KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the bottom of the sixth inning began Wednesday night, Jake Peavy was, improbably, the man on the mound for the San Francisco Giants.
After the Kansas City Royals scalded baseballs to all corners of the yard over the first two innings against Peavy, he had somehow survived. The second game of the World Series was tied at 2. Decisions from that point forward would determine the outcome. Sending Peavy to face the Royals’ third, fourth and fifth hitters would have seemed to be an easy one, given that he had retired 10 straight men.
“I felt great,” Peavy said.
“Jake was throwing the ball well,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said.
This is the point in October, when these games get tight and go deep, that the tale often turns to Bochy, who entered Tuesday with nine wins in 10 World Series games. So make room for the knack he had for thinking ahead to something others wouldn’t have anticipated, for how he figured a way to get his best left-handed reliever against the opponent’s best left-handed hitter.
Wednesday wasn’t one of those nights.
We have a World Series now because the Royals crushed the Giants, 7-2 , in Game 2, earning a split of the first two games at Kauffman Stadium before the series heads to San Francisco for three games over the weekend. It’s even because Peavy left the mound without retiring a batter in the sixth, because the matchups Bochy concocted didn’t work out and because 26-year-old reliever Hunter Strickland embodied everything the Giants do not — a lame performance on the mound, a messy meltdown as he was about to get the hook.
“I like my matchups,” Bochy said afterward. And he can say that because so many times he has been right.
Yet Wednesday, the guts of the sixth inning, cut open for all to see, is where this game was decided. And oddly, in the mess there, were Bochy’s fingerprints. He is likely going to the Hall of Fame as a manager, whether he wins his third World Series in five years or not. But for all the grief Kansas City Manager Ned Yost has taken this October — best version: he’s not very good; worst version: the Royals are here despite him — Yost (gasp) out-managed Bochy on Wednesday night.
Leading off the sixth came Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who had doubled and scored Kansas City’s first run in the first. Cain opened with a bloop single to center.
“Nothing you can do about the hit,” Peavy said.
So, then, the first decision: allow Peavy, who had issued only that measly single since the second and who had thrown only 60 pitches, to remain in and face Eric Hosmer, Kansas City’s best hitter throughout the postseason? In Peavy’s days with the Chicago White Sox, he had faced Hosmer 21 times and retired him 17. Decent odds.
But Hosmer is a left-handed hitter, and Javier Lopez — the Giants’ veteran who is their best left-handed specialist — was warming in the pen. Moreover, this was Peavy’s third trip through the Kansas City lineup. Such waters aren’t easily navigated for the 33-year-old. During the season, he allowed opposing hitters a .323 average with a massive .933 OPS — including eight homers — on the third trip around. Could you let him go here?
“No, I can’t say I was going to make a change there, because [Peavy] gave up a bloop hit,” Bochy said. “I was going to let him face him.”
So Bochy stuck with Peavy, who fell behind 3-0, battled back to 3-2 but — by an inch — issued the walk to Hosmer.
OK, that ship sailed. The next decision was to bring in right-hander Jean Machi to face Royals designated hitter Billy Butler. Bochy is such a master of these situations, and he had a plan going forward, too, because Lopez would be ready to come on for the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon.
This is all so delicate because bad results don’t always mean bad decision-making, and Bochy was sure of his in hindsight. Machi, though, allowed Butler the go-ahead single to left. Royals 3, Giants 2.
This is, too, where Yost had a slight upper hand.
“I felt very strongly going into the sixth inning,” Yost said, “that the next run scored by either team was probably going to be the winning run.”
So when right fielder Nori Aoki, who played defense Wednesday night like he hadn’t before seen a baseball, made the last out of the fifth, Yost stuck Jarrod Dyson in center and moved Cain to right, benching Aoki. The idea: Get your best defense on the field now, and make every play count.
Bochy then turned to Lopez to face Gordon, and this was the one thing that went right with the inning for the Giants. Gordon flew out, the first out of the frame.
And here came Strickland. “He’s an intense kid,” Bochy said. But not one who has pitched particularly well this postseason. In five previous appearances, he had issued four homers.
That’s the thing about these matchups Bochy so often handles so deftly. Use four pitchers in four batters — Peavy to Hosmer, Machi to Butler, Lopez to Gordon and Strickland to Salvador Perez — and it can leave you with less-than-your-best man on the mound. Strickland got ahead of Perez 0-2, then had a slider get away from him, a wild pitch. Perez tattooed his next fastball to left-center for a double that made it 5-2, and after Omar Infante’s back-of-the-bullpen homer provided the final margin, Strickland oddly challenged Perez as he rounded the bases.
The benches cleared. Strange to see the Giants lose their composure. Stranger still that it was Bochy, sitting afterward, calmly answering questions about why he did what he did.
“Those are the matchups that we were trying to get,” Bochy said. “It just didn’t work out.”
Box score: Royals 7, Giants 2