As Alex Rios stood in front of his locker and patiently explained how on baseball’s biggest stage, despite being surrounded by several scoreboards and nearby teammates, he forgot how many outs there were, he could at least shrug.
As the Royals have edged to the brink of their first title since 1985, a hallmark of their playoff run has been their opportunism, their ability to seize upon their opponent’s mistakes and overcome their own.
“It’s a team that just looks for a little crack,” Manager Ned Yost said. “If we find a little crack, they’re going to make something happen. It’s amazing how they do that and they do that in a number of ways.”
On Saturday night, it happened to be Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy letting a ground ball roll underneath his glove, which opened the way for a three-run eighth inning. But each of the Royals previous series pivoted on an opponent’s misplay: a potential double-play grounder scooting under the glove of Houston shortstop Carlos Correa when the Royals were on the brink of elimination, and Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista throwing to the wrong base, which allowed Lorenzo Cain to score all the way from first base.
To the Royals, these misplay are not simply good fortune.
“Any other time you can sit back and wait for an easy hop and get the out at first,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose one-out grounder with runners at first and second got past Murphy and allowed the tying run to score.
Hosmer added: “But everyone in the league knows how aggressive we are and we have some guys that can really get down the line. It changes the whole outcome of the play.”
The Royals have not been perfect in this series. Hosmer had a ball roll under his glove – rekindling memories of Bill Buckner in Game 1 – and their pitchers have twice forgotten to cover first base, and Franklin Morales bungled a potential double-play grounder in Game 3.
Then there was Saturday night, when Michael Conforto’s first home run had put the Mets ahead by 1-0 in the third inning. After Wilmer Flores followed with a single, took second on a wild pitch and third on a sacrifice bunt, Curtis Granderson lifted a fly ball to shallow right field.
Rios was in good position to throw home, but as he caught the ball he took a step toward the third-base dugout before realizing he had not recorded the third out.
“I heard Lorenzo screaming; that’s when I found out,” said Rios, whose throw home was not in time. “It’s a mental mistake, but what do you do? You can’t put your head down. You have to compete. If you put your head down, you’re done.”
After Murphy’s error tied the score, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez singled in runs and the Royals had a 5-3 lead and their seventh come-from-behind victory during the playoffs.
It was the second time in the playoffs the Royals had dented Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ closer. Alex Gordon hit a game-tying, ninth-inning home run in the series opener that the Royals would eventual win in 14 innings.
Nobody in the Royals dugout was more relieved that night than Hosmer, whose error had given the Mets the lead.
He knew just how Rios felt on Saturday.
“I obviously had a play like that in the first game and Gordo has a big swing off Familia that probably changes the whole series,” Hosmer said. “If we drop the first game in Kansas City, you don’t know what could happen after that. I think that’s what’s so special about this run and this team – it’s not just one guy carrying the load. It’s someone different every night, whether it’s pitching or whether it’s offense.”
That ability to pick one another up, taking advantage of any mistake by their opponent and overcoming their own, has left them from one victory from picking up something else together – a World Series trophy.