KANSAS CITY -- Sitting at his locker following a gut-wrenching, 3-2 loss in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night, having come within 90 feet of scoring the tying run against an otherwise unflappable Madison Bumgarner, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon found himself wishing he was someone else.
"I'm not as fast as Jarrod Dyson," he said of the Royals' speedy pinch-runner. "If I was, I probably would've scored."
Gordon watched his liner fall into shallow center field with two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game, breaking a streak of 14 straight batters retired by Bumgarner, and then watched from third base as Salvador Perez hit a harmless foul popup that gave the Giants their third championship in five seasons.
What happened in between almost altered baseball history.
Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco raced in and to his right, initially hoping to catch Gordon's tailing liner on the fly, before pulling up at the very last instant.
"As soon as the ball was hit, I said to myself, 'You've got to go for that ball,'" Blanco recalled. "But then I got caught up, 'You've got to keep the double play in order.'"
And because of that, Blanco received an in-between hop that ricocheted quickly off the grass, just before he could get his glove down in time to corral it, and watched the ball roll all the way to the fence, leaving it for left fielder Juan Perez to retrieve.
"It bounced really hard," Blanco said. "I wasn't expecting that bounce at all."
Gordon got a decent jump out of the box, and as soon as he saw it squirt away, "I got a smile on my face, running the bases thinking, 'Hopefully I'll score.'"
Gordon turned his head away from the play as soon as his foot touched second base and began to rely on third-base coach Mike Jirschele, as he's taught to do. At that point, Gordon had no idea what was taking place behind him. No idea that Perez had fumbled the ball after initially trying to retrieve it with his bare hand, opening up a tiny window for Gordon to potentially score the tying run against a man the Royals could hardly ever score against.
"Oh my God," Blanco thought, "this is happening."
Jirschele backpedaled a few steps, giving himself a clear angle on both Gordon and the baseball, and ultimately raised both hands in the air, bringing Gordon to a slow jog as he hit the bag and shortstop Brandon Crawford cut off the throw.
"Believe me," Jirschele said, "I wanted to send him. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I didn't want to go the whole offseason with Alex getting thrown out halfway to home plate."
Gordon was still basically halfway between second and third when Perez finally retrieved the ball from the wall and flung it toward the infield. Barring a bad throw, he probably would've been out easily.
"He put his head down and ran and that's all you can do in that situation," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "It just didn't work out for us."
And so it came to be that the Royals' triumphant return to the postseason -- an enthralling surge with a young team and a captivated city that waited 29 long years for an October like this -- ended with its longest-tenured player standing on third base, a mere 90 feet away from tying Game 7.
Asked about that, Gordon widened the focus.
"I mean, you have to give credit to Bumgarner," he said. "You can't say enough about him and what he's done in this Series, this whole postseason. You don't tip your cap to most guys, but he's great. Great pitcher."
"Great" did not do Bumgarner justice this month, this Series or even this game.
Three days removed from a four-hit shutout at AT&T Park, the Giants' left-hander twirled five scoreless innings of relief on two days' rest, preserving a one-run lead from the start of the fifth to the end of the ninth. He gave up one measly run in 21 innings throughout the World Series, walking one and striking out 17 on his way to unanimous selection as its Most Valuable Player.
"An ace to the truest term," Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said of a man who notched a new postseason record with 52 2/3 innings.
"We felt like we were going to get to him eventually, and he just kept coming at us. That's the type of guy you want on your team. He put his team on his back and carried them. He carried them to a championship."