Thursday, May 31, 2007

A photo diary of a night at the K

This was not a good sign. Weather.com reported scattered thunderstorms from evening till nine, when the clouds were to lift in the black of night, so I sat in front of my computer looking at Doppler radars and trying to convince friends that yes, they do play games even if they delay the start for two hours; no, they weren't going to cancel this one because the Royals already have to play a make-up game against the Orioles, in Baltimore; yes, we would have a good time, why wouldn't we have a good time?; no, it's not dangerous driving K-10 in the rain; yes, $5 tickets on College Night; and so on.

Eventually, Caleb, Berman, Anita and I got into a car and made our way down I-435. Caleb, very whippet-like in his aversion to rain, wouldn't stop fussing about it, and when we passed a sign that pointed to Applebee's he chirped, "Alright, we're here: Applebees."

"We're going to the game," I said, and I reminded him that I was already paying for his parking.

"I've already paid, by driving from Lawrence," he said.

We went back and forth about this trying to calculate the cost of his trip, figuring distance, his car's gas mileage (he was driving presently) and the cost of fuel, and the course of this discussion somehow led him to say, with a straight face, "In all my years, the one thing I've learned is when you're dividing, the divisor doesn't matter. Just cross it out. It doesn't matter."

Remembering my affinity for math back in the day, this comment caught me as highly illogical and counterintuitive. "It doesn't matter?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Then what does?"

"The dividend. That's it."

Thusly I learned, when dividing a into b to get a quotient c, the b doesn't matter.
***
We went, we saw, we took pictures next to great benefactors and witnessed the tarped field of Kauffman Stadium in all its sheathed glory and understood that in this spot they played as those who earned this trophy, and that if it was good then it would be like an opium dream in a future soon to come.


And then we went out to the parking lot, drank beers and left.



But not before we witnessed.
***

The first pitch came in high and hard out of the hands of our conquering hero. Though I couldn't actually tell you if it was high or hard, or a strike, or what the batter did with that first pitch, or if John Buck caught the ball, but it's likely it was hard, and high, if that's a good thing, and like so the game commenced under a cool moon and hot lights.



From that vantage point, we saw a guy wearing an Angel Berroa shirt -- I'm guessing he didn't buy it this year -- and Mark Grudzielanek get doubled off first from a Mike Sweeney line-out to center. Don't ask me what Grudz was thinking, or to elaborate. Sitting two rows above us were a group of girls -- one of them wore a K-State shirt -- who started chanting "De-Fense" sometime in the 2nd. Uncanniness, I love it. And then Berman, sitting next to me, tried starting a wave, a proposition that got the girls laughing but no one else all that interested. Yes, we were those jackasses, the ones who tried starting the wave. Well, not me, just Berman.

Eventually, because there seemed to be 4,000 people in the stands and not the announced 10,513, we moved down to get a better view, principally of the man himself, Gil Meche, who was cruising and poised to be the stopper for which he's paid the big bucks. Our new view:



Unfortunately, Meche's opponent, Erik Bedard, proved inscrutable, continuing to mow down the home team. The game was played at an incredibly brisk pace, as if the players were trying to make up for time lost in the nearly two-hour pre-game delay. There was very little in the way of offense until the 8th, when the Orioles' lead-off man walked, a sure omen of bad things to come. A couple bunts later, Jay Payton singled to make it 1-0 Baltimore.

This didn't please Berman and Caleb in the least -- don't be fooled by their expressions, they cry a lot on the inside -- and Anita, not pictured, who started crying for real. Or maybe her tears were rainwater. In any case, you see the Royals here with bats in their hands -- warming up or at the plate, whatever -- and you expect them to do something with it, but... nothing. The last 12 batters -- every Royal who came to the plate in innings six through nine -- didn't do diddily. In the 5th, Ryan Shealy walked, but that was it. The 4th inning was the last in which a Royal picked up a hit. I didn't realize this until I got home and checked the play-by-play. And then I realized why I was so drunk.
***

A couple more pictures:



The night ended with a delicious hamburger from Fox and Hound.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Inspired by the latest rant from Royals Review

Well, ladies and gentleman, here we are. We're stuck in 1997-2006 (excluding 2003). Nobody seems to be too worried about it. Buddy thinks that they just have to ride it out. Dayton is MIA. David Glass is making sure Wally World is keeping sweat shops fully operational and sucking the life out of hometown businesses. The fans that still care (all 12 of us) are ranting, raving and booing. The others have turned their backs on the guy who has been the only bright spot for the franchise in the past few years and they've already turned against the guy who is supposed to be the future. The Nationals aren't in this bad of a situation, folks. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. ... Something has to change. As a franchise, we are worse than laughable at this point.
--royaldaddy, Royals Review blog

You can bemoan the Royals' record. You can bemoan their past 10 years (or more). You can bemoan Buddy Bell. Heck, you can even bemoan the current players, whoever you want. But to say we're stuck in 1997-2006, when Dayton Moore hasn't even had a full year (anniversary's tomorrow) and when he hasn't even had an amateur draft, is to let passion speak before reason. Hey, it's understandable: the Royals just lost a game in which they mustered three hits and pitched poorly and fielded poorly and looked utterly overwhelmed in the latter innings -- I get it, sometimes I want to scream too. But before we completely write off this franchise, let's take a long-view look at things. Moore was hired to enact a long-term plan that will transform the Royals into the model franchise it once was, not provide a quick fix (which he could do, considering the Glass family wanted to spend even more this offseason), and as with most long-term plans, it takes a while to see the results, usually more than a year. If the Royals are still like this in two years, let's talk, but for now, let's just cut back on the blanket aspersions, okay?

If you don't believe Dayton's moving this team the right direction -- I mean really, really don't believe it -- then the following quotes aren't going to do anything for you. For everyone else though, just a take a moment -- a figurative step back -- and absorb the optimism. From a recent Kansas City Star feature:

Owner David Glass: "The difference is having a plan and sticking with it. It's so tempting to make short-term decisions. I think maybe all of us were a little guilty of that in the past. But I think Dayton has brought an objective look at it."

Art Stewart, who's been with the Royals since 1969: "It's the most dramatic improvement in a short time I've seen since I've been here. It reminds me of Mr. Kauffman, when he said, 'What can we do to add an edge?' There's just been so much done in a short time."

Mike Sweeney: "Since Dayton's taken over, it seems like there's been unity. Everyone from the owner down to the rookie on the baseball team, we're all on the same page. I think Dayton has freedom as teh GM, freedom that Allard (Baird) didn't have."

Mark Teahen: "It's just the attitude in general, if you aren't here to win, hit the road. Before, it seemed year-to-year we'd try to get a quick fix. At least now, it seems like there's a real direction instead of making a quick fix. It feels like he's building an organization the way it should be built."

For specifics on "the way it should be built," click on the link and read the rest of the article. Maybe some of those sound bites sound a bit PRish, but I honestly don't remember quotes like that in the Allard Baird era, and that's less a knock on Baird than a expression of faith in Moore.

And then there are some things in royaldaddy's post that just aren't true. To say Dayton's been MIA when he just sat down with the Star? When he's been nothing but upfront -- from his introductory press conference to when he was on the road with the Royals Caravan in the winter -- about what he aims to accomplish, and his strategy to do it? To say there are 12 fans left (I understand hyperbole) when everyone knows that at the first whiff of a consistent winning team, the fans will flock back as if the losing never happened? I take exception to that. Nothing personal -- I'm not launching into Roger Clemens-type tirade here -- but I'm a bit bothered all the same. And I hate to be the bearer of Panglossian faith here, but the Royals are not in as bad of a situation as the Nationals.

