The Mets could see new life. As the end of a tense evening neared, only six outs stood between them and a fresh start in the 111th World Series. Then cruelty descended upon Citi Field.
Tyler Clippard could not throw strikes. Daniel Murphy could not field grounders. Yoenis Cespedes could not run the bases. And the Mets could not summon the resolve that powered their most charmed summer in 15 years.
Now, after an eighth-inning collapse in a 5-3 loss to the Royals in Game 4 of the World Series, the Mets face this daunting task: They need to win three straight games to claim their first championship since 1986.
"It can be done," captain David Wright said. "It's not the ideal position . . . We're capable of it, especially with the three guys we have on the hill.''
Matt Harvey goes in Game 5 on Sunday night, with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard scheduled to follow. Not one of them has any margin for error, not after the calamity that swept up the Mets in a nightmarish eighth inning that put the Royals one win from their first title since 1985.
Charged with protecting a 3-2 lead, Clippard issued a pair of one-out walks in the eighth. Closer Jeurys Familia entered, hoping to redeem himself after blowing a save in Game 1. But Eric Hosmer's roller to second went under the glove of postseason hero Murphy, allowing the tying run to score. The horrified crowd let out a gasp.
"It's frustrating because this ballclub, we put ourselves in position to win a ballgame today," said Murphy, whose monster postseason helped the Mets win the pennant. "And I misplayed it. There's no excuse for it. And we lost the ballgame because of it."
Mike Moustakas rolled a run-scoring single past a diving Murphy and Salvador Perez followed with a hard RBI single to right-center to make it 5-3. Wade Davis, one of the best closers in baseball, recorded the final six outs, with the final two snuffing out the Mets' last gasp.
After one-out singles by Murphy and Cespedes in the ninth, Lucas Duda broke his bat and hit a soft liner to third. Moustakas caught it and doubled off Cespedes.
"We put ourselves in the position," Wright said. "There's a dozen different things we could have done to win that game. But that's baseball. This team just keeps coming."
Before a crowd of 44,815, the largest crowd for a Mets game in Citi Field history, Michael Conforto hit a pair of solo homers to give the Mets a 3-2 advantage and Steven Matz held the Royals to two runs in five innings-plus.
"You dream about those moments," said Conforto, who joined Gary Carter (1986) as the only Mets to homer twice in a World Series game. "But like I said, it's conflicting."
Indeed, it was conflicting because for all the Mets had done right, it was not enough to hold down the battle-tested Royals.
The bullpen bailed out Matz in the sixth, hanging on to a 3-2 lead. Jon Niese got two outs, setting up a 10-pitch showdown between Bartolo Colon and Perez. Colon, who leans almost entirely on fastballs, had struck out only 13 hitters all season with his slider. But after Perez fouled off four straight two-strike pitches with a man on third, Colon went with the slider. When Perez flailed at the pitch, leaving him twisted like a pretzel, the sight transformed Citi Field into a wall of sound. Soon it would feel like a wake.
"It's certainly one of those situations where we couldn't stop the bleeding," Terry Collins said.
Addison Reed had worked a scoreless seventh, and after the game, Familia said he would have been ready to attempt to nail down the last six outs. But Collins opted to go with Clippard, who has been shaky since an outstanding August.
History offers little comfort. Teams leading the World Series 3-1 have gone on to win the championship 36 out of 45 times.
"We're in a tough situation," Collins said. "But we're not dead yet."