Friday, August 31, 2007

I don't want to jinx anything, but then again...

Maybe I do.

SCOTT BAKER IS TOSSING A PERFECT GAME THROUGH EIGHT INNINGS.

There. I've done my part for the Royals.

Gil Meche gets the worst run support in the American League, but this is taking it too far, isn't it?

Baker looks lonely on that end of the bench...

Live blog, start NOW.
10:08 p.m.: "No Twin has ever thrown a perfect game."

Bert Blyleven of FSN North hasn't held anything back. He and the play-by-play man Dick Bremer have said "no-hitter" and "perfect game" at least a dozen times today. You know how I feel about that.

I wonder if Baker is peeing his pants watching his offense score in the bottom of the 8th.
10:14 p.m.: Bremer: "Here we go. To the top of the 9th. With Scott Baker trying to make baseball history."
As broadcast cutting to commercial, Blyleven gets in, "I'm nervous."
John Buck, Esteban German, Tony Pena Jr.

How many of these outs will be pop-outs?

I say one strikeout followed by two pop-outs.
10:17 p.m.: 3-0 count.

Followed by a fastball down the middle.

Taking? HOME RUN COMING. I can feel it.
10:17 p.m.: All times Eastern, by the way.

Buck just walked.

I think with that pressure off his shoulders, Baker actually has a better chance of completing his no-no.
Mike Sweeney, El Capitan, is on the on-deck circle. DRAMA!

There's tumult all around me. All eyes are on the flat-screen on the wall, and work has just about completely stopped. There are a half-dozen other games, at least, going on, including Mets-Braves, but no one's paying attention.

I think the Royals could still win this game.
10:20 p.m.: The ball came off German's bat and Alex next to me said, "OH my God..." Then a more relaxed "oh my god," relieved, cause it looked like a hit...

SWEENEY!
10:21 p.m.: Terrible strike one call.

And then...
SWEENEY! Re-sign the man!
10:23 p.m.: Alex, disappointed: "Fucking Mike Sweeney."

Guy across room, strangely ecstatic: "Can I get a motherfucking yeah? Yeah!"

If you haven't guessed, I'm working with a bunch of baseball people. Their loyalties are whimsical and undecipherable, beholden to neither team nor tradition.
10:26 p.m.: Nice game, Scott Baker.

Pictures from the game will be posted this weekend.

The Twins are coming undone

Bunt single. Sacrifice bunt turned into two-run error, followed by questionable call at third. Terrible throw from center. Two-run home run.

Sound like petards exploding in the Kansas City camp?

Maybe in years past, but not this time. The Royals just sent nine batters to the plate in the top of the 5th and hung a five-spot on the Twins, capped by a Ross Gload home run. Kyle Davies went five innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk while striking out five. He got into some trouble in the 4th, but he got no help whatsoever from his defense, namely a certain second baseman that hasn't won a Gold Glove... who's batting second in the order, despite only two hits in his last 24 at-bats. Of course, he has a hit today...

9-3 Royals so far, and things are looking good. I dare Jinx to impinge.

Zack attacks

The Royals scored five runs in the 1st inning Wednesday vs. Detroit but only needed one, as Zack Greinke pitched four scoreless innings, striking out five, and the bullpen did the rest: five innings, two hits, two walks, four strikeouts. Zero runs.

No sweep the next day, but two of three from the Tigers ain't bad.

POSTSCRIPT 1: This was the best game this season. Mets were down 5-0, then 8-5. Phillies then went down 10-8 in the 8th. In the 9th, SNY color commentator Keith Hernandez said, "I don't believe this game." Any guess on how it ends?

POSTSCRIPT 2: The Royals' closest competitor for fourth place is killing Ozzie Guillen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Lowly"

From last night's AP game recap:

Detroit dropped 3 1/2 games behind division-leading Cleveland, the Tigers' biggest deficit in their division since before play on June 6. The lowly Royals are 5-8 against Detroit this season after taking three in a row from the Tigers on the final weekend of last season -- costing Detroit first place and forcing the Tigers into the wild-card berth.

The Royals are up 5-0 right now in the bottom of the 1st, with runners on first and second, and no outs. This after Zack Greinke struck out the side in the top of the inning. It is my lone heartfelt wish that they would stop being so lowly.

