Or it could have been the residual heat from the Royals' bullpen master trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. On Wednesday, the three shut out the Giants' offense to get the final 11 outs of the game.
The flamethrowing group has been integral to the Royals' success during the regular season and, even moreso, in the postseason. Through the Royals' 10 postseason games, the three have pitched 29 1/3 of the team's 95 innings played. Each has given up a solitary run and HDH, as they've come to be known via shorthand, have combined for 36 strikeouts while producing a WHIP of 0.89.
In Game 2, Herrera, the hardest-throwing member of the three, was up first once again as the Royals tied the World Series at 1-1.
Throughout the regular season, Royals manager Ned Yost used Herrera almost exclusively for the seventh inning. But after starting pitcher Yordano Ventura gave up two singles sandwiched around an out to start the sixth inning with the score tied 2-2, Yost went to Herrera to get out of the jam.
"I came in trying to get a double play or a fly ball or something like that because I don't want the run to score there because maybe we can lose," Herrera said.
His first pitch to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt was clocked at 101 mph. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Herrera got his fly out to left, one that prevented the runners from advancing to second and third.
The next hitter, designated hitter Mike Morse, grounded into a force out. Herrera had preserved the tie with nine pitches. Eight of them were either 100 or 101 mph.
Herrera's drama, and the only tension the three relievers would provide, came in the seventh. In the bottom of the sixth, a half-inning that featured four pitching changes, the Royals scored five runs. All the while Herrera was admittedly in the dugout for longer than he's used to.
When he came out for the seventh, he immediately struck out Travis Ishikawa. But after the strikeout, Herrera walked both Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco, necessitating a visit from Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. What did Eiland tell Herrera?
"Just raise my elbow up because I was trying to be too fine to throw strikes," Herrera said. "And I think that helped me a lot because I started throwing strikes again."
After going down 2-0 in the count to second baseman Joe Panik, Herrera came through. Panik flew out to center for the second out of the seventh. Then, catcher Buster Posey went quickly down 0-2 before grounding to second base. A potential threat to the Royals' now-commanding lead was averted, all while Herrera threw 14 of his 32 pitches in 1 2/3 innings at or over 100 mph in his fourth multi-inning stint of the playoffs.
From there, Davis and Holland made it look easy. Davis worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning on strikeouts of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and right fielder Hunter Pence and a grounder to first by Belt. Eleven of Davis' 14 pitches were strikes. His fastest pitch was 98 mph.
In the ninth, Holland struck out three, mixing up his slider and a fastball that touched 96 mph. The only blemish was a single by Crawford.
While it wasn't a save situation, the final inning was an opportunity for Holland to cap an evening that started with receiving the Mariano Rivera award after being chosen the American League's best reliever. In April, baseball announced the reliever of the year awards in each league would be named for Rivera and Trevor Hoffman in the National League.
"That was a great experience for me," Holland said. "I'm really humbled to get that award, especially when I've got a plaque with Mariano Rivera's name on it and mine on it, too. So that's incredible. But I thought it was bad timing to be honest with you. Six o'clock, Game 2 of the World Series – I told [National League winner and Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel], this would be a bad time to blow one, you know?"
Losing a lead late has happened once this season for the Royals. Counting postseason games, the Royals are 76-1 when leading after seven innings in 2014. That's almost exclusively in part to the most dominant three reliever combination in baseball. Though perhaps for psychological reasons, they don't view wins as a sure thing while pitching with the lead.
"I don't think we view it as if the game's 'over' when we come in," Davis said. "That's what's made us good this year; we haven't viewed it like that. We've viewed it like a situation where we needed to push harder. We need to be smarter, and do things a little different each time in order to keep the hitters off balance. That's a credit to all of the guys down there and our preparation."
More MLB coverage:
- - - - - - -