The Mets could see new life. As the end of a tense evening neared, only six outs stood between them and a fresh start in the 111th World Series.
Then cruelty descended upon Citi Field. Suddenly the Mets could not throw strikes. They could not field grounders. They could not summon the resolve that powered their most charmed summer in 15 years.
Now, after a 5-3 loss to the Royals in Game 4 of the World Series, they face the daunting task of needing to win three straight games to capture their first title since 1986.
Charged with protecting a 3-2 lead, Tyler Clippard issued a pair of one-out walks in the eighth. Closer Jeurys Familia entered, hoping to redeem himself after blowing a save in Game 1. But Eric Hosmer's roller went under the glove of postseason hero Daniel Murphy for an error that tied the score.
The horrified crowd let out a gasp. The flood could not be stopped.
Mike Moustakas rolled a run-scoring single past a diving Murphy and Salvador Perez followed with a hard single to right-center. He pounded his fist at first base as Hosmer scored the third run of the inning.
Wade Davis, one of the best closers in all of baseball, recorded the final six outs, and he needed the final two to snuff out a rally.
After one-out singles by Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes in the ninth, Lucas Duda broke his bat and hit a soft liner to third. Mike Moustakas caught it and doubled off Cespedes to end the game.
With that, the Royals moved to within one win of their first title since 1985. The Mets will turn to Matt Harvey Sunday night in Game 5. His job: to save the season.
Before a crowd of 44,815, the largest crowd for a Mets game in Citi Field history, Michael Conforto hit a pair of solo homers and Steven Matz held the Royals to two runs in five innings-plus. Now it was all wasted.
The bullpen bailed out a tiring Matz in the sixth. Lefty Jonathon Niese retired both hitters he faced, setting up a 10-pitch showdown between Bartolo Colon and Perez.
Colon, who leans almost entirely on fastballs, had struck out only 13 hitters all season with his slider. But after Perez fouled off four straight two-strike pitches with a man on third, Colon went with the slider.
When Perez flailed at the pitch, leaving him twisted like a pretzel, the sight transformed Citi Field into a wall of sound. The Royals had moved the tying run 90 feet away, but the Mets maintained a 3-2 lead.
Game 4 was tense from the start.
The Royals brought with them a reputation for heady play. Rarely do they commit mistakes. But in the last two games, they have shown cracks.
Consider the first inning, when the Royals wasted Alcides Escobar's leadoff single because Ben Zobrist got tangled up with catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Zobrist struck out but Escobar, running on the pitch, swiped second base easily. But Zobrist impeded d'Arnaud's throw, and the interference made it a double play.
The Mets caught another break in the third. After taking a 1-0 lead on Conforto's homer off Royals starter Chris Young, they pushed for more.
Wilmer Flores singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on Matz's sacrifice bunt.
That's when rightfielder Alex Rios lost track of the outs. With one away, Curtis Granderson lifted a fly ball to right, where Rios nonchalantly made the catch and began his jog to the dugout. To his horror, he realized an instant too late that Flores was tagging up from third base to score.
Rios almost got away with his gaffe. The Royals challenged the call, contending that Flores left the bag early. Replays showed the call was close, but the play stood and the Mets led 2-0.
The Royals sliced it in half in the fifth when Perez doubled with one out and scored on Alex Gordon's single.
Conforto pushed the lead to 3-1 in the fifth with his second homer of the night, but Matz soon found himself on the ropes again. With his fastball showing less life and his curveball beginning to flatten, Matz allowed a leadoff double by Zobrist and an RBI single up the middle by Lorenzo Cain. After 84 pitches, Matz was through, leaving the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead.