SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a little shocking to discover, rifling through Baseball Reference during yet another momentous sixth inning in this already riveting World Series, that the Royals bullpen trio (the "Three-Headed Monster," if you will, though your humble narrator might argue that adding the moniker "monster" to a creature that already has three heads seems both unnecessary and a bit cruel) of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland has given up a run this postseason.
Three, in fact. One each: Herrera in the Wild Card game, Davis in ALDS Game 3 and Holland in ALCS Game 1. That is shocking, right? The way they have pitched every game this postseason, you would have thought that not only had they put up nothing but zeros, but they had in fact struck out every batter they'd faced with 145 mph fastballs that made Sidd Finch blush, levitating a couple of feet above the ground all the while.
They've been treated that way too, both by opposing managers (who have to scrape and claw for every run they can before the seventh inning) and, especially, Royals manager Ned Yost, whose whole managerial philosophy, if you can decipher one, seems to be "cross fingers until you can put in Herrera and start the march." Tonight, he went so far as to let Herrera make his first plate appearance of his career while the Royals had a runner on base in a one-run World Series game. You'll never believe this, but he struck out.
(Yost being Yost, he then took him out after only two hitters the next inning.)
(Yost being Yost, it worked.)
The San Francisco Giants fell behind 3-0 tonight, but they rallied for two runs off Jeremy Guthrie in yet another eventful sixth inning. So then: Deploy the Three-Headed Monster. In came Herrera. And that was that.
The Giants, when they weren't batting, did everything right after Herrera came in, giving up just one hit and no runs in three innings of relief. And, as keeps happening, it didn't matter. Herrera, Davis and Holland -- with a key assist from Brandon Finnegan, who became the first person to ever play in the College World Series and the regular World Series in the same year -- shut them out, and the game was over. The Royals won the game 3-2 to take a 2-1 Series lead and assure that either the Series is coming back to a deafening Kauffman Stadium … or they'll win the darned thing out here.
One was reminded, again, of the frustrated Orioles fan:
Here are the stats for each pitcher this postseason:
- Herrera: 11 1/3 IP, 12 K, 1 ER
- Davis: 11 1/3 IP, 14 K, 1 ER
- Holland: 10 IP, 13 K, 1 ER (and 7 saves, which is tied fore the most in a single postseason)
This is unfair. I mean, that is just downright ridiculous in every possible way. That is an 0.83 ERA, in the most terrifying, important moments of the closest, most important games. Having a great bullpen is a vital part of any successful postseason run. But having that is stacking the freaking deck. Your team doesn't really have to be all that great at anything else; if you can pull that off, you can win a World Series.
The highest-leverage innings tonight were actually pitched by Finnegan, who came in when Yost pulled Herrera after a strikeout and a walk in the seventh. He got Juan Perez to fly out and Brandon Crawford to strikeout, stranding the last runner the Giants would have all night. Finnegan has now pitched a total of 12 1/3 innings in his Major League career, and 5 1/3 of them have been this postseason. For the night, the Royals got the last eight Giants batters out, and 11 of the last 12.
Basically, the Royals are winning this World Series so far with three players. (Finnegan is an intriguing sidekick, a guy who's not in the band but gets to go on tour with them. Think of him as Pat Smear in late-era Nirvana.) It is the simplest, almost stupidly basic, formula: Have a defense that gets to everything -- which it did repeatedly tonight, and it had to, considering starter Jeremy Guthrie didn't strike out a single hitter -- scratch out a run or two and then push the THREE-HEADED MONSTER button and the game is over.
The Royals have played 11 games this postseason. Herrera has pitched in nine. Davis has pitched in 10. Holland has pitched in 10. Not coincidentally, the Royals are now 10-1 this postseason.
In the regular season, this obviously would not work: That's would put Holland and Davis on a 147-game pace, which would cause their arms to rebel against their bodies and start punching them in the face. And you would have to think, eventually, it would come at a cost in the postseason, no matter how shortened a schedule it is. You even saw that a little bit tonight with Yost's hook of Herrera, who was starting to get a bit wild. (Though it still doesn't explain why he didn't pinch hit for him in the first place.) But it doesn't have to come at a cost. After all: It's getting late. Those guys can spend the offseason resting their arms (or, uh, having major surgeries).
If the Giants can break through on one of those guys this Series, it feels like the whole delicate structure the Royals and Yost are basing all this success on could collapse. But that would require them to be mortal … or at least remain immortal until the clock runs out. Yost's strategy can't work forever, but it doesn't have to work forever. It only has to work for two more games. Two more games is all it will take.