Royals Review -- this is the No. 1 Royals blog on the 'Net, by the way -- mocks the title of the Star article, "A man with a plan." But what would you have Dayton do, and on what timetable? Let's lay down our cards. Eighty wins this year? A playoff appearance by 2008? It's human nature to demand immediate results, to scrutinize every detail, especially in losses, and analyze how things could be better -- it's even more human nature to do this when it's your everyday job -- but baseball operates on a different pace. Unless your team has bottomless resources -- and sometimes even when it does -- building a team takes time. That's the reality. You hear about worst-to-first turnarounds, but those are never random nor "magical," as Angels in the Outfield might have you believe.

People who hang on each loss with all their heart and say irrational things aren't bad fans -- on the contrary, I rather admire their passion. And "real fans" don't necessarily have to be uncritical of their team. But I think the jury on Dayton's Royals is definitely still out, so it'd be anything but fair to start haranguing this regime. Look on the bright side: Jim Hendry's not our GM, and we've been to at least a World Series in the post-World War II era. While the Royals are rebuilding, jump on MLB.tv and watch the Brewers or Felix Hernandez or B.J. Upton and read blogs like Church of Baseball or Raise the W Flag, just for a change of pace. There will come a time when national audiences turn their attention to us.

When players-only meetings are neither helpful nor players-only

The Royals held a players-only meeting yesterday, but it wasn't exactly "players-only" because manager Buddy Bell was present for the start of it. Mark Teahen said the meeting was "more just about winning. It's not, 'Hey, you need to get your foot down earlier.' It's not mechanics." The Royals proceeded to go out and lose 6-2 to Baltimore, running their losing streak to six games. Also, personally, I've never heard of a team meeting in which mechanics were discussed -- I imagine you'll more likely hear something like, "Harry, what in &$%#'s name were you thinking when you tried to steal third with two out?" -- but what do I know. I can, however, in spite of my lack of actual knowledge, surmise what was said in this meeting:

Teahen: Alright fellas, we need to figure out how to win, because this losing is really bothering me.

Mike Sweeney, to himself: You haven't been here long enough.

Teahen: Does anyone have any ideas? On how to win, I mean. Does anyone have an idea how to win? Because that's what we need: to win. And an idea. In conjunction. A winning idea.

Ryan Shealy: Wheelys!

Teahen: Not what I had in mind. And quit skating around before you hurt yourself.

Shealy tries to slide, but his ankle gets jammed under him and his upper body gets catapulted forward into a wall.

David DeJesus: Well, all I know is I gotta be more productive from the top of order. Did you know I was among the leaders in runs scored in April? Yeah, true story. I'm the leadoff man, and part of my duties is to be a leader, so if I could get on base more to set up the rest of the lineup...

Shane Costa: Um, David. You're not batting leadoff anymore.

DeJesus: Who are you?

John Buck: I could hit more home runs.

Jason LaRue: Uh, yeah... John, I'm just the messenger here, but I don't think you'll be playing as much in the near future.

Buck: But I'm tied with the league lead for homers by a catcher!

LaRue: Yeeeah.... your arm strength ain't as hot as mine, pardner.

Buck: What?

Buddy Bell, carrying a flute: Hey, you want to hear me play my trumpet?

Angel Berroa: Maybe Tony can grow some facial hair, look more intimidating.

Teahen: Guys, let's not get sidetracked. Ideas on winning?

Mark Grudzielanek, polishing his glove gilded in gold: Defense.

Esteban German: Playing time.

Emil Brown: I hear chicks dig the long ball. That seems useful.

Alex Gordon: Hey, Billy. Billy. Where are you, Billy boy?

Tony Pena: What's wrong with him?

Sweeney: Anxiety separation. Don't ask.

Berroa: Anyone want a donut?

Bell plays "I Like the Way You Move" on his flute.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Steve Trachsel just pitched a complete game against the Royals

Look, the man struggles to throw strikes. Notice that he walks a batter almost every two innings, and not even because he's "effectively wild" like Ricky Vaughn -- he's just bad releasing the ball in such a way that it consistently falls within a predetermined, relatively rigid space. And do walks hurt? You bet walks hurt. Listen to what his opponent, Scott Elarton, had to say about walks: "It was just another example of how walks kill you. They hurt me in the first and in the fourth." In the fourth, Elarton and the Royals gave up another grand slam, No. 6 on the season, so the moral of this story clearly is pitchers who issue a lot of walks are supposed to get hammered.

He's not exactly intimidating, either -- 36, clean-cut, droopy-eyed, with a fastball that tops out around 87/88 and a flat splitter, he resembles a smarmy British tutor more than a professional ballplayer. Yet he does his job with surprising efficiency and has done it for so long that he's getting paid $3 million this year to pitch in the American League East. And his ERA is 3.39.

He's a siphonophore, people! An invertebrate who lures in victims with a benign bioluminescence, only to eat them up when they get too close. In other words, he wants to sneak in first-pitch strikes, then force you to swing at his ensuing barely-off-the-plate fastballs that tempt like Rita Hayworth in Gilda. The Royals fell into this trap, except they weren't getting out on just the good pitches -- those beckoning fastballs -- but on everything, from ugly slow curves to other junk that don't have a name.

In his complete game win -- I just shuddered -- Steve Trachsel scattered five hits and three walks, getting into trouble only twice, in the 7th when he gave up his only run and in the 8th when he induced a bases loaded fly-out from Mark Teahen. You knew the Royals were in trouble when they started the game thusly:

David DeJesus: pitch 1, ball
pitch 2, ground out to second
Mark Grudzielanek: pitch 1, strike (looking)
pitch 2, line out to second
Mark Teahen: pitch 1, strike (looking)
pitch 2, strike
pitch 3, ground out to short

That's seven pitches, six strikes. The Royals came out for the 2nd with a concerted effort to be more patient, but the result was another 1-2-3 inning. Then Ryan Shealy, the potential tying run who may need a few Little League lessons in sliding, was thrown out at home after Jason LaRue missed a home run by inches. And that was the ballgame, because Trachsel settled down and retired the next nine of 10 batters.

Ending this post here would save us some pain, but as I gave up watching this for RSTN (at least with my full attention), I feel a need to trudge on.

Until Alex Gordon walked in the 7th, Trachsel fell behind in two-ball counts on five occasions. With one exception -- a Shealy single -- the Royals bailed him out each time: ground out on 2-0, line out on 2-1, pop out on 2-1 and ground out on 2-0. The old man didn't throw more than five pitches to any hitter until the 7th, Gordon's walk. I almost think the Royals were aggressive at the plate not because they were desperate to bust out of their funk -- they've now lost the last five by a combined score of 45-11 -- or because of the weather, as Trachsel is quoted as saying, but because they were afraid of striking out to the man who doesn't strike anyone out. Like in Little League, when a girl's on the mound and batters are all too happy with ground outs, so the Royals used 0-2 swings on 2-1 pitches, and the result is an illusion of dominance for the man on the mound.

Buddy Bell, what have you to say?

"We helped him early on, swinging at the first pitch. We've got a bunch of guys who are -- I hate to say this -- trying to do too much. I have a hard time believing that you can do too much, but we've got guys who are just trying to put all of us on their shoulders. And it doesn't work that way."

Those guys lifting others above their shoulders, apparently, are Grudzielanek, Tony Pena Jr. and Gordon. I think they need more help.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Now playing the team from the city that's home to The Wire

The season's second series against Baltimore provides us a second opportunity to recognize The Wire, an audacious, breathtakingly ambitious show that plays out like a rough game of stickball, of splintered bats, black bruises, dirt and blood (sort of appropriate, as "blood" and "bleeding" have been mentioned a lot recently, including, incidentally -- though unrelated to the others -- by IDWT).