POSTSCRIPT: RSTN announcer Bob Davis, commenting on a bespectacled, erudite-looking Joey Gathright: "He'll be just as fast with the glasses."

POSTSCRIPT 2: Blog post of the day, Zack Greinke Thinks Baseball is Boring, via The FanHouse. Check out the link to the words of the senile Andy Rooney.

Minor matters

All the world is abuzz over the Royals' minor league Players of the Year. The list:

OMAHA:

Billy Buckner, SP, 24 years old (9-7, 3.78 ERA, 83/26 K/BB, 7.14 K/9)
Mike Aviles, 3B/SS/2B, 26 (.298, 15 HRs, 74 RBI, 75 R; six triples)

WICHITA:

Dusty Hughes, SP, 25 (5-2, 3.54 ERA)
Mike Stodolka, 1B, 25 (.291/.405(!), 12 HRs, 59 RBI, 73 BBs)

WILMINGTON

Rowdy Hardy, SP, 24 (15-4, 2.43 ERA, 90/15 K/BB)
Jose Duarte, OF, 20 (.287, 33-for-42 SB)

BURLINGTON-1A

Mario Santiago, SP, 22 (5-10, 3.77 ERA)
Joe Dickerson, OF, 20 (.289, 26 SBs)

IDAHO FALLS

Greg Holland, RP, 21 (6-1, 3.30 ERA, 4 SV)
Clint Robinson, 1B, 22 (.338, 34 Ks in 216 at-bats)

BURGLINGTON

Anthony Bradley, P, 22 (2-2, 2.09 ERA, 8.88 K/9)
Wilson Tucker, OF, 22 (.298, 8 HRs, 41 RBI)

ARIZONA

Matt Mitchell, SP, 18 (5-1, 1.94 ERA, 65/22 K/BB, 11.47 K/9)
David Wood, 1B, 22 (.324, 17 doubles)

DOMINICAN

Glancarlos De la Cruz, SP, 17 (3-2, 1.13 ERA)
Angel Franco, SS, 17 (.282, 14-for-21 SB)

Some of these guys we'll never see, but to the others: we hope you'll come up in time to contribue to winning the 2009 AL Central crown.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Soon to be your new favorite Royal

Conor Nicholl of MLB.com wrote a long (and we do mean long) feature about a guy you'll be hearing about in years to come, Rowdy Hardy. That's right, ROWDY HARDY.

After a stop at the University of Mississippi and a junior college, Hardy eventually went to Austin Peay. Three years later, Hardy gained just a few miles per hour on his fastball. However, he left with a school-record 32 wins and an Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Award.

About 16 months after he graduated from college, the 24-year-old Hardy, who went undrafted, has dominated professional hitters the same way he did in high school and college.

While his fastball runs at 80-82 mph, Hardy, 6-foot-4 and 170 pounds, is still 15-4 with a 2.44 ERA for Class A Wilmington. Hardy, called the best control pitcher in the Carolina League by Baseball America, leads all Minor Leaguers in fewest walks per nine innings (0.84).

Rangers Fan is convinced Rowdy will never make the big leagues, despite the fact that his name is ROWDY HARDY. "The braintrust will look at the radar gun and say no," he says. He was unswayed by my persistent argument that if a man named Rowdy Hardy can't get make it to the big leagues, then the world is too much with us and we are all bereft of hope. If Rowdy puts on a kilt, he'd be an Irish cackle away from choking out Hulk Hogan -- and people dare doubt he'll make the Majors? We say his stare would add 10, possibly 15 mph to his fastball, so radar guns be damned.

POSTSCRIPT: Stopper Brian Bannister pitches against the Tigers today, a true test for an ace-in-waiting.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Notes on a heartbreaking loss

You can't allow Grady Sizemore to take second with two outs in the final inning. You're playing deep to prevent the double, so you absolutely can not let him double by hitting the ball in front of you. Just cannot happen. Cannot happen.

Roommate: "You gotta score runs."
Me: "They had the lead! You don't need to score any runs when you have the lead!"

Then again, home plate ump Ted Barrett squeezing Joel Peralta to begin the 11th didn't help the Royals' causes. Damn Ted Barrett. Damn world. Life... pain...

POSTSCRIPT: The story of the 1957 team that changed Little League, via BBTF.

Nice debut, Billy

First Butler, now Buckner.


