By: Joe Botana
“Ya Gotta Believe!” – Phrase made famous by former Mets closer and Hall of Fame member, the late Tug McGraw, whose son, country music star Tim McGraw, threw out the first pitch at game four on Saturday night.
The phrase “Ya Gotta Believe!” indeed looked most appropriate to describe the way the game was going for the Mets. After an inspirational first pitch thrown out by Tug McGraw’s son Tim, and with rookie Steven Matz mowing down Royals like a Citi Field lawn crew tractor mows the outfield grass, they found themselves with an early 2-0 lead through three, and then a 3-1 lead through five. These leads featured a mental lapse by Royals outfielder Alex Rios who, after his catch of what he thought was Curtis Granderson’s fly ball for the third out of the third inning, failed to throw the ball home in time to prevent Wilmer Flores from tagging and scoring after what was actually the second out. More importantly, they were also the result of two home run blasts by rookie outfielder Michael Conforto. The Mets and their fans alike were believing in a story line that would see them tied 2-2 with the Royals going into game five on Sunday night.
But the Royals, like an ever persistent boomerang or bad penny, kept coming back and would not go away. In their usual “station to station them to death” style, they brought the score back to 3-2. An Alex Gordon single in the fifth to drive in Salvador Perez, and then a Lorenzo Cain single in the sixth to drive in Ben Zobrist, left the Mets clinging to the lead by the minimum margin. Steven Matz gave way to the bullpen, first to Jon Niese, and then to Bartolo Colon, who was able to escape Houdini-like from the consequences of a failed pick-off attempt and end the sixth with no further damage. It was still “Ya Gotta Believe!” but it was getting harder and harder with each passing frame.
In the eighth, “Ya Gotta Believe!” was transformed into “Ya Can’t Believe What’s Happening Here!” in the eyes of the forty-thousand plus Mets faithful in attendance. Tyler Clippard forced Alcides Escobar to ground out, then walked Ben Zobrist. With closer Jurys Familia warming up in the pen, Terry Collins allowed Clippard, who would go on to be tagged with the loss, to remain in the game to face, and eventually walk, Lorenzo Cain. At that point, Familia, who had blown his first save opportunity in game one, came in to face Eric Hosmer. It was at that point where the wheels came off for the Mets.
Hosmer hit a slow roller to second base, and “Murphy the Hero” of the NLDS and NLCS became “Murphy the Goat.” Rushing in to field the ball and preparing to throw hurriedly, he instead allowed the ball to roll under his glove and past him into right field. This play simultaneously plated Zobrist for the tying run and forever joined Murphy with Bill Buckner in the future trivia question “name two infielders who made disastrous and memorable errors on the right side of the infield during World Series games involving the New York Mets.”
Clearly shaken from his second consecutive blown save, Familia allowed another single on a sharp ground ball by Mike Moustakas just out of the reach of Murphy’s desperate diving attempt, scoring Cain for a 4-3 Royals lead. Salvador Perez then extended the Royals lead to 5-3 with a sharp line drive to right field to right to bring home Hosmer. Daniel Murphy somewhat redeemed himself with a heads-up double play to end the disastrous Royals eighth, but the looks of disbelief and dismay were present on nearly every face which the TV cameras panned as Royals ace Wade Davis prepared to come in for a two-inning save.
In the eight, Davis set down the Mets in order. Not wanting to overwork Familia with a critical game five looming on Sunday, Collins turned instead to Hansel Robles to pitch the ninth. Robles set down the Royals in order, ensuring that just one base runner, followed by a timely swat, would put the Mets right back in game four. After all, “Ya Gotta Believe!” right? Especially with the heart of the order coming up! After Davis struck out David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes both singled to set up Lucas Duda, who had been the Mets’ most effective hitter early in the series, to be the hero.
Unfortunately for Mets fans, “Ya Gotta Believe!” was transformed into “Ya Can’t Believe What Just Happened!” in a New York City Minute. Earlier in the game, a mental lapse by KC benefitted NY, and in the ninth inning NY returned the favor. Duda hit a line drive to Moustakas, who caught it for the second out. He then quickly noticed that Cespedes had foolishly taken off for second base, and threw to Hosmer at first to complete the double play and end any hope or belief left in the hearts of Mets fans. After the early optimism and positive results, the cold reality of being down three games to one was as real and spooky as the Halloween moon visible through the autumn clouds over Citi Field.
The series continues, and possibly concludes, on Sunday night in New York. While the odds for New York are definitely long, they are not insurmountable. The Royals themselves were down 3-1 against St. Louis in 1985 and came back to win that series. Five teams have won their World Series’ after falling behind 3-1, and three of them (the ’58 Yankees, ’68 Tigers, and ’79 Pirates) did it by winning the last two games as visitors, as the Mets would have to do in Kauffman Stadium next week if they manage to stave off elimination in game five. However, thirty-five of the previous forty-two teams to win game four to go up 4-1 have gone on to win the World Series.
For the Royals, the quest for redemption, to finish the unfinished business from the 2014 World Series, is not completed but definitely seems to be within grasp. For the Mets and their fans, the rallying cry remains “Ya Gotta Believe!” But it is getting very hard.