NEW YORK — With one out, one in and runners on the corners in the bottom of the sixth, Royals reliever Franklin Morales fielded a comebacker off the bat of Curtis Granderson. Morales looked to second, looked home, looked to third and then, having thoroughly and excruciatingly assessed his many options, turned back to second and threw the damn ball away. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. A fielder’s choice in this case and now there were two runs in and the rout was on.
By that point it didn’t really matter. Morales was already wobbling like Michael Spinks in the Tyson fight, having given up an RBI single to a man who hadn’t swung a bat in a real game in over a month in Juan Uribe. Morales’ panicked indecision is the visual we’ll always remember from that inning, but the decision to have Morales in the game in the first place was probably more significant.
Morales is about as low on the Royals’ depth chart as an active guy can be and he had no business pitching in a 5-3 game. Not with Luke Hochevar having just pitched a nice fifth inning, striking out two and needing only 15 pitches to do it. Not with a Royals team behind him which has treated two-run deficits as tie games and one-run deficits as leads since October began. There were any number of things Ned Yost could have done in that situation, but the thing he chose to do — bringing in Morales — was about as far from a threatening move he had at his disposal.
Maybe Yost knew this game was different, though, and that the script of the movie we’ve been watching for the first two games [“Relentless” starring The Kansas City Royals!] had been torn up. Or at least replaced with new one for a night. One which featured the Mets hitting home runs again. Remember that from a couple of weeks ago? David Wright hit a two-run dinger in the first and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run shot in the third. There were dinks and doinks that fell in for the Mets and not the Royals this time. There were defensive miscues that befell the Royals and not the Mets. It was a very different night than the previous three we’ve seen: two with Royals wins, one off-night with lots of existential angst for Mets fans.
Also different here: the starting pitching. On Tuesday night Matt Harvey gave up 3 runs in 6 innings. Tonight Noah Syndergaard gave up 3 runs in 6 innings. But Harvey only struck out two and got eight swings-and-misses. Syndergaard, in contrast, struck out six and got 16 swings-and-misses. Even before Syndergaard settled down from his shaky start and retired 12 batters at one point, he felt more in control of the game than either Harvey or Jacob deGrom ever did in the first two games. He gave the Royals fewer chances to exploit the Mets defense and, in turn, the anxieties of the 44,781 fans in Citi Field.
After six innings Addison Reed took over for Syndergaard and breezed. Then Tyler Clippard did the same. By that time we had seen the Franklin Morales show, followed by some gratuitous Kelvin Herrera. Why was he pitching and not putative mopup man Kris Medlen? Maybe because Medlen could be needed to back up Chris Young tomorrow or provide an emergency start on Sunday in case Yordano Ventura doesn’t make it back? That’s plausible. Oh, wait, then Yost used Medlen anyway in the eighth. I have no idea. I’m not sure that Yost did either.
And I don’t know who’s going to win this World Series. It could be either team now. All I know is that if the Mets win it the sixth inning of Game 3 will be one Mets fans long remember and one that Royals fans are already trying to forget. I also know that if the Royals win it, their hitters and starting pitchers had best give Ned Yost as few chances to make decisions as possible.