Charlie Riede/AP

5 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K; season/career ERA: 1.80

POSTSCRIPT: Gil Meche, who receives an AL-worst 3.99 runs per start from his offense, is pitching now against Causto Farmona.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Name game, let's play. Name the team these exotic-named players play for...
  • Asdrubal Cabrera
  • Ubaldo Jimenez
  • Jair Jurrjens
  • Radhames Liz
You should be able to get at least one of these.

All good things come to an end

Especially when your corporation chases the filthy dollar. It was always known TBS would be cutting down on Braves broadcasts when they signed their deal with MLB, but now it looks like they're going to end ties altogether.

Broadcaster Skip Caray: "I've got one more [broadcast] left, and I'm already worried about it, because I don't know if I'll be able to hold my composure. In essence, you're saying goodbye to people who you've been part of their life for a long time. My access to them will now be denied."

I wonder if Dayton Moore is weeping tonight for his former team. Probably not.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The triumphant return of Zack Greinke

...The bold king again
had mind of his glory: with might his glaive
was driven into the dragon's head, --
blow nerved by hate.
--Beowulf

If you saw the smiles on Zack Greinke as he received congratulations for his three innings of work -- one hit, no runs, faced the minimum, two strikeouts -- you'd think he just slew Grendel and lived to tell about it. Of course, if he played the part of mythic hero-king in last night's drama, John Bale turned in a convincing Wiglaf, tossing three innings of his own and striking out five, many times when he absolutely needed it. His punch-out of Casey Blake to end the 6th, when the Indians had the tying run in scoring position, resulted in a celebratory whoop that signaled to any who watched that this game would not be lost on account of the bullpen.

Four relievers followed Bale to close out a 2-1 victory.

C.C. Sabathia allowed two very cheap runs, but from a Royals perspective, they were things of beauty. The first came on an Emil Brown ground-out in the 4th, when the Indians had the infield back. Nothing great there. The second was significantly more narrative-worthy. In the next inning, Tony Pena Jr. got brushed by a pitch (or didn't) and was awarded first base. He took second on a passed ball, as Joey Gathright was trying to bunt him over. As it happened, Gathright, who's played the part of Willie Mays Hayes to a tee as of late, ended up bunting TPJ to third. With one out, Esteban German drove him in with a sac fly, providing all the cushion the Royals would need.

The teams are at it again tonight at 7:10 p.m. CT, Kyle Davies vs. Aaron Laffey.

POSTSCRIPT: Face of the Royals, Mike Sweeney... who just might be resigned. Rob Neyer picked this blog's namesake.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The difference a season makes

With Zack Greinke readying to pitch Game 1 of this weekend's Cleveland series, Royals Review has reached into its vault and pulled out the game post following the worst defeat of 2006, a 15-13 loss in which the Royals blew a 10-1 lead. As if any of us needed the reminder that last year's team, in fact, struggled.

Here's the first comment to that post:

and the funny part is

That this team will lose a ton of games like this next year and the year after when they bring up their offensive guns, but no pitching. Even if Zach can return to the sub-4.00 ERA he is capable of being and Hoyshaver can be a solid pitcher, that still leaves 3 horrible starters and a slew of terrible relievers to give up run after run.

Hmmm, maybe I should have written "sad" instead of "happy."

But at least it will be entertaining; just like in 2000. Team batting splits - .288/.348/.425 with 879 runs scored. Team pitching line - 5.48 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 930 runs allowed. That year, they lost some dandies such as: 14-10, 10-7, 12-9, 15-7, 12-11 (twice) and 9-7.


The team pitching line this year: 4.48 ERA (8th in AL), 1.45 WHIP (10th), 609 R (10th), 559 ER (7th), 407 BB (7th). Not great, but significant process can be seen.

A later comment:

An optimistic note

I think Odalis Perez and Luke Hudson could be acceptable starters next season, in addition to Greinke and Hochevar. Hudson has been very good in 7 of his 8 starts, check out the change this season he has made statistically - he has turned into an extreme groundball pitcher, which will bode well for the future if we replace Berroa and move Teahen off third for Gordon. I can see Perez being decent again next year for us, like he once was for the Dodgers.

That leaves only one starter to find, plus approximately 5 or 6 relievers!


