David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Two outs away. Helped by a sprinkle of '86 magic dust, a ground ball skipping past a first baseman's awkward attempt to smother it. A critical run scoring on the miraculous mistake.
For a while there, Eric Hosmer was Bill Buckner, and those vivid images came rushing back to all of us. How could it be? When Wilmer Flores slapped that high-chopper at Hosmer, a two-time Gold Glover, and the ball caromed off his glove, it marked the first time a run had scored on an error in the eighth inning or later in the World Series since that Buckner Game in 1986.
It was all too perfect. And then, Tuesday night's Game 1 unraveled in the most unlikely way possible, a Jeurys Familia blown save, and six innings later, Buckner -- er, Hosmer -- undid the spell by delivering a walkoff sacrifice fly that finished the Mets, 5-4, in a 5-hour, 9-minute marathon.StatsBoxscoreVoteSwing or take: Mets and potential free agentsInteractiveMeet the 2016 Mets
What a mind-blowing, gut-wrenching turnaround. The Mets were so close to swiping Game 1, and seizing home-field advantage for this World Series, only to end up dragging themselves off the Kauffman Stadium turf, crestfallen.
"Both teams were relentless," David Wright said. "They were more relentless."
That's what it takes to win a game in 14 innings, and the Royals never stopped applying pressure, finally getting to Bartolo Colon. Matt Harvey, who later said he didn't have his best stuff, couldn't hold a 3-1 lead, and after KC came back to tie the score in the sixth, the Mets got that huge assist from Hosmer to take a 4-3 lead.
From what we've seen this postseason, that should have been it. We shuddered when Terry Collins called on Tyler Clippard for the eighth, and the manager needed Familia that inning to rescue him from a first-and-third jam. Familia even got the first out of the ninth, retiring Salvador Perez on a bouncer to short, but the joyride abruptly ended there.
With the count 1-and-1 to Alex Gordon, Familia rifled a 97-mph sinker that Gordon drilled to the deepest part of Kauffman Stadium, over the centerfield wall to the base of the giant crown scoreboard. Familia hadn't blown a save since July 30, the infamous, twice rain-delayed loss to the Padres at Citi Field.
"What are the odds?" Kelly Johnson asked in the quiet postgame clubhouse.
There was no explaining it. Just like the Mets' giddy romp through October, and their swift dispatch of the Cubs, Familia suddenly appearing mortal was something none of us is used to seeing. For the Mets, it felt like getting the wind knocked out of them, a sobering, exhausting blow.
"We were all shocked by it," Terry Collins said. "We liked where we were at. But their team, one of the things we know about them is they're never down and out. We've got to put them away. We've got to do a better job."
But after the Royals got to Familia, the rest of Game 1 got flat-out weird, with the late-night pitcher's duel that developed between Chris Young and Bartolo Colon. Of course, it was Young, a the former Met, who fired three scoreless innings, striking out the side in the 12th and allowing just one walk in the 13th as the only baserunner.
As we moved into Wednesday's early morning hours, the Mets simply looked deflated, which was understandable after what they had just endured. The emotional swing was difficult to absorb. The exhaustion, both physical and mental, is so much easier to deal with when a team is celebrating at the end of this type of game. And that team was the Royals.
When Hosmer lifted his high fly ball to rightfield, he walked a few steps as he watched its flight, then flipped his bat and helmet before Alcides Escobar even crossed the plate with the winning run. Curtis Granderson's strong throw made it a closer play than was expected, but was never a threat. The Royals mobbed Hosmer, splashing water bottles on his head, and the Mets were left to deliver their own postmortems.
The good news? This was only Game 1.
"We've been through a lot of things," Flores said. "This is nothing. We'll get through it. We'll be fine."
Added Wright: 'We've been resilient all year. Obviously it's a tough one to swallow. But once we leave the ballpark tonight, we can start focusing on tomorrow's game."
At that moment, it already was tomorrow. And for the Mets, it couldn't come soon enough.