A simple search on Google or Technorati will turn up something like this, your standard panegyric that's wholly deserved ("Hands down, this is the best show on television. Period. End of discussion. Nothing else even comes close"). You can also check out IDWT's previous Wire post (first link in this post), which links to a bunch of other articles, like this primer from Salon.

Assuming you care about any of this, of course... I mean, why would anyone care about "A Greek tragedy on the streets of Baltimore"? (!)

I wish there was some way of connecting all this with tonight's game or baseball in general (McNulty and Bunk did take their kids to Camden Yards in one of the episodes, and one of the characters threw out a first pitch earlier this season), but unlike the NBA, which has given the folks over at Slam plenty of material, baseball just doesn't evoke as many parallels. Maybe it's sociological -- the NBA is about 80 percent black, whereas MLB is only 8 percent -- and then again... stay tuned.

Scott Elarton faces Steve Trachsel tonight. The offense showed signs of life late yesterday against the Mariners, so we'll see if that continues. Patience at the plate and smart base-running, that's all we need against Trachsel, who has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of worse than 2 to 3. Then again, Trachsel's crafty enough to throw seven innings of nine-hit-but-no-run ball, so I'm taking nothing for granted. I might go haywire if that happens though.

POSTSCRIPT: From the Baseball Think Factory: we know Yankees fans are generally bad (I'll elaborate when the Royals play in New York), but this is all the proof I need that people who call for Joe Torre's firing are crazy. How many managers could so shrewdly yet thoroughly attack an umpire in the post-game interview?

UPDATE: 6-0 Orioles at time of posting.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Um, what just happened?

No, really, what happened? I left my station at IDWT for the weekend to hang out with a visiting friend and travel back to KC, and I come back to find...
  • Gil Meche gave his worst performance of the year, giving up seven runs and 11 hits in 4.1 innings, then later revealing that he had been battling back stiffness. Royals lost 10-2.
  • Closer Joakim Soria got placed on the DL due to right shoulder inflammation.
  • The Royals suffered a 9-1 home loss in which the opposition hit yet another grand slam. After checking with Baseball Reference, it appears the Royals have allowed five grand slams already -- please add your name to the list that includes Nick Markakis, Chris Gomez, Pudge Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, Mr. Kenji Johjima -- and moreover, it appears they've done a terrifically horrible job pitching with the bases loaded. Opponents are batting .333/.373/.686 in that situation, which means they've been more than eager to swing for the jugular at the hint of blood, while the Royals have proved unproficient at stanching the flow.
  • In the last three games, the Royals have lost by a combined score of 29-6, this after winning 8 of 10 and three in a row. Baseball's pendulum of prosperity swings fast and hard, and we can only hope its current momentum is sapping and that it'll soon swing back around.
At least Ryan Braun, recently recalled, has been pitching well: no runs allowed in his minor league stint at Triple A Omaha.

One more thing: Cha Seung Baek, whoever you are, I don't ever want to see you pitching against, hear that you will be pitching against, sense that you might come in as a relief pitcher against, or associated in any way with the Kansas City Royals. His career numbers against the Royals: three games, 15.1 IP, 10 hits, 1 ER, 15 strikeouts, including a start in Seattle this year in which he carried a no-hitter through six. Against everyone else: 59 K's and 96 hits allowed in 93 IP for a 5.23 ERA. Go pick on someone else.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Well, it happens

Like when the Royals took out their frustrations on the White Sox while on the verge of getting swept, I suppose that's what Cleveland did last night in Kansas City. Jorge De La Rosa wasn't his normally exceptional self, having reverted -- temporarily, we hope -- to not being able to find the strike zone. Or area code. It happens.

Gil Meche pitches tonight, and on this occasion, we refer you to a newer, improved Meche Meter, courtesy of Royals Authority.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Busting out the whopping sticks

Here are the Cleveland announcers' calls of each of the Royals' four home runs last night. See if you can discern the dejection in their voices near the end.

HR #1, 2nd inning, none out, after the Royals have cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the previous frame:
Announcer 2: I don't care how good your arm is, if you're pitching from a 2-0, 3-1 count all the time, in hitters' counts, they're gonna get'cha.

[CRACK]


Announcer 1: Buck may have (Announcer 2: There it is) just gotten Lee. (Announcer 2: Yup.) Deep to left and... gone. Into the fountains. We're tied at three. John Buck's fifth home run of the year off left-handed pitching. And it's a rocky start for Cliff Lee tonight, already the fifth hit he's allowed.

HR #2: 2nd inning, one out, runner on first, 5-3 Royals:
Announcer 1: Mike Sweeney and Indians reliever Roberto Hernandez were teammates here in Kansas City, and Roberto was saying, "I've seen Mike Sweeney hit balls over his head, in the dirt, outside, inside," said he's just one of those freaky hitters who can put the bat on the ball wherever it's pitched. [SMACK] (Announcer 2: Like that.) And he hits one deep to left... back goes [David] Delucci... a two-run homer for Mark Sweeney [sic]. Mike Sweeney's 196th career homer, and Cliff Lee getting tattooed tonight.

HR #3, 5th inning, one out, Alex Gordon up, 7-4 Royals:
Announcer 1: Cliff Lee, the frustrating element here, six in a row he's set down and now he's behind a guy batting a buck-90, three and 0. (Announcer 2: Well he is just...) [BOOM] Launched! Deep to right! And way out of here. Gordon's third home run of the year, and the Royals now lead it eight to four.

Announcer 2: My, have the times changed. Guy hitting a buck-90, 3-0 count, and he lets him swing the bat and he hits the home run.
(Personally, I think this one could have been better done this way:
Announcer: Alex Gordon at the plate. Swing and a drive, way back... we got twoooooo words for ya... JESUS RISES!
Sorry, I know I swore off the apotheosizing.)

HR #4, 8th inning, 2 outs, runner on second, Royals up 9-5:
Announcer 1: He's got Grudzielanek in a 1-2 hole. And he hits it deep to left. Delucci with a long run... it's gone. Two-run homer for Mark Grudzielanek. And it's now 11-5 Royals.

Announcer 2: That is their fourth home run of the evening. And they came into the day with 33 and 12th in the league. They have left the yard, and a mistake pitch by [Fernando] Cabrera; for Grudzielanek, it's his second home run, a hanging breaking ball, middle in, it says, "Hit me," and he did. It's a two-run home run.

I'll give these announcers credit, even though they did take a cheap shot at Kansas City fans for cheering for donuts so much last year (hey, did your team lose 100 games?): they maintained their professionalism. But this was still a fun exercise. We'll do this again next time the Royals play the White Sox.

POSTSCRIPT: I thought that the Right Guard, "Look, a deer" commercial was insufferable the 80th time around, but man, this Dick's Sporting Goods MLB.tv ad is even worse. You think they could've found some real actors, like for that Yankees fan? "It's about doing. What it takes. To win." Whatever dude. Everyone knows that's a cliche.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hearty

Very hearty.

That's to describe the cheers from the 20,000 in attendance last night. Granted, 20 K isn't quite half capacity, but with almost all of the fans wearing white promotional T-shirts or waving them like homer hankies, they created a festive, exuberant atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium, on a splendid night for baseball. And why not? The Royals, with their come-from-behind win, have now taken 7 of 9, their best stretch since June 2006. They're officially on a roll. Alex Gordon had his second straight multi-hit game and looked good extending his hit streak to five; Buddy Bell managed his bullpen to perfect results, using David Riske, Jimmy Gobble and Zack Greinke for one out each, then throwing down the hammer with Senior Smoke, Joakim Soria; the team got contributions from just about everyone in the lineup, but especially Mike Sweeney, whose two-run HR in the 6th tied the game (go read his quotes from Jeffrey Flanagan's column this morning -- you'll feel really good for him, and by extension, yourself); Odalis Perez, another quality start!!!

