50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #7: Cain Scores From First, Davis Holds On After Delay (October 23, 2015)

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.

While the 2014 Royals were playing with house money a bit when they found themselves one win away from the World Series (a 3-0 series lead is normally pretty safe), the 2015 Royals were in an ALCS dogfight with the Toronto Blue Jays. So even though they were at home, and even though they had two chances to pick up one win, there was definitely some tension ahead of Game Six. The Blue Jays’ lineup was downright scary, and the Royals would likely use Johnny Cueto in a Game Seven start. Toronto had roughed up Cueto pretty good in Game Three, chasing him from the game after he failed to retire the first five hitters in the third inning. So a potential Game Seven felt very much like a coin flip.

To make matters even more tense, Toronto was sending David Price to the mound for this one. Although the Royals picked up the win with a late rally in Game Two, Price had recorded 18 straight outs in that one. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had enjoyed some success against Royals starter Yordano Ventura in that one. And when Ben Revere led off this game with a double, it looked like more of the same. But Ventura retired the next three batters.

Unlike Game Two, the Royals scored first. Just like Game Two, it was Ben Zobrist. Unlike his popup that dropped in for a single to start that game-winning rally, this was a home run, as Zobrist golfed an inside fastball into the left field seats.

The Royals added a somewhat-controversial run in the second. Mike Moustakas hit a line drive to right center, where a fan appeared to reach over the fence and snare it. The umpires ruled it a home run, and the Blue Jays challenged the call. Replays were inconclusive, and the call was upheld, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead.

Jose Bautista cut the lead in half with a one-out home run in the fourth, but the score remained 2-1 into the seventh. A fantastic diving catch by Moustakas on Josh Donaldson’s line drive ended the fifth with two runners on base. Ventura left the game in the sixth, after Edwin Encarnacion doubled with one out, but Kelvin Herrera retired the next two hitters to keep KC in front.

Meanwhile, the Royals’ bats had largely gone silent since the Moustakas home run. Price struck out the side in the fourth and stranded Alex Rios at second in the fifth after a single and stolen base. But Moustakas led off the seventh with a single, a broken-bat hit that dropped safely into center field. Salvador Perez launched one to left field, but Toronto’s Ben Revere leaped into the air and caught it just before he hit the fence in front of the bullpen. Moustakas had to hustle back to first, but he then moved up to second on a groundout. Toronto manager John Gibbons summoned Aaron Sanchez from the bullpen to face the right-handed Rios, but Kansas City’s number nine hitter yanked a fastball into left field, bringing Moustakas in for a 3-1 lead. Sanchez would give up another hit but got out of the jam.

Now Royals manager Ned Yost had a decision to make. Everyone in the stadium and watching the TV broadcast was aware of the line of storms headed for Kansas City. It was almost certain there would be a fairly long rain delay. Toronto had the top of the order due up. Should Yost use closer Wade Davis, knowing it was unlikely he would be able to pitch the ninth after the delay? Or try to get through the eighth with the lead and save Davis for the ninth?

Yost chose the latter, calling on Ryan Madson, who had been a good pickup for the Royals before the season but had also been torched by the Blue Jays (a 27.00 ERA in 1 ⅔ innings in 2015, although he had pitched two scoreless innings in the ALCS). Revere led off with a single, and Yost seemed to second-guess himself right away, getting Davis warming up in the bullpen. Madson struck out Josh Donaldson, but Bautista launched a laser into the left-field seats. Tie game. After Madson walked Encarnacion, Yost had no choice but to call on Davis. A popup and a strikeout later and the Royals were out of the inning.

Before the bottom of the eighth could begin, the umpires called for the grounds crew to put the tarp on the field. Forty-five minutes later, the rain was over and play could resume. Lorenzo Cain, facing Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, drew a walk, setting up the most crucial, and possibly craziest, play in a game full of crucial and crazy plays. Eric Hosmer pulled a ball down the right field line. Bautista cut it off before it could reach the wall, but then whirled and threw towards second. Cain never stopped running. Third base coach Mike Jirschele, who had received quite a bit of criticism for stopping Alex Gordon at third base in the ninth inning of Game Seven in the 2014 World Series, never hesitated, waving Cain home. Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki took the throw and fired home, but much too late to get Cain, who slid in safely and in the same motion leapt in the air, pumping his fists. The Kauffman Stadium crowd, which had definitely been quieted by Bautista’s game-tying home run and the rain delay, roared to life.

“The main thing Jirsch tells us is to keep running hard, never stop, and we’ll go from there.”–Cain, quoted by Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

“I knew if I had somebody that could run coming into third base, we were going to go ahead and wheel him. It’s my job to recognize that on a ball like that if he throws to second, and you have somebody who can run, they’re going to have to catch it at second, turn and throw home.”–Jirschele, quoted by Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

“It was a helluva send. It happened because Jirsch did his homework.”–Yost, quoted by Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

Indeed, Jirschele had noticed Bautista make the same play earlier in the series, except with Kendrys Morales headed towards third. Jirschele had not been able to send the slower Morales home, but he filed it away.

Osuna escaped the inning with the score still 4-3, and now the question was who would pitch the ninth for the Royals. Relief pitchers, especially closers, are used to pitching one inning per game, giving maximum effort on every pitch. Sending one back out after a 45-minute rain delay and a 15-minute bottom of the eighth just doesn’t happen.

Except in this case. Davis had spent the rain delay stretching and playing catch, trying to keep his arm warm. And then he headed to the mound for the ninth.

“(The rain delay) wasn’t quite an hour. But it felt like it was four hours.”–Yost, quoted by Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

“I’m going back out because I want to go to the World Series.”–Davis, quoted by Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

But of course it wouldn’t be that easy. Russell Martin hit the first pitch of the inning into center field for a single. Pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second on the next pitch, then stole third with a 2-2 count on Kevin Pillar as Luke Hochevar began warming up in the bullpen. Pillar worked a walk, and now the Blue Jays had two runners on, no outs, and the top of the lineup looming. Davis managed to strike out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro, but Pillar swiped second on the play. A base hit now and Toronto would likely have the lead. 

Davis was clearly not sharp, throwing two wide ones to Revere. But then he threw a nice breaking pitch for strike one. The Royals caught a bit of a break when the next pitch, just off the outside corner, was ruled strike two by home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Revere reacted angrily, then swung through a curve down and in for strike three and the second out. The Fox cameras caught Revere smashing a trash can with his bat in the dugout as Donaldson, just weeks away from being named American League MVP, settled in the box.

Davis threw nothing but fastballs. The first one was low. Donaldson swung and missed at a belt-high one. He watched a knee-high one miss the outside corner. And then a fastball, diving at just the right moment. Donaldson went down after it, going down on a knee as he swung, but pulled a grounder to the left side. Moustakas calmly fielded it and threw a strike to Hosmer, and the Royals were American League champions once again.

“I’d been seeing that pitch happen since the beginning of the at bat. Fortunately, it got hit at somebody.”–Davis, quoted by Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

“I don’t know how the hell he did it.”–Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, quoted by Sam Mellinger, The Kansas City Star, October 25, 2015

7 thoughts on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #7: Cain Scores From First, Davis Holds On After Delay (October 23, 2015)

  1. I love that the final out was Donaldson hitting a grounder to third that was handled properly by the Royals’ third baseman. Sort of a poetic reversal of how the 2014 Wild Card game ended.

    Liked by 1 person

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