KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jeurys Familia turned and watched the ball he had just thrown soar over his head toward center field. The New York Mets had ridden Familia, their closer, all season, all postseason, using him to strangle all hope out of each opponent. They had come to expect that, when he pitched, the game was over.
But Alex Gordon had just turned on one of Familia’s signature 97-mph fastballs in the ninth inning and sent it over the wall.
As he crossed home plate, with the Kauffman Stadium crowd rejoicing around him, Gordon thumped his chest. His home run had tied a crazy game and sent it into extra innings. It was the first home run Familia had allowed in a save situation since July.
Five innings later, the game finally took a decisive turn when David Wright made an error at third base. Three batters later, Eric Hosmer redeemed himself for making a costly error by hitting a sacrifice fly, and the Royals celebrated a 5-4, 14-inning, 5-hour-9-minute victory in Game 1 of the World Series early Wednesday.
This was the Mets’ first World Series in 15 years, so, of course, the night had an odd feel to it from the start. Early on, reports surfaced that the father of Edinson Volquez, the Royals’ starter, had died in the Dominican Republic. When Volquez was taken out of the game after the sixth inning, he was notified. At one point, the Fox broadcast went off the air briefly because of technical difficulties. And on the first pitch Matt Harvey threw, the Royals hit an inside-the-park home run.
As the game wore on, the game only grew stranger. Hosmer, a two-time Gold Glove first baseman, made an error that allowed the Mets to take a 4-3 lead in the eighth. Familia, the Mets’ sure closer, gave the lead right back in the ninth.
Known for loving the big stage, Harvey had fired a 95-mph fastball to start his night, and Alcides Escobar promptly crushed the ball high and deep to left-center field. Rookie left fielder Michael Conforto and center fielder Yoenis Cespedes both sprinted toward it, but at the last second, a few feet from Cespedes, Conforto pulled up and let Cespedes try to catch it.
With his back to the ball, Cespedes nonchalantly stuck out his glove and tried to catch the ball underhand. But the ball ricocheted off his leg and kicked away to the wall, Escobar peeked to the outfield as he rounded second base and made it safely home, standing up, for the first World Series inside-the-park home run since George Haas hit one for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929.
It was a rude awakening for the Mets. It was the first time since their division series that they had trailed. As Cespedes retook his position, he bent down and went through a series of stretches, as if he were trying to pretend the game had not started.
The game would take several more turns over the next few hours. Harvey shook off the blunder for a few innings. He even ignored a brief delay when the umpires conferred about the nonworking instant-replay system stemming from the broadcast problems.
But Harvey clearly did not have his best stuff. His fastball was around 94 mph. He recorded two strikeouts in six innings and left with the scored tied, 3-3. Perhaps he was feeling fatigued after surpassing the 200-inning threshold for the first time in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
Volquez pitched brilliantly. He held the Mets hitless for the first three innings as the crowd chanted his name. A Fox reporter tweeted that the network would not announce the news about his father’s death. Later, after Volquez left the game, it did.
Daniel Murphy, the most valuable player of the National League Championship Series, got the Mets’ first hit off Volquez, sparking a fourth-inning rally. Thanks in part, also, to a Curtis Granderson home run, the Mets chased Volquez after six innings, having scored three runs and getting six hits.
Against the Royals’ bullpen, though, the Mets’ work was just beginning. With Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis at their disposal, the Royals boast one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball. And still, Juan Lagares sparked a one-man comeback. With two outs in the eighth, he battled Herrera for a nine-pitch at-bat, punching the ninth pitch for a single.
With Wilmer Flores batting, Lagares stole second base on Salvador Perez, one of baseball’s premier catchers. Standing on second, Lagares clapped his hands, trying to urge on his teammates. Flores hit a chopper to first base that Hosmer tried to backhand and missed, allowing Lagares to score the go-ahead run.
Herrera threw his head back in disbelief. On the 29th anniversary of the Mets’ clinching the 1986 Series, which turned when the Red Sox’ Bill Buckner let a ball slip through his legs, it seemed eerie that this series might be defined by an error made by a first baseman.
Once Familia surrendered the lead, and the game went into extra innings, the game devolved into a battle of endurance. The Mets struck out eight times in the first three extra innings. Wright struck out in the Mets’ best chance, the 11th, stranding two runners. Chris Young, the scheduled Game 4 starter, struck out the side in the 12th.
But the Royals could not push across a run, either. Bartolo Colon retired Jarrod Dyson with the bases loaded to extend the game into the 13th. The fans stuck around, if not because they held out hope, but to see the novelty the game had become.