These are good times to be at the ballpark, in part because you just don't know how long the good times will last. Nay, great times. Right, John Buck?

You hear guys talking in here, "What’s our record? How far back are we from Minnesota?" You didn’t hear that in the past. We’d be satisfied if we got a couple of wins. Now you hear guys saying, "How far are we out of first place? Ten games? Oh, we can do that." The whole attitude of the team is different. We’re moving in the right direction.

Royals, 10.5 games behind Cleveland. Cliff Lee vs. Scott Elarton, 7 p.m. CT.

POSTSCRIPT: As Soria was mowing down the Indians (12 pitches, nine strikes), the Cleveland announcers started relaying stories about him pulled straight out of Albert Chen's SI article a couple weeks back. They went almost word for word, including the anecdote of Dayton Moore e-mailing Buddy Bell, "We've found our Papelbon," and Curtis Granderson's quote. They did this without attribution. Now, I'm going to echo something Bradford Doolittle said a few weeks ago that I think is very relevant in our day and age of convergence and multi-platforming: attribute your sources, broadcasters (or producers/research interns). It's not that hard -- on the Internet, a hyperlink will do; on the air, just four words, like, "From an SI article." That's all we ask.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Royals announce renovations to the K

If it's not broken... make it better! One of the best stadiums in baseball is set to undergo renovations in October, to be completed in 2010, hopefully in time for the All-Star game. A lot of folks have already blogged about this, but I couldn't help posting this artist's rendering:



Beautissimo!

In other parts...
  • Dueling opinions about Alex Gordon. You know the camp IDWT's in. [Royals Locker appears to be an old new blog -- that is, a site that's been around since February but has somehow flown under my radar. No longer -- blog roll updated.]

  • A follow-up to my previous post: Joe Posnanski receives "I told you so" email from Royals fan, and loves it (that second email from a Royals fan in New York isn't me, but who could it be?).

  • An MLB.com feature on Jorge De La Rosa. Excerpt:

    "In the past, De La Rosa often lost confidence on the mound and wasn't consistent with his delivery. The problems led to a high walk rate -- 6.6 free passes allowed per nine innings entering 2007 -- and a 5.88 career ERA. The spring yielded a new De La Rosa -- one who could find the same release point."

    You have to love stories that identify a change in mechanics as the cause for a pitcher's improvement.

Now we prepare to host the Indians, who just got done making up their Opening Day game. As luck would have it, they threw out their ace, C.C. Sabathia, so he won't be available for any games at the K. Sweep: too much to hope for?

(Never is the answer.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wherefore thou forsaken us?

There's absolutely no reason to post this now, but it's an off-day for the Royals and I'm bored, so here you go.

That link is of Joe Posnanski throwing in the towel last week. Wherefore, Poz, wherefore? From the man who preached, "Royals GM has to stick to the plan," and led kindred spirits to console our parcel of humble boosters...

Milwaukee Brewers fan here who stumbled upon this article. I think Kansas City's GM is absolutely on the right track. Build through the draft and the farm system. It's the only way to go if you don't have $200 million like the Yankees and Red Sox. Follow the blueprint of teams like the Indians and the Brewers. See the trade last year with the Brewers, Tony Graffanino for young guys with alot of upside like a Jorge De La Rosa. That's what the Brewers did when they acquired Chris Capuano and David Bush from the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays respectively and now those are two important starters in one of the best rotations in the league.

...why?

(That response from the Brewers fan is decidedly different than the one from these White Sox fans to Poz's 2004 throw-in-the-towel article. The slight differences between Milwaukee and Chicago, you see, aren't so slight.)

A few more fun links:

1. Charley Radburn, known as "Old Hoss," is a Hall of Famer who once posted a 59-12 record, pitching 678 and two-thirds innings. In one season! [Hat tip to B.D.]

2. 30-0.

3. Hey Andruw, how's that platinum sombrero fitting you? (If any Atlanta Journal-Constitution editors are reading this, I'll have you know I was going to use a link from your website until your damn register/log-in screen proved too much an encumbrance. I'm sure it wasn't your fault. Do proceed lamenting the death of the newspaper.)

This land is OURS




vs.





It may just seem like an ocean of wheat and yellow-green buffalo grass, but after Sunday evening, that's our wheat and yellow-green buffalo grass, because in the Battle for Western Kansas, the Kansas City Royals emerged from a four-hour, 34-minute slobberknocker proud and victorious. Our hometown team prevailed in the grudge match, 10-5, in a contest that saw six pinch-hitters, 15 pitchers, 26 hits and two blown one-run saves. (But zero home runs! Hmm...) For our spoils, we'll claim those mountains and that lake, too.

RYAN SHEALY DIDN'T HIT A HOME RUN, as predicted, but he might as well have: three hits in five at-bats, a walk, run, double and two RBIs. Since returning from injury on May 16, here's what he's done:

Wednesday: 2 for 4, 1 RBI; avg .140 (from .113)
Thursday: 1 for 4; avg .148
Friday: walk in only plate appearance
Yesterday: 3 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 1 R; avg .185
Today: 3 for 5, etc.; avg .214

I'm sure Garth over at Pine Tar Charts can map out that trend for you, but I crunched some numbers myself and figured that if Shealy's batting average rose at its current geometric rate (y=mx+b, where m~.025, calculated from x1 (.113) to x5 (.214)), then in his next five games he would go 3-for-5, 3-for-4, 4-for-6, 3-for-3 and 4-for-5. Of course, if we used the slope of a quadratic curve, Shealy would be batting 7-for-7 by his fourth game and then something like 5-for-3 and 9-for-4 and so on, and after that it would just get ridiculous. I'll take the 3 for 5.

THE CORNER INFIELD OF THE FUTURE PREVAILS in the 12th. It started with Alex Gordon getting on base with his league-leading ninth HBP, then stealing second. The aforementioned Shealy followed by reaching down and flicking a two-strike pitch over the second baseman's head, sacrificing his bat -- which shattered -- for the go-ahead RBI.

JOEL PERALTA, NOW SLUGGING 2.000 LIFETIME, after his 12th inning double to the left-center wall in his first career at-bat... which he hit with his eyes closed.

Some will say the NL is better than the AL on a matter of principle -- nine players play on the field, not 10; it was this way in 1903 and should be that way now -- but I say NL games are better because only in that league can a relief pitcher hit a double to the left-center wall in his first career at-bat... kind of like Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (in the movie and not the real-life picture to the left, anyway).

"THIS GAME IS SO CRAZY" --Manager Buddy Bell, echoing Shealy from a few days back. Did we mention Peralta smoked a two-run double in his first Major League at-bat?

JOHN BUCK. Other than the starting pitchers, the only Royal who didn't play.

JOAKIM SORIA STRUGGLES WITH THE THIRD OUT, again. You've heard announcers say the last three outs are the toughest ones to pick up? Soria doesn't have any problem with the first two of those three... just that very last one. For the fourth time in his last six appearances, Soria allowed a run to score with two outs. Not more than one run, mind you: exactly one, with two outs. The good news? The Royals have won two of those games, and Soria is still the best option available.

ROYALS FINISH ROAD TRIP 6-4. And if it wasn't for a questionable call in Oakland and two one-run losses in Chicago, we might be looking at 9-1. But let's not get greedy: 6-4 is still very good for a team that didn't win six total road games last year until June 4.

