KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The reality of winning the National League pennant washed over David Wright last week, revealing itself in boyish glee that might have seemed corny from anyone else.
“I think I’ve said it about a million times now, but I’m going to keep saying it: it’s the World Series,” Wright said, smiling wide in the dank clubhouse tunnel at ancient Wrigley Field. “I can’t wait to play in the World Series.”
Reality has hit Wright and the Mets this week. The Kansas City Royals are halfway to a championship after Johnny Cueto’s 7-1 victory on Wednesday, and the Mets are still waiting to get started. They managed just two hits in Game 2, both by Lucas Duda, and ground balls constantly eluded their reach.
For the Mets, this World Series has taken on an eerie kind of 2000 feeling. All it needed was a broken-bat toss and a near brawl.
Just as in 2000, the Mets are heading home trailing, two games to none. Just as in 2000, they blew a lead in the ninth inning of Game 1 and lost a few innings later. Just as in 2000, they were humbled by an ace right-hander in Game 2. Someone in the Mets’ I.T. department needs to fix this Y2K bug, fast.
If the Mets win this World Series, they will have to clinch the title on the road. No Mets team has ever done that, but it happens a lot. The San Francisco Giants did it here at Kauffman Stadium in Game 7 last fall.
They did it mostly with an otherworldly performance by Madison Bumgarner, whose exalted place in World Series lore should somehow rise even higher. Bumgarner — and Jeremy Affeldt, it should be remembered — did what the Mets’ best starters could not: subdue the relentless contact hitters in Royals blue.
“I don’t know why, but we just aren’t making the pitches we need to make,” Manager Terry Collins said after Wednesday’s loss. “It’s easy to make excuses that, hey, it’s the workload, it’s the days off, it’s the youth, on the big stage — I’m not going to say that. Look, the Royals have a good team. We’ve got to make better pitches and we’ve got to play better.”
Before this series, the biggest threat to a Mets championship seemed to be just how different the Royals would be than the Cubs. The Cubs’ hitters had the most strikeouts in the majors. The Royals’ hitters had the fewest. The Mets believed they could spot their fastballs and mix in a lot of off-speed pitches to subdue the Royals, anyway. It is not working.
Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom combined for 43 strikeouts in 322/3 innings in the N.L. playoffs against the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had four strikeouts in 11 innings in the first two games of the World Series.
Harvey’s stuff was not sharp in Game 1, when he lost a 3-1 lead in his sixth and final inning. DeGrom missed over the middle in the fifth inning of Game 2, when the Royals used five singles and a walk to score four runs. He did not come back for the sixth.
The Royals, who had trailed, 1-0, scored three of their runs with two outs. They lived up to Wright’s takeaway from Game 1.
“They just were a little more relentless,” Wright said. “Every time we scored, they had an answer for us, and that’s the sign of a great, great team. It just seemed like they continued to get the momentum on their side.”
So it was again in Game 2, although the Mets did not score after Duda’s opposite-field single in the fourth. In fact, they did not put another runner on base until Daniel Murphy walked with two outs in the ninth.
“He was throwing cutters away on right-handed hitters, sinkers in, changeups, curveballs — just four excellent pitches going for strikes,” Wright said of Cueto. “It’s tough offensively when you get one shot to score runs, and it doesn’t happen. You start pressing.”
Many teams have lost the first two games of a World Series and recovered to win. The Mets captured their last championship this way, in 1986; so did the Royals, the year before. But if the Mets lose, they may be forced to parse the details of their torturous opening loss.
There was the quick-pitch splitter by Jeurys Familia that stayed up and turned into a game-tying homer by Alex Gordon. There was the Mets’ almost total failure to touch the Royals’ vaunted bullpen. And there was a rough game for Wright, who struck out to end the third and the 11th, both with two men on, was caught stealing in the ninth and made an error that led to the winning run in the 14th.
There were highlights, too — a couple of singles, a nifty snag of a line drive. But the nagging impression was that Wright, after hitting .167 (5 for 30) in the N.L. playoffs, was somehow diminished at the end of a long season mostly spent recovering from spinal stenosis.
“This guy is the most forthright guy I have ever been around in my life,” Collins said. “And we made a deal when he came back: if there is any problem, he’s going to say something. He says he feels great, and I trust him.”
At this point, it hardly matters. Wright is the captain, the third baseman for more than a decade, the Met who may appreciate this ride the most. He is 2 for 11 in this World Series and will need a lot of help to win four of the next five games from a Royals team that has quickly earned the Mets’ admiration.
“Coming into this, we knew that these guys are an excellent opponent, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Wright said. “These are the types of hurdles we have to clear if we expect to be able to win this thing.”