Sunday, October 25, 2015

MLB Playoffs: Day 15

This entry is a tribute to all the baseball books for boys that I read growing up in the 1970's:


Growing up in the small town of Madison, Florida, Lorenzo Cain ran everywhere.  He ran to catch the school bus.  He ran around the playground at recess.  He ran errands for his mother, who raised him and his brother after his father died.  He liked running, and he was good at it.

By the time he entered high school, Lorenzo was one of the fastest kids in town.  He hoped to use his speed to play basketball -- his favorite sport.  But being fast wasn't enough for him to make the high school basketball team.  So he decided to try out for the baseball team.  He had never cared much for baseball -- he didn't even have a glove.  But he could hit -- and his speed made him a great defensive player.  Within a few years, he was playing baseball for Tallahassee Community College -- and then he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.  By 2010, at the age of 24, Lorenzo Cain was in the majors!

The next year, however, the Brewers traded Lorenzo to Kansas City.  This appeared to be a dead end.  The Royals had been a great power in the 1970's and 1980's, but the franchise had fallen on hard times.  Some experts thought it was impossible to build a winning franchise in a town of Kansas City's size.  But Lorenzo didn't give up.  In 2011, he played only six games for the Royals.  In 2012, he played 61 games.  In 2013, he was playing almost every day.

As Lorenzo played more games, the Royals were getting better.  In 2014, he batted .301 for the season -- his first year as a .300 hitter.  The Royals stunned the baseball world by winning the American League pennant for the first time since 1985.  In the World Series, Lorenzo batted .308 and played great defense in center field, but the Royals lost in seven games to the Giants.

Many experts thought that the Royals' 2014 season was a fluke, and that they wouldn't be back in 2015.  But Lorenzo and his teammates knew better.  In 2015, Lorenzo batted .307 and made the All Star Game for the first time.  The Royals won 97 games -- the most wins of any team in the American League -- and returned to the playoffs.  After beating Houston in the first round, they needed to get past the Toronto Blue Jays and return to the World Series.

In Game 1 against Toronto, Lorenzo drove in a run in a 5-0 win for Kansas City.  In Game 2, he singled and scored in a come-from-behind 6-3 win.  Toronto won Game 3 by the score 11 to 8, but the next day, Lorenzo got two walks and two singles as Kansas City won 14 to 2.  The Royals needed only one more win to clinch another pennant -- but the Blue Jays beat them 7 to 1 in Game 5.  So the teams traveled to Kansas City for Game 6.

It was a great game.  In the bottom of the 1st, Ben Zobrist homered to left to put the Royals up 1-0.  Another home run from Mike Moustakas in the 2d gave Kansas City a 2-0 lead.  But Toronto fought back with a home run from Jose Bautista in the top of the 4th to make the score 2 to 1.

The score remained 2-1 until the bottom of the 7th, when the Royals got a run on a single, a groundout, and another single to make the score 3 to 1.  Now only six outs from the pennant, Kansas City sent out Ryan Madson to protect its lead.  Madson was normally a great relief pitcher, but in the top of the 8th, he gave up a single to Ben Revere and a long home run to Bautista.  Suddenly, the game was tied at 3.  Kansas City was forced to bring in its closer, Wade Davis, to retire the Blue Jays.

And then, after Toronto was retired in the 8th, it started to rain.  Hard.  So hard that the umpires had to stop the game.  For over 45 minutes, Lorenzo and his teammates watched the rain, waiting for their turn to bat in the bottom of the eighth.  Finally, the rain stopped and the players returned to the field.  None of the Kansas City fans had left, and they cheered as Lorenzo Cain came up to bat in the bottom of the 8th.

He knew that the Royals needed to score now.  Davis was Kansas City's best relief pitcher, but he couldn't be expected to go more than one more inning.  If Toronto won this game, anything could happen in a Game 7.  If the Royals wanted to go back to the World Series, they needed to score in the bottom of the 8th.  But Toronto knew this, and had inserted their own closer -- Roberto Osuna, who had 20 saves with an E.R.A. of 2.58 in the regular season.

As the lead-off hitter, Lorenzo knew it was important for him to get on base.  Osuna was a tough pitcher, and soon Lorenzo had a count of one ball and two strikes.  But Lorenzo would not give up.  He watched two balls, and then faced a full count.  Osuna threw a difficult pitch.  Lorenzo fouled it off.  Osuna came back with another.  Lorenzo fouled it off.  The crowd cheered Lorenzo's determination.  Finally, Osuna's next pitch missed the strike zone.  Lorenzo was on first with a walk!

The next batter was Eric Hosmer.  Lorenzo danced off first -- hoping for the chance to use his speed on the base paths.  Hosmer worked the count to 2 and 2, and then hit a long, slicing fly to right.  Bautista, the Toronto right fielder, raced toward the ball, determined to hold Hosmer to a single.  With a spectacular effort, he reached the ball and hurled it back toward second base.

But Lorenzo had left first as soon as the ball was hit, and he was almost to third base by the time the ball landed.  Meanwhile, because Bautista had been off-balance, his throw to second was sailing higher than usual, staying in the air for a few more precious seconds.  Looking up, Lorenzo saw the third base coach frantically waving him home!  He didn't stop for a moment, but turned on the speed, trying to beat the relay from second.  Ryan Goins, the Toronto second baseman, saw that Lorenzo was trying to score from first on a single -- and quickly zipped the ball home to stop him.  It was too late -- Lorenzo beat the throw.  Thanks to his great speed and determination, the Royals had taken the lead on a walk and a single!

Now it was up to Davis to defend the lead in the bottom of the 9th.  At first, he struggled, and the Blue Jays soon had runners on second and third with no one out.  A single would give him the lead.  But then Davis bore down.  He struck out Toronto pinch hitter Dioner Navarro.  Then he struck out Ben Revere.  Then he got Josh Donaldson to ground out to third.  The game was over, and the Royals had won 4 to 3.  Thanks to Lorenzo Cain's big run, the Royals had won the American League pennant for the second year in a row.  Next up, they faced the National League Champions -- the New York Mets.

National League Championship Series:
New York beat Chicago 4-0

American League Championship Series:
Kansas City beat Toronto 4-2

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