And if you watched yesterday's game, you'd know: while these Royals will still make you scream -- Emil Brown kicking the ball in the bottom of the 11th to allow the tying run to score, for instance -- they're rarely dull. By all accounts, it seemed they'd would lose today's game, probably in the 11th, when the Rockies had runners on first and second with none out. But this team pulled together and won, and maybe that's a sign of things being different from years' past. Then again, maybe it was because they were playing the Rockies. Whatever the case, these guys have injected us with a healthy dose of optimism, so Tuesday they should be greeted home with open arms. Let's go, Royals!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sully the Monster menaces Coors Field

The winning streak may be over, but not the positive developments of which form the backbone of our endeavor. Sully -- a nickname bestowed upon him by his former manager, Clint Hurdle -- homered in the 9th yesterday at his old home ballpark. He went 3-for-4 to raise his batting average to .185, and if intuition serves me right, Buddy Bell will have him swap places with Alex Gordon in the batting order tomorrow, putting him in the five-hole. Gordon, part two of the Royals' Corner Infield of the Future, collected a hit in four tries to raise his average to .169 (baby steps, folks). That's progress, but right now it just makes more sense for him to bat seventh, after John Buck and ahead of Angy Penoa Jr.

On that note: Some observers might complain about Bell's constant tweaking of his lineup, but personally I don't have a problem with it. So far, players haven't protested -- besides, who among them can say he above the others deserves to bat fifth? -- and if anyone can explain how batting two spots higher or lower has any actual effect on a batter's approach at the plate, I'd be happy to hear it (I understand it may be a different in the NL for the No. 8 hitter, but I think Tona Pena Jr. and Angel Berroa pretty much have that spot to themselves).

My original observation -- that Sully went deep -- should be taken as a sign of his return to the land of the living baseball player. The 0-for-13 start to the season is hopefully behind him, as is the left hamstring injury that sidelined him for 16 days. Remember, this is a player who spent an extra year and a half in the minors because the Rockies couldn't find a place to play him, not with Todd Helton, who also homered yesterday, still in prime form (what is this now, his 10th year in his prime? Check out his career stats. He leads all active players in career BA, yet he's almost never mentioned in national baseball discussions. Colorado, more than any state, really is that big a black hole in the baseball universe). If it weren't for Helton, Ryan Shealy would be the starting first baseman of the Rockies. Instead, he has a home here in KC, and all that's left to see is what he can do. I'll go on the record right now and predict a home run for him tomorrow. Anyone take me on 4-to-1 odds of that happening?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Gil Meche does not read this blog

Nor any other.

From the recent issue (5/21/07) of SI's "Pop Culture Grid":

How do sports stars fit in? (Meche's answers)
Paris Hilton going to jail is... Horrible
Number of showers I took today: Three
Last song I downloaded: Me and My Gang (Rascal Flatts)
On Sundays, I'd rather be... At my parents' house
Last blog you read: No idea. I hate computers
My favorite hero is... He-Man

Three showers?

Nick Swisher, by the way, answered the "Last blog you read" question with, "What's a blog?" I really, honestly didn't think it was possible to not know in this day and age.

Somehow, Meche calling He-Man his hero only increases my respect for him. Colorado, you won't know what hit you tonight. Prepare to kneel before our hygienic conquering hero.

Maybe Buddy Bell knows what he's doing

PRELUDE: FSN Rocky Mountains did a nice job with the interstate/league game between the Royals and Rockies last night. The announcers pointed out that home plate umpire Tim McClelland is the same Tim McClelland featured here. The producers found a bunch of cowboy hat-wearing fans and noted that Thursday is Trucker Hat night. The station even made time for an Arena Football League pregame segment promoting the Colorado Elways.

But in the bottom of the 9th, could the camera work have been worse for the Yorvit Torrealba fly out to deep left? Runners on first and second and down three, Torrealba pulls a Joakim Soria fastball off the end of the bat, and if you let your eyes center on the TV screen, you'd have thought Torrealba hit the ball to Colorado Springs. This was purposeful, I'm sure, but it nearly gave me a heart attack.
***
I will never agree with a manager pinch-running for one of his best hitters before the 8th inning, especially if the team's on the road and trailing. The only time it makes sense to replace your cleanup hitter is if 1) his run will almost certainly decide the game, or 2) the man replacing him is the Tazmanian Devil.

Angel Berroa is no screeching marsupial, and one run matters less at Coors Field than anywhere else. So last night, the Royals' half of the 7th provoked out of me one of my loudest, most vehement outbursts all season.

Let's set it up. My thought process building up to the inning:

Bot 1st: Matt Holliday is really good. One run isn't going to hold up though.
Top 2nd (after Royals record a couple of hits): One run definitely won't hold up.
Top 3rd (another base runner): Won't hold up.
Top 4th (two more hits): Not holding up. No way.
Top 5th: One run won't hold up.
Top 6th: One run won't hold up.
Top 7th: Mike Sweeney hits a lead-off double! One run not gonna hold up!

At this point -- down 1-0, none out -- Buddy Bell sends in Berroa to pinch run for Sweeney. This is a curious move, considering the only way Sweeney's spot in the order won't come up again is if the next nine Royals all make outs. And if you must replace one of your best hitters, at least have the decency to send in someone who accelerates faster than a steamwheeler.

So what happens? Berroa runs on contact -- why, Bell/Brian Poldberg, why? -- but he doesn't really run. He scampers a few steps down the line before realizing third baseman Garrett Atkins already has the ball. The way he hesitated when the ball was hit made me question whether there wasn't miscommunication between him and the coaches -- the ones that aren't his father-in-law, I mean. I scream all sorts of unpublishable words after he's tagged out, and more after Rockies starter Jeff Francis works out of the jam with his lead intact.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. In the top of the 8th, Esteban German -- in as a pinch hitter for Jorge De La Rosa, who turned in another great start -- hits a lead-off double over Willy Taveras's head in center. After David DeJesus strikes out, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle removes his starter in a 2-0 game and hands the ball to the hard-throwing Manny Corpas. Two batters later, Sweeney's spot in the order, now filled by Berroa, comes up again, which leads Bell to make another excellent decision: he inserts the left-handed Shane Costa to face the righty. Costa delivers the game-tying RBI with a single to right that scores Mark Grudzielanek from second. After Emil Brown's three-run homer gives the Royals a 5-2 lead -- a cathartic moment in the IDWT household -- Bell lets reliever Brandon Duckworth bat for himself, and lo, wouldn't you know, Ducky comes through with a single up the middle. Not a bad 24 hours: witnessing the birth of your child, picking up a base hit, collecting the win.

Watching the late innings of that game, you would've guessed that Hurdle -- who was booed lustily and even inspired a "Hurdle sucks" chant -- was the AL manager visiting the NL park. Of course, Bell managed in Colorado before Hurdle replaced him, and Hurdle was the Royals' first round pick in the 1975 amateur draft -- there's a connection here, I'll let you make it though.

Sure, I was worried just a little that Bell -- who used three pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner -- would run out of position players. But in the end, he proved he knew what he was doing, and an old sports cliche was proven correct once again: when you win, you're a genius. And the Royals haven't lost in a while.

(Who's that calling, dear? Three-game win streak? Never heard of em. No no, I'll take the call.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Now batting, No. 23 -- Zack Greinke

In his lead, the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton tells us, "Don't be shocked if Zack Greinke makes an appearance this weekend against the Colorado Rockies -- as a pinch-hitter."

