50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #16: Bumgarner Ends Royals’ Dream Run (October 29, 2014)

Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.

I still haven’t watched the last out.

As the top of the ninth ended, with San Francisco clinging to a 3-2 lead, I switched off the TV and turned on the radio. I had decided that no matter what happened, I wanted Denny Matthews to describe it. Besides, the Giants’ starter-turned-reliever Madison Bumgarner had retired 12 straight Royals since entering the game in the fifth. It was time to try something new.

Early returns were not promising. Eric Hosmer struck out and Billy Butler made the second out on a popup, the last at-bat of his Royals career. At last, Alex Gordon gave the Royals some life, with a sinking line drive into left-center field, where Gregor Blanco did his best bullfighter impression, waving his glove at the ball as if it were a cape. The ball skipped behind him, all the way to the wall. Left fielder Juan Perez tracked it down, but kicked it slightly, before making a strong throw to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Third base coach Mike Jirschele threw up a stop sign and Gordon complied, pulling in to the base with the tying run. A World Series that had been entertaining despite some lopsided final scores was now as tense as a baseball situation could be. Royals Devil Magic seemed to be alive once again. I resisted a strong urge to turn the TV back on, deciding Denny would carry me home.

But this time, for the first time in weeks, it was not meant to be for Kansas City. Salvador Perez got a steady diet of high fastballs, alternating swings and misses and takes for four pitches before fouling the fifth one into the seats. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Bumgarner threw a fastball in on Perez’s hands. This time, the foul popup stayed in play, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval corralled it to end the Series, giving San Francisco its third title in a five-year span.

Of course, Royals fans spent the winter discussing whether Gordon should have stopped at third. To me, the replay on the Fox broadcast from the camera behind home plate made it clear. Gordon was only reaching third as the ball reached Crawford. Any decent throw would have nailed Gordon by a wide margin. Perez was hitting .348 for the Series before making the last out. A 35% chance of a hit seems far better than the odds that Crawford would somehow launch a throw over the backstop. 

“When it got by him, I had a smile on my face. I thought maybe I could score, but he got to it quickly enough. I just put my head down and ran, almost fell around second base, was just waiting for (Jirschele) to give me the signal. It was a good hold. He had the ball in plenty of time.”–Gordon, quoted by the Associated Press, October 30, 2014

In the end, this was Bumgarner’s game. The lefthander was the easy choice for MVP of the Series, with a 0.43 ERA in 21 innings. With the blowout in Game Six, both teams had been able to reset their bullpens, and the Giants were hoping they could use Bumgarner for three innings. Instead, he pitched the final five frames for the save, to go along with his wins in Game One and Game Five.

“He didn’t lose a bit of energy. He didn’t lose a bit of stuff. Sometimes you wonder if he’s got a pulse.”–Giants pitcher Matt Cain, quoted by the Associated Press, October 30, 2014

“I wasn’t thinking about innings or pitch count. I was just thinking about getting outs, getting outs, until I couldn’t get them anymore and we needed someone else.”–Bumgarner, quoted by the Associated Press, October 30, 2014

For the Royals, it would be a long winter of thinking about missed chances. Not just the one in the ninth inning, but the leadoff hitters they got on base in the third, fourth, and fifth innings without scoring a single run. The third inning was particularly painful, as Lorenzo Cain led off with a single. Hosmer’s ground ball appeared destined for right field, but second baseman Joe Panik made a terrific stop, starting a double play that was only confirmed on review, as the replay officials in New York determined Crawford’s relay throw had just beaten Hosmer’s dive into first. If Panik had not gotten there, the Royals would have had runners on first and third and no one out.

There was also the matter of the game’s deciding run. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie had limited the Giants to two runs after the first three batters reached in the second. Sandoval and Hunter Pence started the fourth with singles, and although Guthrie retired Brandon Belt, Royals manager Ned Yost decided to begin his bullpen parade. Kelvin Herrera, who had become quite adept at cleaning up messes in the postseason, started Brandon Morse with two strikes but couldn’t sneak the third one past him. Despite breaking his bat, Morse dumped the ball into right field, allowing Sandoval to score what turned out to be the game-winner.

And of course, there was the fact the Royals hadn’t been this close to a title in three decades. Would they ever get back here? If any fanbase understood that wasn’t a guarantee, it was Kansas City’s.

“As magical as our run has been, to end up losing the ballgame by 90 feet is tough. But the hard part about this is that you work all year to climb to the top of the mountain. And then, boom, you fall back and you’ve got to start right back at the bottom again the next year.”–Yost, quoted by Andy McCullogh, Kansas City Star, October 30, 2014

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