April 3, 2016

WADE IN THE WATER:

The Escape: The night Wade Davis cemented his status as the best reliever in baseball (RUSTIN DODD, 4/03/16, kcstar.com)

Every great escape begins with an unanticipated move. Wade Davis began his with a 2-0 breaking ball at the knees.

As the ninth inning of Game 6 continued at Kauffman Stadium, Davis looked in at Toronto left fielder Ben Revere, a speedy left-handed hitter with an uncanny ability to put the ball in play. From 2012 to 2015, Revere had recorded the third-highest contact rate in all of baseball, connecting on 91.8 percent of his swings. With two runners in scoring position and one out, he was the worst kind of foe. Davis needed a strikeout. Revere rarely whiffed.

As Davis stared down Revere, he missed with a 97 mph fastball for ball one. Davis followed with a 93 mph cutter that darted too far inside.

During the 2015 season, Revere had gotten ahead 2-0 in 75 plate appearances. He had reached base 53 percent of the time. He was batting .358 in those situations.

Davis needed something extra. He came set and unfurled a breaking ball that bit hard and spun across the zone for strike one. In the television booth above home plate, Fox Sports' Harold Reynolds nearly gasped.

"A little 2-0 slider," Reynolds said. "I'm sure that Revere was not thinking that was coming his direction, that's for sure."

If the breaking ball was daring, it followed the theme of the night. One hour earlier, Davis sat on an exercise bike inside Kauffman Stadium, maintaining a sweat as rain poured from the sky, halting the game. Davis had entered in the top of the eighth, after Ryan Madson gave up a game-tying, two-run homer to José Bautista. Davis finished off the Blue Jays in the eighth, but then the rains came, prompting players from both teams to seek cover.

Davis returned to the tunnel outside the clubhouse, where he found Eiland, the Royals' pitching coach. On most nights, Eiland says, the deadline for a pitcher to return after a rain delay can be 30 to 45 minutes. But this was not most nights. Davis told Eiland he was fine to go. Eiland nodded, left and returned five minutes later. Davis was still fine.

"You've got to listen to the player," Eiland says now. "Not only listen to him, but you've got to hear conviction. And it was 100 percent. He was 100 percent convicted with his words and the look in his eye."

By that point, of course, the Royals were already in survival mode, every option on the table. Davis had been on alert in the eighth inning, with the Royals leading 3-1. But the impending rainstorm had scuttled Yost's plans. Five months later, Yost says he likely would have used Davis in the eighth, if not for the storm.

"I knew if I pitched him in the eighth, it was going to rain," Yost says. "I knew rain was coming in 15 minutes. And I knew, in looking at it, it's probably going to be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour rain delay."

As it was, Yost needed Davis in the eighth inning anyway. Thirty minutes later, Davis hopped off an exercise bike and played some light catch in a tunnel. Eiland checked on him again. Davis looked him in the eye and said he was good. But as the delay dragged on, he began to worry.

"I shouldn't say I was nervous," Davis says. "I think I was more worried that I would shut down. We had thrown a lot to that point in the season already, and the year before. I think I was worried about just maybe not being able to physically have the same stuff."

As Davis took the mound in the ninth, his fears were assuaged during a lengthy at-bat with Kevin Pillar, who drew a walk, stole second and represented the go-ahead run. By the time Revere stood in the box, Davis felt like himself again. His arm was working. His breaking stuff had bite. He drew the count even at 2-2 on a 97 mph fastball on the corner. He buried Revere with an 88 mph curveball.

As Kauffman Stadium exploded, Revere returned to the dugout and swung away at a dugout trash can. The Royals were one out from the World Series. Davis was one out from a historic escape. The batter was Josh Donaldson, the presumptive American League Most Valuable Player. Inside the dugout, Eiland and Yost shared another glance.

"He was still facing Wade," Yost says now. "He was still facing Wade."

When the Royals acquired Wade Davis before the 2013 season, the thought process was simple: General manager Dayton Moore believed Davis could be a back-of-the-rotation starter on a team starved for starting pitching. If he burned out as starter, Davis could move to the bullpen.

The Royals could not know, of course, that they had landed one of the greatest relief weapons in the history of baseball. They could not know that more than three years after that, the James Shields Trade might as well be named for Wade Davis.

"Dadgum," Yost says, "who would have known back then that he was going to be the absolute best?"


Posted by at April 3, 2016 10:29 AM

  

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