Uh, actually, I would be very shocked. I can envision Grienke going up to take a cut if he's on the mound as a long reliever, but getting sent up as a pinch hitter? Apparently this settles the longstanding question, Who's the best hitter among Royals pitchers? -- the statistics bear this out: in four professional at-bats, Greinke has a slugging percentage of 1.000, thanks to a solo home run -- but I have a very tough time picturing our wispy star reliever striding to the plate.

There are two ways to read Dutton's article: as a tongue-in-cheek game preview that pokes fun at itself, as with quotes like, "Yes! I guess that means I should be having BP soon to get my bat hot"; or as evidence of a really slow day in the Royals clubhouse. What else might compel a beat writer to report:

Bell also knows how National League games, particularly at Coors, can chew through a roster. That’s why he cites Greinke, under certain circumstances, as a possible pinch-hitter for a poorer-hitting pitcher.

Circumstances, hmm... like when one runs out of position players? Or is that too obvious?

We're not trying to be critical here -- honestly, Dutton's a fine beat writer -- but you're telling us Joakim Soria isn't planning a big 23rd birthday bash? Angel Berroa didn't offer up any colorful quotes? Brandon Duckworth's newborn didn't produce a story angle?

And then, there's this unexplored question: How will Buddy Bell manage Interleague series in the NL? Is it possible he'll cause the Royals to lose by forfeit after running out of players?

Who's shuddering?

POSTSCRIPT: As we continue our troll through the KC Star, we've fished up this first quarter-season review from our inspiring light, Dayton Moore. He says the team is "much better that we've shown," and if you look at this boxlet, you'll see evidence that he is, as always, correct in his assessment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An altogether beautiful day of baseball

The light, every so often, eclipses the dark


Baseball's a funny game. Some days or weeks, nothing goes right, and we helpless observers are left to our bereaved rants and gods-cursing. And then, one random gorgeous weekday, our team hammers five doubles and seven runs, and our 3-4-5 guys each pick up two hits, and a third-string catcher records two RBIs, and Angel Berroa smokes a hard, clean single up the middle, and our closer closes the 9th with two strikeouts and an induced grounder to second, and, really, there seems nothing wrong with this team, neither flaws nor reason to believe they can't repeat these successes.

I repeat: Five doubles. Effortless save. Base hit for Angel Berroa. All amounting to a 7-4 win.

This on the heels of a comeback win last night so perfect it framed its own symmetry -- two runs in the 1st, two in the 9th, and nothing necessary in between -- and so dramatic as to employ, in the plot, a man who just that morning was reporting for farm duties in Omaha. "This game is so crazy," Ryan Shealy said after his 9th inning single gave the Royals a 4-3 lead. "This is the least prepared I've felt before a game as far as at-bats. Now, I'm like, 'Thank goodness I'm back.'"

The light is good. The light, at times, will make you believe the impossible.

Odalis Perez does it again

Another quality start! Rejoice! Rejoice! And the Royals actually won!

Prior to last night, here were Odalis Perez's last three games, and the tough-luck results:

5/11: 7.0 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 K; Royals lose 2-1
5/5: 6.0 IP, 4 R, 7 H, 2 BB, 0 K; Royals lose 7-5
4/30: 6.0 IP, 3 R, 10 H, 1 BB, 4 K; Royals lose 3-1

He seemed cursed. But then last night:

6.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 4 K; Royals win 4-3

Before the season, when baseball's Pollyannas -- among whom IDWT counts itself -- map out best-case scenarios, few would have envisioned much better out of Perez than he's shown so far. Four of his nine starts have been quality, and he's yet to give up more than four runs in any outing. Granted, he lasted just an inning and a third one of those times -- thus the 5.29 ERA -- but he's gone at least five innings in all his other starts. Even better, he's pitched through six in his last five games. This may not seem like much, but consider this: until last night, the mighty, mighty Yankees -- mighty still only because they use a NASA-sized budget to operate a baseball team -- had no one who could match Perez's consistency. Only three of their pitchers, in fact, had even started five games, and two of them were Kei Igawa -- now in the minors -- and Darrell Rasner.

So, the best we can hope for right now is a trade, Perez for someone, anyone who has flashed any potential. The urgency of this situation cannot be overstated. I've been secretly hoping for a trade for the last three weeks, because this -- whatever it is Perez is doing -- can't possibly keep up.

Or -- because we have sworn ourselves to optimism, we're obligated to ask -- can it?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

He was out

That's what I felt when I blurted, "He's out!" as I was watching live, but looking back on it, I really have no idea. Maybe Paul Phillips swiped Shannon Stewart's left leg before his right foot touched the plate, maybe he didn't. Truly a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.

Here's what Phillips had to say afterwards:

"I had my foot in front of the plate. I honestly thought I tagged him out before his foot came off my foot. I think we should still be out there, but it doesn't matter what I think. The umpire thought he was safe and his opinion is the one that counts."

This was after a furious three-run Royals rally in the 9th off Alan Embree and Jay Witasick -- yes, that's former Royals starter Jay Witasick, who posted ERAs of 5.57 and 5.94 in his time here -- which was capped by a Tony Pena Jr. triple that plated two and tied the game at four. As you can tell, both Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer were unavailable due to injury. Pena now has five triples on the year. More notably, he went 4 for 5 on the night to raise his average to .257. Maybe the presence of Angel Berroa is inspiring him to play better. Just maybe?

Only 14,966 were on hand in the Coliseum, which probably means a good number of Bay Area folks were at home watching Golden State lose to the Jazz. As Quin Snyder, nee coach of Missouri basketball, and brave samurai of a distant time and place have learned, so too did Golden State and its followers last night: you live by the sword, you die by the sword. And the Warriors died a sad, unheralded death.

POSTSCRIPT: In other news, Billy Butler's been optioned back to Triple A, which isn't surprising given that the big league club couldn't find a place to play him and in fact hasn't played him since May 12. Clark Fosler over at Royals Authority offered an insightful read yesterday about the Butler situation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Your Gil Meche Cy Young update

This is a cool feature from ESPN, a Cy Young predictor developed by Kansas City's own Rob Neyer and [insert reverential, superlative nickname here] Bill James. As of today, Boston's Josh Beckett is the favorite, followed by Todd Jones, John Lackey, Dan Haren, Al Reyes and -- the man, the myth, the legend -- Gil Meche (that's his award pictured to the right).

Anyway, I'll tell you what's not cool anymore: the Meche Meter. In fact, I'm dropping the thing, since the idea was the KC Star's to start and they can't seem to 1) keep it updated, or 2) make up their mind as to what exactly it entails. Here's the meter now, after recent modifications.

But even without a graphic, I think we're smart enough to know when our ace pitches well -- like last night -- and when he doesn't -- like... hmm, I can't remember.

For more, there's this Sporting News message board thread, started by a guy who thinks Beckett is a shoo-in for the Cy Young because he has a lot of wins. Never mind, for a moment, that he definitely would have taken the loss this past Sunday had the Red Sox' potent offense not scored six in the bottom of the 9th, or that, between blisters and bleeding fingers, one wonders if his skin isn't maybe just a bit too soft for baseball; the point I want to make here is that people who write stuff like this -- "why?? because winning is the only stat that matters. the end" -- in support of the claim that a pitcher's win-loss record is the best indicator of his value are stupid. It's people who think like that that allowed Bartolo McFatty Colon to win the Cy Young in 2005, when either Mariano Rivera (1.38 ERA, 43 saves) or Johan Santana (a much better pitcher by so many statistical measures) would have been the better choice. Correction: Much better choice.

(Not completely unrelated, here's a terrible headline [via Fire Joe Morgan].)

But I digress.

If you scroll down in that SN message board, notredame_12 has just two words for you:

gil meche

That's the spirit, nd_12! Whoever you are.