That he felt Odalis Perez could be "decent" was indeed optimistic, though IDWT admits sharing his opinion. The more interesting question is: What has Luke Hudson done? He's appeared in just one game in '07, lasting two innings and allowing four earned runs and four walks. He's been on the DL since with biceps tendinitis (we never realized it was possible to develop tendinitis of the muscle, but so it is). It's amazing to think the Royals' best pitcher last year has tossed just two innings and yet the rotation has, relative to standards, absolutely excelled. And those "5 or 6 relievers" the RR commenter wanted? It appears Dayton Moore's taken care of it.

POSTSCRIPT: Competing for talent in the Caribbeans.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Off-day fun, including notes on a preposterous beatdown

Discuss:
  • Brian Bannister won again, going 6 2/3 innings and giving up just two runs on five hits and two walks. The Royals are now 6-1 in Bannister's last seven games, and with last night's win, they've pulled even again with the White Sox in their mortal duel for fourth place.

    "I think fourth just sounds better than last," Bannister said. "Because when you're in last, you don't really know what place you're in. At least with fourth, you know there are three teams ahead of you."

    Sound reasoning.

  • Via Sabermetric Research and following up on a Sal Fasano post, it looks like Time's reported umpire racial bias study is being contested.

  • The Pipeline's Top 20 Royals prospects.

  • By now you've probably heard the Texas Rangers scored 30 runs last night in the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore, then left the Major League record for most runs scored in one day in the dust by tacking on nine more in the nightcap.

    ESPN's Tim Kurkjian had a Suzyn Waldman moment on Baseball Tonight, when he shrieked that "no one's ever seen this. This is 110 years since anyone's scored 30 runs in a Major League game." He duly noted the Devil Rays haven't scored 30 runs in 11 games combined. "The Rangers scored more runs in the last two innings of that game than they did in their last six games! ... The 7, 8, 9 guys went 13-for-19 with 16 RBIs. Are you kidding me???"

    Karl Ravech was about to let him go when he squawked, voice cracking, "Is that the only question you're going to ask me?"

    "I'll just leave you with this: Wes Littleton got the save! The final score was 30-3 and Wes Littleton got the save!"

    More Kurkjian here, where he reports the Rangers' team ERA went from 7th to 10th in the AL.
MORE RANGERS-ORIOLES:
The coverage -- to say nothing of the headlines -- was diasppointing, but sometimes the thing speaks for itself.

QUOTES:

"Hard to believe, but the Orioles were once up 3-0. Now they're down by 27."
--MASN announcer

OMFG!
OMFG!
THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE
--Rangers Fan, after Ramon Vazquez's home run put the Rangers ahead 30-3.

me: if you haven't... check the texas-baltimore score
Kinsella: ok
WHAT?
30??
FUCK

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How Dayton Moore snookered Scott Boras

With Mike Moustakas at Rookie League Idaho Falls, it's time we revisit the negotiation process that resulted in our hero Dayton signing the rookie for much less than his agent's ridiculous asking price.


Dialogue borrowed from Deadwood (Season 3, "True Colors," and a little from "Unauthorized Cinnamon"), with big ups to this very incredibly wonderful website.

Dayton: Seeing you, a stalwart routinely fixed upon irrational and, as sane men would say, implausible goals to the point of confusing such as myself for taking you as a kindred spirit, adrift and gelded of your willpower to strong-arm those you'd see bent to your inclination -- tell me, Mr. B, that you'd disagree the time for talk has not arrived by rudely plunking itself here, on this table, like an incised hog slipped from the butcher's knife.

SB: I regret we have to meet in this environment, sir, in your place of magic and whatever wonderment it is you see to, and I am humbled that you have chosen to compliment me here even as you call me swine.

Dayton: You are that.

SB: (Studies him.) I have come by changes, Mr. Moore. It is not often a man has shown before him the fault of his ways with such lucidity, yet by your grace it has shown itself, and I have seen your light.

Dayton: I’m sure whatever changes you allude to, Mr. B, will come clear from your behavior.

SB: Fresh start. (Chuckles.) How many men would be grateful for that opportunity? (Puts his hand on the Royals media guide.)

Dayton: Do you have more you wish to do with that, or shall we finish our business?

SB: Finishing our business is my lone heartfelt wish -- or perhaps it is a wish I feel heartily, as I am unsure, just now, I possess a heart.

Dayton: Your request for $7 million.

SB: A figure I mentioned to you, yes, in a conversation I regret.

