Baseball can seize the mind and numb it, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. It can accelerate a heartbeat just as quickly as it can stop one. This is the game at its unpredictable best.
For 14 exasperating innings Tuesday night, the Mets and Royals found themselves captives to this torturous cycle. The game churned. It made heroes out of journeymen. It fried nerves and tested resolve. Then in Game 1 of the 111th World Series, it singled out David Wright.
The Mets third baseman couldn't handle Alcides Escobar's hot shot. Caught in between hops, Wright rushed a throw that sailed wide of the bag. Two batters later, Eric Hosmer lifted a game-winning sacrifice fly to score Escobar, sending the Mets to a 5-4 loss that was caked in bitterness.
"It doesn't feel good when it happens to you," Mets infielder Kelly Johnson said. "But that's the kind of team we are, too."
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, and the Mets just two outs away from a victory, Alex Gordon ensured that the madness would extend to extra innings. His stunning solo shot landed in straightaway centerfield, tying the game and handing closer Jeurys Familia his first blown save in nearly three months.
"I knew I missed the pitch in the zone, in the middle," said Familia, who had tried to catch Gordon off guard with a quick pitch.
It was the first game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth of a World Series game since Scott Brosius did it for the Yankees in 2001. Familia hadn't blown a save since July 30, allowing a homer to Justin Upton in a rain-delayed loss to the Padres, the low point before the Mets' second-half revival.
"We were all shocked by it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We liked where we were at."
The Mets had pushed ahead 4-3 in the eighth inning on Hosmer's momentary transformation into Bill Buckner. When Hosmer attempted a backhand on Wilmer Flores' routine grounder, the ball bounced through. Juan Lagares scored, his reward for grinding out a nine-pitch at-bat, and then swiping second base.
"I thought it was going to be an out," Flores said. "I thought he was going to get in front of it and that was it. It's a routine ground ball."
Not since 1986, when Mookie Wilson's grounder got past Buckner, had a player put his team ahead on an error in the eighth inning or later of a World Series game. But in a bizarre Game 1, nothing was routine.
Escobar hit an inside-the-park homer on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the first, aided by miscommunication between leftfielder Michael Conforto and centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes. And in the fourth, the World Series ground to a halt when a broadcast blackout knocked down the replay system, leaving both managers chatting with umpires.
But for all of the unusual breaks, the Royals predictably played to their well-earned reputation, displaying all of the resilience that has them once again knocking on the door of a championship.
"It seemed like a roller-coaster ride for sure," Wright said. "Both teams relentless."
The 5-hour, 9-minute marathon ended with the Royals spilling from their dugout to celebrate a night defined by attrition. Chris Young, the 36-year-old soft-tossing starter, emerged as the winner. Pressed into relief, the former Met entered in the 12th, the start of three hitless innings.
Bartolo Colon, 42, took the loss in his World Series debut. In his third inning of relief, he allowed Hosmer's sac fly to Granderson, who fired a bullet to the plate, though not in time to prevent Escobar from scoring the winning run.
"We were one hit away, one play away from winning that game," Wright said.
For the Mets, the long night began with a miscue. Escobar's first-inning drive to Kauffman Stadium's spacious centerfield required a long run for Cespedes to make a routine catch. But he pulled up, thinking leftfielder Conforto would take it.
Conforto said later that he heard Cespedes call for it. Cespedes said he did not. In the process, Cespedes took his eye off the ball and lost it, leaving him to make a weak backhanded attempt at a knee-high catch.
The ball struck him on his back leg, then rolled along the fence, taking off like a bad putt on a slippery green. Escobar buzzed around the bases for the first inside-the-park home run in a World Series since 1929, when Mule Haas of the Philadelphia A's accomplished the feat against the Cubs.
The Mets never trailed in a four-game sweep of the Cubs in the National League Championship Series. In an instant, in their first World Series in 15 years, the Mets found themselves trailing for the first time in 41 consecutive innings.
They did not stay down for long, scoring three unanswered runs to take a 3-1 lead against Edinson Volquez, who at the request of his family did not learn of the sudden passing of his father until after his start.
The Mets tied it in the fourth on Travis d'Arnaud's infield single. They pushed ahead in the fifth, going up 2-1 on Granderson's solo shot, his first homer of the postseason. Conforto tacked on in the sixth by lifting a sac fly to left, deep enough for Cespedes to tag up from third.
Volquez was done after six innings, allowing six hits and holding the Mets to three runs. But he kept the Royals within reach. And with them, this is often enough.
Mets starter Matt Harvey retired 11 straight at one point. But he admitted that he lacked his best stuff, a reason he shied from his fastball and relied on his secondary pitches. He allowed three runs in six innings and finished with two strikeouts, equaling his lowest total for any start this season. Of his 80 pitches, Harvey got just six swings and misses.
"I didn't feel all that great," Harvey said. "I had to mix it up."
His frustration stemmed from the sixth, in which he was given a 3-1 lead to protect. But the Royals sprang to life. Hosmer lifted a sacrifice fly to shave the deficit to one run. Two batters later, the Royals closed the gap on Mike Moustakas' single to center, knotting it at 3-3.
Even when the Mets pulled ahead in the eighth, making the most out of Hosmer's error, they knew better than to celebrate.
"You know you've got some big outs to get," Wright said.
True to form, the Royals' dangerous bullpen suffocated the Mets, holding them to just the unearned run in the eighth. The Royals, meanwhile, never backed off the pressure.
After Familia, Jonathon Niese pitched two scoreless innings of relief ahead of Colon.
In the 12th and 13th, the Royals moved a runner in scoring position, only to come away with nothing. In the end -- just the third time in the history of the World Series that a game dragged into the 14th inning -- the Mets finally snapped.
The Mets knew it wouldn't be easy, knew that their first world championship since 1986 would only come if they could withstand a test of their resilience. It had been this way all season. It wouldn't change now.
They'll turn to Jacob deGrom to even the series tonight in Game 2. He'll be opposed by Johnny Cueto, who looks to put the Royals in the driver's seat.
Said Wright: "These are the kinds of hurdles we'll have to clear if we're going to win this thing."
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