POSTSCRIPT: If you clicked on the "better choice" link and now wish for something else amusing to read, check out Inside Science News' follow-up story. Here's an excerpt:
The official results are in! A mathematical model for predicting the Cy Young award voting results yielded both of the 2005 winners... However, the model's inventors made a small human error they would later regret: Prior to the awards, they overrode the model's American League prediction by saying that New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera would win the title, rather than the model's choice of Bartolo Colon, who turned out to be the correct pick.
This just goes to show that we can fight the impending cybernetic revolution, but it will do us no good. We're doomed to this.

Our ace is still better than your ace

Fly that banner high! (Image borrowed from here.)

Admit it: when Brandon Duckworth relieved Gil Meche in the 8th of a scoreless game and promptly -- I mean promptly, before I could figure out that it wasn't Todd Wellemeyer on the mound -- walked the first two batters in the minimum pitches required to walk two batters (couldn't we have let Nick Swisher take his base after two pitches, to save some angst?), you thought the Royals were done. Tired. Beat. Blinking, battered, up at omens of the precipitous and the precipitating terminus.

Consider: fantastic outing from the starting pitcher with no lead to show for it; blown chance to score, when two innings earlier Esteban German tripled with one out but the next batter grounded into a fielder's choice (guess who the fielder chose); a dip into the bullpen, which -- and I'm not complaining here, just pointing this out -- has the second worst ERA in the league at 5.39 (but only 0.32 higher than Baltimore's $40-million pen). Kansas City's three-game winning streak with Meche on the mound looked doomed.

But then... Jimmy Gobble galloped in to the rescue! He struck out Eric Chavez, got Milton Bradley to fly out and somehow retired Dan Johnson, who smoked a pitch straight at Mark Teahen. And with that momentum -- if you believe in such things -- Alex Gordon got on base with a solid single before John Buck thwacked an opposite field home run. (Buck was on the receiving end of the defensive play of the game, too, when, in the 7th, he received a throw from Teahen and tagged out Mark Ellis, who plowed into him.) Meche, Gobble, Buck -- the triumphant triumvirate of the night -- with Joakim Soria closing the night. Huzzah!

POSTSCRIPT: Both starting pitchers lowered their ERAs last night, Meche to 1.91 and Dan Haren to a ridiculous 1.64. But for the second time in five days, it was our conquering hero who prevailed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Welcome back, Angel

I ran a Google search of "redemption" when I found out Angel Berroa's been recalled, and here's a quote I found:

"Redemption can be found in hell itself if that's where you happen to be." --Lin Jensen, Bad Dog!

Don't get ahead of yourself with assumptions, now. Redemption really is at hand for Berroa, who batted .303 in his month in Triple-A Omaha. What he does with this opportunity is completely up to him, but the man who replaced him hasn't exactly set the bar very high.

But seriously though... Oakland is hell. I'll be back tomorrow with substantiating evidence, and indisputable proof that Billy Beane is the Devil. It's a relativistic world.
*
Tonight's game pits two aces against each other for the second time in five days: Gil Meche, 2.15 ERA (3rd in league) vs. Dan Haren, 1.89 ERA (2nd). Let's hope for a repeat of last time.

Cancer, White Sox take a beating

Lowly against the dun specter of a three-game sweep, our doughty heroes rose, slowly but soon high like Icharus before his fall, wielding pink tinders that lit ablaze that black evil called cancer and the White Sox.

Matching season-highs for hits (15) and runs (11), the Royals snapped a three-game losing streak -- the kind that featured the worst of losses (a 17-3 blowout) and the worser (two of the one-run variety, one after a two-out blown save) -- with the anger of an Edmond Dant├ęs out for plenary retribution. Chicago -- mainly those toady, truckling banshee of announcers -- bore the brunt of the Royals' rage and cowered like miserable caitiffs beaten down to the dirt that spawned its sorry form. So this is how the other half lives.

But the most encouraging sign of the day -- at least until the 8th, when the Royals' offense came alive and scored five -- was the bounce-back performance of Jorge De La Rosa. He gave up six runs on five earned in his last start against Oakland, but on Sunday he looked like the De La Rosa we've almost come to expect: a guy with excellent command and a devastating curve. For the fourth time this season, he went at least seven innings while giving up just one run. A couple years from now, when we consider how Dayton Moore turned the team around -- and I think we're all in agreement that he's doing it a step at a time -- we may just have to point to De La Rosa, who was traded from Milwaukee for Tony Graffanino, as Exhibit A.

All day, the ball went where De La Rosa and catcher John Buck wanted it, with one exception in the 4th, when Joe Crede walked with the bases loaded (though the home plate ump should get an assist for shrinking his strike zone to the size of a square napkin). After the walk, with Chicago seemingly on the verge of breaking the game open, De La Rosa composed himself, struck out Tad Iguchi, then induced a Ryan Sweeney pop-up to preserve a 1-1 tie. The threat over, he cruised through three more innings, allowing just two base runners the rest of the way.

In honor of De La Rosa, I thought this might be appropriate -->

POSTSCRIPT: Happy Mother's Day, mom.

CLARIFICATION: When you're tired, you begin drawing connections every which way, like between White Sox and cancer. Just frills and frivolity, as Jane Austen would say. I posted a picture in "honor" of De La Rosa only because of his name, not because he's a mother. We're clear on that, right?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The jinx strikes again

Joakim Soria last night: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K (BS, 2)

Oops
.

At least Buddy Bell didn't say "he just can't throw."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Always tenuous: Royals in Chicago

As the Royals are in Chicago -- a lovely city that probably ranks second (or worse) in categories ranging from bars (to New York, obviously), public transportation, professional sports scene, river walk (to San Antonio), shopping district, airport traffic (behind Atlanta), references in songs, etc. -- here's what Ballparks.com has to say about U.S. Cellular Field, nee Comiskey:

In place of one of baseball's oldest parks, the White Sox now had one of the most high-tech stadiums in the game. The 1,300,000-square-foot stadium has 12 escalators, 11 elevators, three industrial-strength garbage compactors, a fireworks launching pad beyond center field, and six outdoor pet-check kennels.

What it doesn't have, however, is character. Unless you consider concrete and blue seats character-full. As a college student in Chicago, I attended several White Sox games at The Cell -- and a Marlins-Expos game, too -- including Opening Day 2005 with the Royals in town, so I'm speaking on the blandness of The Cell from firsthand experience. (Nate Silver of BP penned an interesting article about stadium names, and wrote about Kauffman Stadium: "Just one holdout for the old moniker. Whether that’s a show of respect to the philanthropic Kauffman or a show of disrespect to the 'Royals' brand, I’m not certain.") And the name itself -- U.S. Cellular Field -- reeks of so much baldfaced commercialism that the fans have chosen the most destitute, stifling, rimy nickname possible for it: The Cell, which makes me think of this.

I can also tell you the fans I've encountered at The Cell -- usually in the upper deck -- are terrible people. I know they're not representative of all Chicagoans (just some), but they make me hate Chicago. I can recount for you the fistfights, the immature chants, the Cubs abuse (a guy wore a Cubs hat to Opening Day '05, so maybe he was asking for this, but by the middle innings people had thrown all manner of debris at his head), but really, this is all I need to show you:



That is Eric Dybas, a fan who rushed the field on April 15, 2003 and made a beeline for first base umpire Laz Diaz. Why anyone would be dumb enough to attack Diaz, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, is beyond me. But a pretty surreal thing happened as soon as he made contact: the entire Kansas City Royals bench cleared, and soon players were pulling and grabbing at him and stomping on him. Raul Ibanez did that, I think. A few days later, ESPN's Rob Dibble wrote, "It has to stop [rushing the field]. If it doesn't, don't be surprised when one of these big, strong athletes beats a moron to within an inch of his life." Dybas didn't get crippled, but he did get beat pretty badly.