Dayton: $7 million I recall as your demand, or your client would enroll at USC.

SB: Exactly what I regret and now find reprehensible and why I thank God that you take a new look at me.

Dayton: To this point, Mr. B, you make no materially different impression. Still lying, still bullshitting.

SB: I hope I’m not, sir, but I-- I can certainly understand why that would be your material second impression.

Dayton: Shall I show you the letter from the Moustakas family that I have in my possession?

SB: (Puts up his hands and leans back.) That’s not necessary from my point of view. You tell me you’ve got it, I believe you.

Dayton: Here it is. Will you compare it to your letter? Verify its authenticity?

SB: It’s not necessary.

Dayton: Shall I read to you certain pertinent sections on Mr. Moustakas’s assay of your nature and likely behavior after we, in good faith and with a warm, human trust, the kind which flies above you or is stamped by your boot even as you praise its virtues, drafted him second overall? His detailing your complicitous participation in his holdout in the aftermath of our drafting -- disposing of trust and our good faith? You have no commission from the Moustakas family, Mr. B.

SB: Let’s say that’s the case.

Dayton: I just did. Let’s hear you say it.

SB: I have no commission from the Moustakas family.

Dayton: You acted on your own accord.

SB: Mine alone.

Dayton: You’re a lying, blackmailing sack of shit.

SB: What do you want?

Dayton: I want us to work together.

SB: To work together?

Dayton: Let me confide as well, Mr. B, that when people repeat with exactitude the words I have just said to them, I quickly grow impatient.

SB: I do apologize.

Dayton: Four million and not a penny higher.

SB: Under the circumstances, how can I refuse?

Dayton: Get out of my office, you pinchbeck maggot.

Greinke to try hand at starting again

Zack Greinke reenters rotation, replacing Odalis Perez.
As a reliever used mostly in middle relief and setup situations, Greinke was in 38 games and had a 3.54 ERA, a 4-1 record and one save. In 53 1/3 innings, he struck out 55 and walked just 15. Opponents batted .226 against him.



"I think you're more valuable to a team as a starter," Greinke said. "So, if you're good, then it's better to be a starter. It's harder to be good as a starter, in my opinion."

John Bale, Ryan Braun, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, David Riske, Joakim Soria: none of you heard that, understood?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A dead heat, again

The Royals have lost their last six with the formerly invincible, indomitable, indispensable Gilgamesh on the mound. This is troubling. Meche has dropped his last five decisions and only has two quality starts in that stretch, which suggests the grind of the season is catching up to him. That's something to work on in the offseason. Like a true hero though, he takes responsibility for his shortcomings, such as after last night: "I got beat by falling behind a couple of hitters -- that's kind of the story of my life," he said.

Of course, his bullpen failed him, too. Meche was in line for the win before David Riske was begrudged for two runs by Danny Richar, Josh Fields and Jerry Owens, three names that, put together, sound like characters in The Little Rascals. "Everyone on the team did their job, except me," Riske said in the same MLB.com recap. "That's what it boils down to."

Here I must remind everyone that correlation doesn't imply causation, but since Octavio Dotel was dealt away, the Royals' bullpen has given up 31 earned runs in 56 2/3 innings.

The battle for fourth place resumes tonight when kid wonder Leo Nunez takes on Javier Vazquez.

POSTSCRIPT: If Bobby Jenks -- he of the Major League-tying record for most consecutive outs recorded by a pitcher -- can't get out the heroic Joey Gathright, what man or beast can?

POSTSCRIPT 2: You're welcome back, Mark.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shine on upon the many, light our way

How many online baseball stories have you seen start this way?

OAKLAND -- It happened quietly, deep in the night, so it's not surprising that few Royals realized their status had changed.

Read on ("Royals see sunlight"). Nicely done, DK.

POSTSCRIPT: The Royals could not sweep the Athletics, formerly of Kansas City, but they end the year with a 5-2 record in Oakland. More eye-popping: In a night of aces, nobody was quite so ace-like as this man.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alone in fourth place

To stay. The Royals and White Sox are heading different directions, and we don't mean just this year. Kenny Williams just signed Jermaine Dye to a two-year, $22 million extension... why? Hoping some team will want a .240-hitting corner outfielder at the trade deadline next year? The White Sox have lost seven straight and the Royals are looking for the sweep in Oakland today, and to extend their one-game lead over the South Siders.

