Daniel Murphy’s defensive blunder allows Royals to come back and win Game 4, 5-3

AP Photo/Matt Slocum


All of the good Daniel Murphy did in hitting the Mets into the World Series unraveled on Saturday night, when his defensive miscue allowed the Royals to tie the game and then take the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Mets went on to lose 5-3. Instead of evening up the series at two games apiece, the Mets now find themselves one game from elimination.

Tyler Clippard began the eighth inning, but issued two one-out walks to Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain. Manager Terry Collins called on closer Jeurys Familia for a five-out save after using him to protect a six-run lead in Friday night’s win. Familia did his job — he induced a weak tapper from Eric Hosmer, an easy out at first base for second baseman Daniel Murphy. Only one problem: the ball skipped right under Murphy’s glove. Zobrist scored and no outs were recorded. Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez then hit consecutive run-scoring singles to give the Royals a 5-3 lead.

Things were going well for the Mets until then, all things considered. Rookie outfielder Michael Conforto provided the bulk of the offense, hitting solo home runs in the third inning (off of starter Chris Young) and in the fifth (off of reliever Danny Duffy). The Mets’ other run, which came after Conforto’s first homer, was a gift due to the absent-mindedness of Royals right fielder Alex Rios. With Wilmer Flores on third base and one out, Curtis Granderson lifted a fly ball to shallow right field. Rios had a very real chance to throw out Flores at home, except he thought the fly ball represented the third out. He camped under the ball, then had to make an awkward throw home and Flores scored easily.

The Royals’ two runs prior to their eighth inning ambush came on RBI singles by Alex Gordon (in the fifth) and Cain (in the sixth) off of Mets rookie starter Steven Matz. The lefty exited with no outs after allowing two consecutive hits to begin the frame. He finished having allowed two runs on seven hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Young, his starting counterpart, was responsible for two runs on two hits and one walk with three strikeouts in four innings.

Royals manager Ned Yost called on closer Wade Davis to get the final six outs of the game after his team took the lead in the top of the eighth. Davis struck out Flores, got pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson to fly out, and Curtis Granderson to ground out to second base in a 1-2-3 frame. In the ninth, Davis allowed back-to-back one-out singles to Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, but induced a double play when Lucas Duda hit a weak liner to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who then doubled off Cespedes at first base.

This is, no doubt, a crushing loss for the Mets. According to FanGraphs, the Mets were 83 percent favorites after Alcides Escobar grounded out for the first out of the eighth inning. That figure fell to 17 by inning’s end.

Collins’ decision to have Clippard start the eighth is one that will be second-guessed. He chose to use closer Jeurys Familia to close out Friday night’s Game 3, when the Mets had a very comfortable six-run lead. Had Familia not been used then, Collins may have been more willing to use Familia to record six outs as Yost did with Davis. Clippard hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable.

Leverage Index is a Sabermetric stat that measures the importance of a game event. A higher number denotes a more important event. The highest LI of the three at-bats in Familia’s ninth inning on Friday was .000. Clippard’s two at-bats versus Zobrist and Cain had LI’s of 0.61 and 0.88, respectively. Baseball is a game in which the game’s best hitters succeed only three times out of ten. Combine that with Familia’s superior skill and it’s a pretty obvious call who should’ve opened the eighth inning — if he hadn’t been unnecessarily used in Game 3. Murphy will draw most of the blame for the Mets’ loss in Game 4, but Collins deserves a share of it as well. Also, the Mets’ 2-through-6 hitters combined to go 2-for-18 with two singles and a walk.

The Royals will attempt to close out the World Series at Citi Field on Sunday night. Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez will oppose Mets right-hander Matt Harvey in a rematch of Game 1.

Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz remains upbeat as rehab from broken left ankle nears midway point

oneil cruz rehab
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Oneil Cruz slowly made his way on crutches across the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse on Saturday toward a locker replete with a massive walking boot that the towering shortstop still uses to protect the left ankle he broke during an awkward slide home in early April.

The days when he’ll need to rely on the crutches are numbered. Ditto for the walking boot. The 24-year-old’s recovery remains on track, meaning he could return sometime late this summer barring any setbacks.

Given the way Cruz’s left leg rolled up underneath him as he collided with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala in the sixth inning of what became a 1-0 victory, Cruz will take it. He had surgery the next day and the team optimistically said it expected him to miss four months, a timeline it has not deviated from as his rehab reaches the halfway point.

“You never want to get hurt, obviously, but that’s part of the game and it happens to me,” Cruz said through a translator. “I’m just going to take it the way it is and get better as soon as possible.”

The Pirates have found a way to remain in contention in the NL Central even without their leadoff hitter and one of the more physically intriguing young players in the majors, one prone to testing the limits of StatCast. Pittsburgh entered play on Saturday at 29-27, a half-game back of Milwaukee for first place in a division where no one has been able to run away and hide.

The club has used a handful of players at short to fill in for Cruz, from Rodolfo Castro to Tucupita Marcano to Ji Hwan Bae to Chris Owings. None of them possess Cruz’s unique mix of size, power and speed. Yet they’ve been solid enough to help soften what could have been a devastating early blow to a club that is trying to climb back into relevance following consecutive 100-loss seasons.

Cruz has leaned on his wife and his children to help ease the mental sting of the first major injury of his still-young career. Watching longtime teammates Castro and Marcano – who came up through the minors with Cruz – have some level of success has helped. The duo is hitting a combined .264 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs.

“Every time I see them doing well, it makes me happy,” Cruz said.

Still, they understand they are placeholders for Cruz, who was poised to take a significant step forward following a tantalizing rookie season in which both highlights that quickly went viral on social media – and strikeouts – were plentiful. He worked seven walks in his nine games of the season, showing the kind of patience at the plate that was difficult to come by in 2022.

Cruz believes he is poised to come back stronger than he was when he went down, and the Pirates have been adamant that the hope is he returns this season no matter where the team is in the standings whenever he comes off the 60-day injured list.

While he’s eager to get back he’s also not trying to force things, saying several times he will stick to the recommendations of the medical staff. He has remained engaged, not missing a game of Pittsburgh’s somewhat uneven – the Pirates started on a 20-8 tear followed by an 8-18 skid through May – but overall promising start.

There are also no concerns – at least at this point – about any sort of lingering memories of the slide that derailed his season haunting him during his rehab.

“I should be good when I get out there because when I go out there I understand I’m not going to hesitate,” Cruz said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Cruz’s appearance at PNC on Saturday coincided with the team giving out thousands of bobbleheads in his likeness.

Asked if the trinkets bear at least a passing resemblance to him, Cruz laughed.

“They did real good,” he joked. “Ugly, like me.”