Finnegan passes big test, helps Royals win Game 3
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Brandon Finnegan passed his biggest test yet.
Only four months after he pitched in the College World Series, the 21-year-old reliever trotted into a troubling seventh inning, got two key outs and helped the Kansas City Royals hold off San Francisco 3-2 Friday night in Game 3 of the World Series.
Finnegan made history with his rapid ascent, and later agreed to donate his cap to the Hall of Fame. All that, and something even more important to the Royals — he was part of giving them a 2-1 edge over the Giants.
“My time came, and luckily I got the job done,” Finnegan said. “This is the real deal, y’know?”
His parents knew.
Outside the Kansas City clubhouse, surrounded by a bevy of Royals rooters, Betty and Gary Finnegan tried to absorb what they’d just seen.
“It is a dream ...” she said, some of her makeup washed away by tears. Without a pause, her husband finished the sentence, adding, ”... that you don’t want to wake up from.”
Back in June, Finnegan reached the peak of his baseball career — until that point — when he threw for TCU in the College World Series. But no one could have envisioned what would follow, because no one had ever played in both events in the same year.
“I feel like I’m still in college,” Finnegan said. “It’s no different. It’s still baseball.”
Finnegan had warmed up in the sixth inning when the Giants scored twice to pull within a run, but didn’t get the call.
“We figured he wouldn’t pitch after that,” his dad said.
Finnegan was back on the bullpen mound in the seventh at a rollicking AT&T Park, warming up when he was summoned into a tense spot to take over for proven reliever Kelvin Herrera: Runner on first, one out, Royals clinging to a one-run lead over the rallying Giants.
“Get a double play and the inning’s over,” Finnegan said he told himself.
All of Kansas City infielders huddled behind the mound as Finnegan got loose, realizing the most important point of their season was being entrusted to the rookie left-hander.
Right before pinch-hitter Juan Perez stepped up, Finnegan walked to the back of the mound and went the routine he uses to steady himself. He took off his hat, rubbed his hair and looked at the right-field foul pole.
“That’s just what I do,” he said.
Then it was time for business. Finnegan delivered, retiring Perez on an easy fly. When he fell behind in the count 2-0 to Brandon Crawford, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez went to the mound.
The message: “Be aggressive, not nervous,” Perez said.
Finnegan came back to strike out a swinging Crawford on a full count, and started to jog off the mound. He stopped short of the dugout and walked the rest of the way to the bench, where he was congratulated by Herrera and several other Royals.
In the stands near the Kansas City bullpen, about 20 family members and friends whooped it up.
“I’m very proud of him,” Royals ace James Shields said. “To be able to keep your composure on this big of a stage the way he’s doing, it is very impressive.”
“He’s pitching well beyond his years. If he keeps that up, he’s going to have a really good career,” he said.
Small in stature but big in accomplishments, Finnegan already has done that, and a lot more.
“I fulfilled two dreams in one year,” he said.
As he spoke, he glanced at the tattoo on his right wrist. His tattoos all refer to family and faith, he said.
There was some concern earlier this month that Finnegan’s run of success was winding down. After finishing his minor league season in Double-A, he made his major league debut on Sept. 6 and pitched seven games for the Royals, allowing one run in seven innings.
He threw 2 1-3 effective innings in the AL wild-card win over Oakland, and pitched twice in the AL Division Series against the Angels and got a win. But he struggled in the AL Championship Series against Baltimore, giving up three hits and a walk while getting only one out in two outings.
Manager Ned Yost didn’t need Finnegan in the first two games of the World Series. When it got tight in Game 3, it became Finnegan’s turn to pitch — and his father’s turn to soak in the whole experience.
“I was shaking for three innings,” his dad said. “My heart was pounding pretty hard.”