Reliever hesitates on comebacker, leading to big inning for Mets
By Paul Hagen
NEW YORK -- Royals manager Ned Yost spent a few moments breaking down the play, the one that may have been the fork in the road in Game 3 of the World Series against the Mets on Friday night at Citi Field. He talked about how he'd planned to set up his bullpen and why he double-switched and what reliever Franklin Morales might have been thinking when a potential inning-ending double play turned into no outs at all.
The Royals lost, 9-3, to trim their Series lead to 2-1, and maybe there's no such thing as a turning point in a game that ends up that lopsided. At the same time, Kansas City was only down by two going into the bottom of the sixth. Not ideal, but hardly desperate considering that Kansas City had scored 41 runs from the seventh inning on this postseason. The Mets had scored 11.
Besides, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard already was over 100 pitches. And the Royals' bullpen has been a strength of the team and also was well-rested following Johnny Cueto's complete game Wednesday night and Thursday's off-day.
Then it all went kablooey.
Morales became the fourth pitcher used by Yost after starter Yordano Ventura lasted just 3 1/3 innings. Morales gave up a run and had runners on first and third with one out when Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson chopped the ball right back to the mound.
What Morales should have done was to immediately throw to second.
What he did instead was look at second. Then look at the plate. Then look at third. Then finally make a belated throw to second that was offline on top of everything else. Everybody was safe and the bases were loaded.
"On that play, I'm supposed to throw to second right away," Morales said. "I heard, 'Home, home, home.' When I looked at it, I saw the runner get back to third. And I decided to throw to second because Granderson is a fast runner and didn't have any chance to throw to first. But that's part of the game."
"But that's part of the game," Morales said. "That's what I heard. But that's OK."
Morales conceded that he probably could have had the double play if he had immediately thrown to second.
"That was my intention," he said. "I'm supposed to throw right away. That's what I tried to do."
Said Yost: "That was a key play. That was a big out that we needed to get at that point. It was a ground ball right back to him. And his instincts were right. He was going to turn around and fire to second. Franklin said he heard Salvy say, 'Home.' So it stopped and turned and it was a mess from that point."
The manager said he hadn't talked to Perez about what happened. The catcher was not available for comment after the game.
Morales was pitching for the first time since being used for a mop-up ninth against the Blue Jays in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. That was on Oct. 20. Only six times during the season did Morales pitch with more than three days' rest and he had never gone this long between appearances.
"I felt fine," he said.
Morales retired the first batter he faced, but the situation quickly unraveled for the Royals.
Pinch-hitter Juan Lagares singled and Morales hit shortstop Wilmer Flores with a pitch. Another pinch-hitter, Juan Uribe, got Syndergaard out of the game, but Uribe drove an opposite-field single, scoring Lagares and sending Flores to third in his first at-bat in more than a month.
"That was bad location, bad pitch," Morales said of the curveball. "It was supposed to be down and I missed it."
Then came the play that defined Morales' night. And it didn't take long for the game to get out of hand after that.
Kelvin Herrera, normally the setup man, replaced Morales. Yost said he was going to come in to face David Wright, but hoped to limit his workload. That's why he double-switched when Herrera came into the game.
But Wright greeted him with a two-run single, Daniel Murphy walked and Yoenis Cespedes delivered a sacrifice fly to drive in the Mets' fourth run of the inning. All were charged to Morales.
Yost said his blueprint after Ventura left was one-inning stints by his relievers.
"Hold the fort and see if we could score some runs down the road," the manager said. "But that plan kind of fell by the wayside when Morales came in and ended up getting the bases loaded."
The Royals' bullpen was well-rested coming into Game 3, but they had to go 4 2/3 innings Friday night. And Game 4 starter Chris Young is pitching on short rest after throwing 50 pitches in relief Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Morales' indecision could have made the difference in Game 3. The Royals now hope the ripple effect on the bullpen won't have an impact on Game 4.
Paul Hagen is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.