Your fighting Royals, ladies and gents.

Several media outlets described the fan as "attacking" Diaz, though "attack" is giving him too much credit. From where I was sitting, it looked like he ran out intending to give Diaz a hug, only he stumbled before getting there and ended up tugging on Diaz's pants as only a drunk dunderhead could.

Of course, not lost on anyone was the incident just seven months earlier, when a father-son tandem ambushed Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. This technically happened at "Comiskey Park," so we can't count it against The Cell, but it's the same place. And for assaulting a defenseless 54-year-old, what did William and Michael Ligue get? Thirty months' probation for the elder, five years' probation and 30 hours' community service for the son. Not that surprising, I suppose, considering this was Chicago. And how well did that joke of a punishment work out? William got sent to prison for violating probation, and Michael got arrested for his involvement in a drive-by shooting. Good folks, those Ligues.

I'll be back with a weekend wrap-up after the weekend. The Royals are leading the White Sox right now in the 9th, and Senor Smoke's warming up!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Senor Smoke

It's getting awfully close to game time, so I do this fully aware of the possible jinx, but I'm going to point out that Joakim Soria is the centerpiece of a recent "Inside Baseball" column in Sports Illustrated.

I can't find the story online -- I haven't been able to find anything on SI.com since its redesign -- but the story is in the May 14 issue, with Grady Sizemore on the cover. (Perhaps it's a sign of a shift in policy -- however slight -- that the magazine long renowned for honoring achievement has -- for this week, anyway -- taken the ESPN The Magazine approach and decided to publicize potential. Sizemore, for the season, is batting .256 with 5 HRs, 15 RBIs, 26 runs and 12 SBs. Not bad by any measure, but, if this was five years ago, not Sports Illustrated cover material. Not by a long shot. But maybe a new era is upon us. So now, after Sizemore catches on fire in the next couple of weeks, I can almost promise you SI's going to publish a letter that uses the phrase "reverse jinx." Chalk this up to yet another effect of the worldwide leader in sports (along with Jenn Sterger, the increased number of posed cover shots, leading one photographer to call the magazine "Standing-around Illustrated," and the demise of the Scorecard section): the idea of looking ahead. As if one national sports magazine doing this isn't enough.)

Here's an excerpt of Albert Chen's story titled "That Other Rule 5 Steal":

Of the record 13 Rule 5 players on this year's Opening Day rosters, outfielder Josh Hamilton, a covering drug addict, has made the biggest splash: Picked third by the Cubs and then dealt to the Reds, he had eight home runs and a .671 slugging percentage through Sunday. But Soria, who was signed by the Dodgers in 2001 and had thrown a combined 16 2/3 innings in Class A and rookie-league ball before this season, has already emerged as a top reliever: At week's end he had five saves with a 3.07 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. "We'd never heard of the guy," says Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson, "and he came out and shut us down two straight days. Guys walked back to the dugout saying, 'Where'd he come from?'"

Soria, who was in the Padres organization, was left off San Diego's 40-man roster because GM Kevin Towers -- who's generally very good at his job -- thought he could sneak him through. "[Padres director of international scouting] Randy Smith was begging me to keep him," Towers is quoted as saying. "I guess I should have listened to him." Soon after his Major League debut with the Royals, Dayton Moore e-mailed Buddy Bell and said, "We've found our Papelbon."

Here's the final paragraph, with an interesting quote:

Soria is clear about his preference. "I want to be a starter," he says. That was his dream growing up in Monclova, a steel-mill town in northern Mexico where he lived next to a large field. "My parents wanted to make the field into something for the neighborhood, but they couldn't decide if for [soccer] or baseball," says Soria, whose father is a middle-school math teacher. "When I was six, they made it a baseball field, so I played baseball. Maybe it's destiny -- just like the Rule 5."

I still love SI.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's a home-shot video of the final moments of Soria's Mexican Pacific League perfect game, which he pitched two days after the Royals drafted him. The quality is low, but it still gives you a pretty good idea of what it's like to throw a perfect game, one of the rarest feats in any sport.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The shame of Adam Melhuse

17,000 kids, part of a healthy crowd of 31,006, turned out today for School Day at the K, and I'm pretty sure all of them left thinking that Adam Melhuse must be a terrible baseball player. That would be my everlasting impression, anyway. The catcher went hitless in six at-bats and left five on base, striking out twice, and with his 0-for-6 he's now batting .200 on the season with no notable statistics to report. All day, he was a surer out than those poor souls who hit the ball four steps to Tony Pena Jr.'s right (seriously, the kid's a whiz going right and throwing across the diamond).

To compound his shame, the guy batting after Melhuse collected two hits and scored twice. Another of Melhuse's teammates collected four hits in four at-bats, with four runs and four RBIs. Another teammate hit two home runs. Yet another went 4 for 6, only outdone by the aforementioned 4-for-4 and a 3-for-4 from a certain someone else. Even the other guy who didn't pick up a hit -- someone batting directly in front of Melhuse -- at least got on base twice and scored two runs, which is amazing when you consider the guy batting after him was, well, Adam Melhuse. The No. 5 hitter tied the team lead with four RBIs. Basically, the wealth was distributed evenly, like a misguided Jesse Ventura tax cut, to everyone... except Melhuse.

Imagine the post-game locker room:

Guy 1: Whooooo!
Guy 2: What a day.
Guy 3: I am a golden god!
Guy 4: Did anyone see my 7th inning home run?
Guy 5: 7th inning? I thought it was the 2nd...
Guy 4: Oh, yeah. That too.
Guy 6: Didn't beat my shot into the fountain though. Smoked it. Smoked. Smoked.
Guy 7: I feel good about myself. Hey Guy 8, nice game as well.
Guy 8: Thanks man. Great job every... uh. Yeah, thanks Guy 7.
(uncomfortable silence)
Adam Melhuse: Hey guys, nice game. Good job team.
(uncomfortable silence)

I'm sure Melhuse isn't a bad guy, but he performed so poorly at the plate that one could accuse him of pococurantism. That, kids, is the word of the day: pococurantism, meaning indifference (or, in adjectival form, hebetude). No other way to explain it.

Adam Melhuse: you suck.

Our ace is better than your ace

The Oakland A's are to Gil Meche what the environment was to ancient Sumerians: conquered.

GilgaMeche: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 K; season ERA: 2.15, from 2.23
Dan Haren: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K; season ERA: 1.89, from 1.75

Meche Meter: $400,000 earned, $3 million on season

The Royals don't win every time Meche takes the mound (5-3 on the season, and three in a row), but it just feels that way. Even on a night when pop-ups are dropped and base runners aren't advanced, it's comforting to know you can count on your starting pitcher to haul his portion of the payload.

About that Alex Gordon error: In the 4th, Nick Swisher popped up a 3-2 pitch into foul territory, where Gordon waited to snatch the ball out of the air. Somehow, though, the ball glanced off the top of his glove, which closed too soon, and smacked him in the face. Royales With Cheese documents the sequence, unkindly running it on loop. Swisher walked on the next pitch, and the next batter, as so often happens, hit a two-run homer.

A lesser pitcher, one would think, would have unraveled. Not the man-god king, however. Helped by a thunderstruck Mike Sweeney home run in the 8th (where's the video of that?), the Royals went on to win 3-2. I see new epics forming on the fingertips of technologically savvy bards. I sense one is coming.