By: Joe Botana
“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!” – The little boy. “The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little
Excessive use of any phrase makes it lose meaning when it really matters. The phrase “must-win game” is one that is often used and abused. Accordingly, we won’t use it to describe tonight’s game four in the context of either team, as it really does not really apply. After tonight, the World Series will either stand at a 3-1 advantage for the Royals, or the Mets will have fought back to a 2-2 tie, and the teams will find themselves in a two out of three playoff. In either case, both teams will still be in a relatively viable position from which to secure the ultimate triumph.
That is not to say that tonight’s game is not pivotal; far from it. For the Mets, it is an opportunity to continue the reversal of momentum they achieved last night, when they sent a clear “we are still here and very much alive” message to the Royals right from the very first high inside pitch from Noah “Thor” Syndergaard to leadoff batter and spark plug Alcides Escobar. A win tonight would give the Mets the edge in momentum and confidence going into game five.
For the Royals, it would be a chance to respond last night’s message with something akin to “yeah, whatever.” They would have reversed the momentum yet again, and would find themselves in a position from which winning just one of the next three games, two of which would be back home at Kauffman Stadium, would secure the Crown which eluded their grasp last year after it was so tantalizingly close, and which they have been single mindedly pursuing ever since.
The Mets will send Chris Young (11-6 / 3.06 ERA) to the mound. Young pitched three innings in relief in the fourteen inning opener and was brilliant, earning the win. In post season, he owns a career 1.45 ERA over four appearances, including two starts. Royals’ manager Ned Yost stated that the 53 pitches Young threw on Tuesday, three days ago, does not affect his plans to use him as the game four starter. It will be interesting to see if something happens tonight that causes this decision to be second guessed. Given the Royals’ dominant bullpen, Yost may be happy to get another effective “half-start” of four or five innings from Young.
Opposing Young will be the much younger Steven Matz (4-0 / 2.27 ERA) who is the newest member of the Mets rotation. In his last appearance, he was pulled by Terry Collins after 4 2/3rd innings, so he did not get credit for the win in the NLCS clincher against the Cubs, but he was sharp and struck out four Cubs batters during that stretch. He took a tough loss against the Dodgers in the NLDS, and sports a post season record of 9 2/3rd innings in two appearances with an 0-1 record and a 3.77 ERA. It will be interesting to see if Mets manager Terry Collins elects to pull his young starter early again tonight and throw a “change-up” from the steady diet of fire ballers they’ve seen so far from his starters in the person of Bartolo Colon.
Why is this game pivotal? The Royals will clearly recall that they held a 2-1 lead last years against the Giants, only to lose that series in seven games. They may also realize that eight of the last twelve World Series teams who evened the series at 2-2 after being down 2-0 went on to win the series. The Mets understand the same historical statistics, and realize that while teams facing a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, only twenty-nine percent go on to win the series, and only eleven of the twenty-nine teams in the same predicament in the World Series (38%) claimed the crown, they were one of those teams in 1986. Last night was “Go Time” for the Mets, and so it still remains.
The keys to winning are crystal clear for both teams. The Mets will need to keep hitting and scoring runs like they did in game three while preventing the Royals from stretching innings and stringing together hits to produce multiple RBI frames. The fact that there won’t be a designated hitter and Royals pitchers will have to bat gives them a slight edge up in that regard. For the Royals, they will have to get another dominant pitching performance from their starter and bullpen, return to playing solid defense, and show the Mets once again, since they probably forgot after last night, why they had the highest batting average against pitchers who throw over 95 mph.
It is not “must win” – but it is pivotal. And it happens tonight. Don’t miss it!