tying home run to Alex Gordon in Game 1. It wasn’t as though Collins left Mariano Rivera sitting in the pen while Rome burned.

Conversely, I would have understood if Collins had gone to his closer. When you don’t have a great bullpen—at least great by October standards—the choices are never ideal. The New York skipper is playing with a weaker hand than Kansas City’s Ned Yost in these situations.

Speaking of Yost…he’s won two straight American League pennants, so he’s obviously got some managerial skill, but in-game strategy is not one of them. I have just never seen anyone who does so many things that are transparently stupid—not even understandable if you try to get inside his mind—and still gets away with them. The last two nights was a case in point.

Let’s trace back to Game 3 when Yost brought in outstanding seventh-inning man Kelvin Herrera in a game that had already gotten away from him. Yost already had a 2-0 series lead at the time and only needed to pick up one win in New York. Why was he selling out the bullpen in a vain attempt to keep Game 3 close? It nearly bit him last night when he didn’t have Herrera. Fortunately for Yost, Wade Davis delivered a two-inning save.

Then there’s the use of Kendry Morales. One of Yost’s biggest edges in the National League park is that he has an elite DH on his bench available to pinch hit. So when did Ned choose to play the Kendry card last night? In the top of the fifth inning with two outs and a man on first base. Huh?

It reminds me of something former Boston Red Sox lefthander Bill Lee said about his manager Darrell Johnson in the mid-to-late 1970s—Yost is like a cat that knows how to fall out of trees and keep landing safely.

Kansas City goes for the clincher tonight in Game 5 (8 PM ET, Fox). Edinson Volquez faces Matt Harvey for New York. There’s a heavy dose of history on the Royals’ side. No team has blown a 3-1 lead in the World Series since…well since 1985, when Kansas City rallied past St. Louis. And no team has blown the final two games on their home field—a circumstance that will apply on Tuesday and Wednesday if necessary—since 1979, when Pops Stargell’s “We Are Family” Pirates rallied against the Orioles.