KANSAS CITY -- With two runners on in the sixth inning of a tied game Wednesday, Royals manager Ned Yost went to his bullpen. He replaced starter Yordano Ventura with right-handed flamethrower Kelvin Herrera, whose first pitch was a 101 mph fastball that Brandon Belt swung at and missed. Herrera got out of the inning with the tie intact.
With two runners on in the bottom of the inning, Giants manager Bruce Bochy also went to his bullpen, summoning Jean Machi to relieve Jake Peavy. Machi started 2-0 to Royals designated hitter Billy Butler before throwing a fastball that Butler lined into left field for a go-ahead single, igniting a five-run rally.
High on the billing in this World Series was a matchup of two of baseball’s best bullpens, and round one Wednesday went decidedly to the blue corner. Doing most of their damage against right-hander Hunter Strickland, the Royals broke Game 2 wide open in the sixth en route to a 7-2 win, evening the Series at one game apiece before it shifts to AT&T Park.
Butler’s single gave the Royals a 3-2 lead and left men on first and second with one out. Javier Lopez entered and got Alex Gordon to fly out, but Bochy brought in Strickland to face the right-handed Salvador Perez, and the move backfired.
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Strickland bounced his 0-2 pitch to Perez, allowing both runners to move up 90 feet, and then threw a 97 mph fastball that Perez stroked into the left-center field gap for a two-run double. Two pitches later, Royals second baseman Omar Infante hit a Strickland fastball over the left-field wall for his first postseason home run in 145 career at-bats.
It was also the fifth homer Strickland has allowed in six appearances in the playoffs, and as Perez crossed home plate, he and Strickland appeared to exchange words. Members of both benches jogged onto the field, as did several members of the Kansas City bullpen, while umpires stepped in to separate Strickland and Perez.
No punches were thrown, but Infante’s home run knocked Strickland out of the game and gave the Royals a five-run lead, sending a jolt through the Kauffman Stadium crowd that had been so quiet in the late innings a night before.
Meanwhile, the lead allowed Yost to deploy his late-game 1-2-3 punch of Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who combined to throw 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out six. The trio locked things down in relief of Ventura, while the Giants burned through six relievers after Peavy exited with no outs in the sixth.
Coming in, the Giants knew they could count on one thing from Ventura: The Royals’ 23-year-old rookie would throw hard. Ventura led the majors with an average fastball of 97 mph during the regular season, and the first eight pitches he threw to Gregor Blanco on Wednesday were all fastballs 95 mph or higher.
On the eighth, though, Blanco took a level swing and crushed it into the Giants’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall. It was the first World Series leadoff home run in Giants team history and the 19th time a World Series game had begun with a homer.
But the lead was short-lived. Three of the first five batters Peavy faced in the first inning hit safely, with Butler’s RBI single scoring Lorenzo Cain from second. Left fielder Travis Ishikawa elected to throw home on the play -- where he had no shot at Cain -- instead of to third, where he might have had a play on Eric Hosmer.
Peavy kept that mistake from hurting by retiring Perez on a flyout to end the inning, but the Royals took the lead in the second. Infante one-hopped the wall in left for a double and, two batters later, Alcides Escobar lined Peavy’s first pitch down the right-field line for a double to score Infante. It was the 11th hit in 24 career at-bats for Kansas City’s leadoff hitter against Peavy.
The Giants tied the game 2-2 in the top of the fourth on doubles by Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt. But the inning ended on another uncharacteristic mistake -- this one on the bases, as Belt considered tagging up on Michael Morse’s flyout to right, got caught too far off second base and was thrown out by Escobar trying to dive back.
It remained tied until the sixth, which Peavy began having retired his last 10 hitters. Cain started the inning with a single and Peavy walked Hosmer for his final batter. In his eight career postseason starts, Peavy has never made it out of the sixth inning.
A rough night for the Giants got worse in the eighth. Making his first appearance of this postseason when he entered in the seventh, Tim Lincecum faced five batters and retired them all, including two strikeouts. But he appeared to hurt something facing Perez in the eighth and exited mid-at-bat. Santiago Casilla came in and finished the strikeout.