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.