Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting Ready For Game 7

This was the way it had to be. For the two Wild Card-winning clubs that could not be denied. For the World Series loaded with punches and counterpunches. For the legion of fans invested either in the Giants' drive for dynasty status or the Royals' scintillating storyline. These two teams have given us so much entertainment in this event, and now they've given us baseball's ultimate gift: Game 7.

It happens tonight at Kauffman Stadium. First pitch is at 8:07 p.m. ET, and the FOX broadcast begins at 7 p.m. Tuning in on the tube or turning out at what will be a packed and powerful park is not just recommended but required. Jeremy Guthrie and Tim Hudson will get the respective starts for the Royals and Giants, but it will be all hands on deck (including would-be Series MVP Madison Bumgarner) and all eyes affixed on the conclusion of a captivating Fall Classic.

"It's a cool opportunity for us, the Giants and the Royals," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Just for baseball fans, in general, Game 7 of the World Series? It doesn't get much better."

Or as Royals manager Ned Yost put it, every kid's baseball dream revolves around Game 7.

Said Yost: "Hitting rocks in the backyard, trying to hit it over the fence for a home run, I never once thought, 'OK, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth, Game 5 of the World Series.' You know? Never. It was always two outs, bottom of the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series."

It was after Game 4, when the Series was knotted at 2-2, that Yost -- his team immersed in its first October opportunity in 29 years -- said he went into this experience secretly wishing for a Game 7 "for the excitement and the thrill of it." It was an unexpected admission from a manager whose team, at that moment, still had a chance to lock up the title in six, but that didn't make it any less true. And at the same time, Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted a Game 7 wouldn't surprise him the slightest bit, knowing the way these two clubs play.

So now the hopes and hunches have come true, and Game 7 has no shortage of storylines itself.

It is appropriate, first of all, that the only other World Series to feature two Wild Card teams also went seven games. That would be the 2002 tilt featuring the Giants and Angels, when the Rally Monkey-led Halos won Games 6 and 7 at home.

And that brings us to the next point that must be emphasized here: Recent history resoundingly sides with the Royals in this one.
The home team, after all, has won each of the last nine World Series Game 7s, dating back to 1982 (and including the 1985 Royals' championship over the Cardinals). The last eight home teams who won a World Series Game 6 to force a Game 7 won the winner-take-all game, too. In the designated hitter era, the American League has won five out of seven World Series Game 7s played in AL ballparks, including each of the last four.

And for whatever it's worth, the Giants, as a franchise, have never won a sudden-death game in the World Series. They are 0-4. They did, however, play a Game 7 in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the Cards, and that worked out pretty well.
"You go back to '12 and look at this postseason, and I think a lot of people had us getting beat in the first and second round," Bochy said. "This club's so resilient. They're so tough."

If we look at the full scope of history, the home team is 18-17 in World Series Game 7s, which is the kind of a coin-flip outcome you'd expect in a game in which just about anything can happen.

For the Giants, the ace in the hole here is Bumgarner. Whether he can give the Giants one inning or multiple innings on two days' rest remains to be seen (this game falls within his normal between-starts throwing routine), but it would seem a reasonably safe bet that we'll see him in some capacity. The Giants will also again have Yusmeiro Petit available for long relief after he worked just two-thirds of an inning in relief of Jake Peavy in Game 6.

For the Royals, the benefit of blowing out the Giants in Game 6 (beyond the obvious) was the ability it gave Yost to rest his fearsome relief threesome of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Those guys will all be on multiple days' rest, and ergo, they could be ready to give multiple innings of work.

So Game 7, clearly, is not all about the starters. The 35-year-old Guthrie and 39-year-old Hudson both pitched effectively in Game 3, but they also both gave up an average of 9.5 hits per nine innings this season. Against two lineups prone to contact (and seeing them for the second time in less than a week), that could spell trouble and perhaps an early hook.

Offensively, the Royals, who were clearly bolstered by the return to AL rules and their regular lineup, might appear to have the momentum, but momentum has obviously been a fleeting thing in this Series so far.

"I think it will be a completely clean slate," Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said
A clean slate upon which history will be written. There have been 2,461 games played in this Major League season.
We've got one left.

Royals: Guthrie expects gutsy effort
As if pitching a Game 7 weren't pressure enough, the Giants' ability to bring in Bumgarner midgame could, one supposes, put added pressure on Guthrie not to let San Francisco grab an early lead. But the value of posting zeros on the scoreboard is not exactly a novel idea, no matter the circumstance.

"My margin for error is going to be minimal either way," Guthrie said.

The Royals have won both of Guthrie's starts this postseason. After allowing just a run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts, he left the mound after the fifth inning against Baltimore in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series and announced, "I'm done." The bullpen took it from there. In Game 3 of this World Series, Guthrie went 5 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs on four hits with no walks or strikeouts. In the process, he became the first pitcher since Bob Turley of the 1960 Yankees to win a World Series game without recording a strikeout.

"I feel like I'm in a good position to pitch well, as I've been all season long," Guthrie said. "And that's a good place to be, to not have to worry about being fatigued or not have to worry about any lingering soreness. I feel that whatever I bring to Game 7 will be my best."

Giants: The Bumgarner watch

Bumgarner, who has allowed just one run in 31 career World Series innings and has a 1.13 ERA and .156 average against in six starts this postseason, will not be surprising everybody and starting. Rid yourself of that thought right away.
"You know, this guy is human," Bochy said. "You can't push him that much. He'll be available if we need him, but to start him, I think that's asking a lot."
But Bochy could definitely ask Bumgarner to bail him out of a jam. Bumgarner pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the 2010 NLCS, and having Game 7 land on his throw day allows the Giants to play with the possibility. And once he's in there, Bochy will just have to monitor his workload and effort level to decide how long he can ride him.
Don't worry about Bumgarner needing a long time to warm up.
"Something tells me it won't take too long to get loose in Game 7 of the World Series," he quipped.

Worth noting
• The early Weather Channel forecast was calling for a first-pitch temperature around 55 degrees with zero chance of precipitation. Game on.
• At 39 years, 107 days, Hudson will be the oldest Game 7 starter ever. Roger Clemens was 39 years, 92 days old when he started Game 7 for the Yankees in 2001.
• The last road team to win a World Series Game 7 was the 1979 Pirates against the Orioles. The '75 Reds are the last road team to bounce back and win a Game 7 after coming up short on a chance to close out the Series in Game 6.

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