World Series: Royals Can’t Bridge The Gap, Blow Early Lead
Score: Giants 11 – Royals 4
Series: Series tied 2-2
Game Hero: Pablo Sandoval, 2-5, tie-breaking two-run single
Game Summary: The Kansas City Royals’ bullpen has been virtually unassailable this post-season. Needed in the fifth inning in Game Four of the World Series, the Royals’ middle relief struggled and Kansas City was unable to convert an early lead into a win. The San Francisco Giants now have themselves in an enviable position with the series tied and ace Madison Bumgarner lined up to start Game Five.
Going into Game Four, much of the pre-game discussion centered around the Giants’ decision to start Ryan Vogelsong rather than turn to Bumgarner on early rest. Coming into this year’s post-season, Vogelsong had allowed just three runs in 24.2 career post-season innings. He had a strong start against the Washington Nationals in the NLDS, but Vogelsong struggled in his NLCS starts against St. Louis and he had an up-and-down regular season.
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy went with Vogelsong, and early on, the decision looked wise. He breezed through the first inning and carried an early lead when the Giants scratched out a run without the benefit of a hit off Royals’ starter Jason Vargas in the bottom of the first.
With the game still 1-0 Giants, Vogelsong began the top of the third against his counterpart Vargas, who battled Vogelsong for an eight-pitch at-bat before flying out. That at-bat might have worn Vogelsong down some, as he immediately began to struggle. Alcides Escobar singled. Alex Gordon hit into a force-out, but the inning continued when Gordon stole second base and Lorenzo Cain collected an infield hit. Eric Hosmer then hit a soft groundball past the right-side of the mound. Vogelsong ranged to try to field the grounder, but then veered to first when he realized that first baseman Brandon Belt had a better play on the ball. Belt fed Vogelsong the ball, but Vogelsong stutter-stepped as he tried to find first base. Hosmer beat Vogelsong to the bag and the game was tied.
Vogelsong then walked Mike Moustakas on four pitches, loading the bases. That brought Omar Infante to the plate. The second baseman hit a groundball single back up the middle, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead. Salvador Perez then followed with another RBI single, ending Vogelsong’s night with the Royals leading 4-1. Jean Machi took over for Vogelsong and he walked Jarrod Dyson, loading the bases once again. That brought Vargas back up to the plate. Vargas had a good at-bat, and he even momentarily thought he had walked in a run when a 2-2 pitch was called ball three (he thought it was ball four). Vargas would eventually take strike-three and the inning ended with four runs in.
Although the Giants faced a three-run deficit, the game felt far from over. San Francisco chipped back right away, scoring a run in the bottom of the third. Matt Duffy – pinch-hitting for Machi – singled to lead off the inning. He moved to second on a Gregor Blanco ground out and remained at second when Joe Panik flew out before scoring on a two-out Buster Posey RBI single. Hunter Pence followed with a single, but Vargas survived the inning by retiring Pablo Sandoval on a strike-out swinging.
The Giants turned to long-man extraordinaire Yusmeiro Petit in the fourth and he shut-down the Royals for the next three innings. The game remained 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth. The Royals were hoping for one more good inning from Vargas to bridge the gap between him and the back-end relievers who worked so well in Game Three: Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. The Giants made sure that bridge couldn’t be built.
Panik started the inning with a double to right and that spelled the end of the night for Vargas. Veteran right-hander Jason Frasor took over and he immediately retired Posey on a groundout that allowed Panik to move to third. The Royals then elected to play the infield in with Panik at third and Pence at the plate. That decision proved costly when Pence hit a groundball up the middle that a pulled in Escobar couldn’t reach at short. The groundball was going to score a run regardless, but by playing in, the Royals allowed Pence to reach base safely.
Lefty Danny Duffy came in for Frasor, as Kansas City elected to turn the switch-hitting Sandoval around to his weaker (right) side. Sandoval undid that strategy by singling to left, moving Pence to third. Belt then walked to load the bases, bringing Juan Perez to the plate. Perez hit a soft flyball to center that looked like it would fall in for a two-run single. Royals’ centerfielder Dyson made a spectacular diving catch to retire Perez. The tying run scored, but Dyson’s catch saved at least one run. When Crawford struck-out to end the inning, that play looked like a potential turning point in the game. Instead, it would simply delay the Giants’ surge into the lead.
In the top of the sixth, Dyson led-off the inning with a single. Nori Aoki came to the plate as a pinch-hitter and the Royals looked like they would be able to use their speed at the plate and on the bases to get a rally going. Instead, Aoki hit a hard groundball to first that Belt was able to turn into a 3-6-3 double-play.
With the game tied at 4, the Royals turned to Finnegan in the bottom of the sixth. The rookie left-hander has been spectacular this post-season, just five months removed from pitching in college. However, on Saturday, Finnegan had his first post-season hiccup.
Pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias began the sixth with a single and Blanco followed with a single of his own. Panik sacrificed both runners over and the Royals elected to walk Posey intentionally, loading the bases for Pence. Finnegan got Pence to ground into a force out at home, leaving him one out away from wiggling out of the inning. However, Sandoval lined the first pitch he saw from Finnegan into center for a two-run single. Belt followed with another RBI single and suddenly San Francisco had a three-run lead.
That was all the Giants would need, but they continued to add on against the Royals’ relief corps. Finnegan remained in the game in the bottom of the seventh and he allowed the first two runners to reach safely before he was removed from the game in favor of Tim Collins. Collins would allow both of Finnegan’s runners to score, as well as two additional runs to cross the plate. Once a tight game, Game Four was now an 11-4 rout.
Although the Royals didn’t use any of their three top relievers, the Giants still were the first team this post-season to make much headway against any part of the Kansas City bullpen. The Giants scored eight runs against the KC bullpen. The Royals were also forced to use four relievers in the game. Finnegan isn’t likely to be available in Game Five, and Collins may also be unavailable after throwing two innings.
What’s Next: Game Five will feature a Game One rematch between Bumgarner and right-hander James Shields. Shields will be looking to rebound from what has been an underwhelming post-season thus far. The winner will head to Kansas City one win away from taking the series.