Teams around baseball: Odalis Perez -- five innings, zero runs! -- has cleared waivers. Ned Colletti, I'm looking your way. Also, you think Dayton would be too embarrassed to call up his friend in Atlanta and say, "So, John, I hear you need a starter. Odalis sound good?"?

POSTSCRIPT: Great factoid about Jason Smith, who hit two two-run homers yesterday, from Royals Review:
Prior to tonight's game, Jason Smith had homered 13 times in 488 Major League appearances. In that universe, every time Smith stepped to the plate he had a 2.6% chance of homering and a 97.4% chance of non-homering.

Therefore, the odds of Jason Smith homering twice in four at bats is 0.38% (actually, .3847829855999998%). In other words, if Jason Smith plays in 1000 full, four-PA Major League games, he'll probably hit two homers 4 times (or, 3.8 times, as it were). Thats about six and a half full seasons if Mr. Smith is getting 150 starts a season.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Singing the praises of Banny and the Royals

Brian Bannister went the distance last night in Oakland in a 9-2 win. Call me reckless, but I knew the Royals had the game wrapped up before Bannister threw his first pitch. KC put up a four-spot in the top of the 1st off Dan Meyer, a former Brave who was a key piece of the Tim Hudson trade and making his Major League debut. One got the feeling the A's wanted Meyer's first start to come in a low-pressure situation against a weak-hitting team, but they didn't count on, among other things, the wrath of Emil Brown, whose two-run homer in the 1st pretty much sealed the deal.

Bannister wasn't sharp the first time through the Oakland lineup -- three hits, a walk and a home run allowed -- but he settled down, retired nine straight from the 3rd through 5th, then nine straight again in the final three frames. Bannister leads all AL rookies with a 3.31 ERA, almost a half run lower than Dice-K's 3.79. According to Yahoo, Bannister's "9-0 when getting at least four runs of support. In his seven losses, he's received run support of one run or less." He has, indeed, been given the worst run support of any AL pitcher, yet he's still cobbled together a 9-7 record (as opposed to Matt Cain's 4-13).

To think, in front of family and friends, Bannister was almost not permitted to finish the game. From MLB.com:

There was some dugout debate about whether Bannister would be permitted to complete the game.

"I was hoping they'd let me go back out because I knew I was right at 100 (pitches) going into the ninth," Bannister said.

If the Royals' seven-batter ninth inning had gone another hitter or two, Bell was ready to pull Bannister because of the cooldown effect. But the rookie was sent out for the ninth.

"We were going to give him one hitter in the ninth and he just had an easy ninth so ...," Bell said.

So why not? After all, the Royals had not had a complete game since Mark Redman won at Minnesota, 2-0, on Aug. 29, 2006.

Six straight losses for the White Sox, and suddenly the Royals have caught up again. Let's see if they can seize sole possession of fourth place tonight.

POSTSCRIPTS: Around baseball:

1. The other Chicago team is now alone in first place in the NL Central after ending St. Louis's winning streak yesterday in Wrigley. Great game, though be discreet about that around some people. Milwaukee, on the other hand, is absolutely falling apart. It's not a good sign when your middle infielders are diving all over the place to stop balls thrown by your own team.

2. What an excellent doubleheader in Fenway between the AL's top two teams. Poor Eric Gagne, who's responsible for three losses in a Red Sox uniform. Not the way to endear yourself to Boston. Check out Over the Monster's suggested bullpen depth chart.

3. Nice catch, kid. Now you're featured on USA Today, SI.com, the Boston Globe, MSNBC... don't let go of that ball.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Moustakas appears before KC media, and Texas wrap-up

Newly signed Mike Moustakas gave an interview via teleconference to local media today, as reported by Conor Nicholl of MLB.com. "Interview" may be misleading, as that suggests some sort of question-and-answer exchange that approximates "conversation." Judging by the number of Moustakas quotes from the article -- all of them listed below -- it seems we fell short of that.

On going to USC: "I was okay with that."

On signing: "It's been my dream since I was a kid. Now that it's finally come true, it's unbelievable. Now we've got one more goal to reach at this point. I'm real excited about it."

On the negotiations: "Mr. Boras and the Royals both made a compromise. They came up to where we were and we came down from where we were. I mean, it just worked out. It ended up working out pretty well."

Less talk, more slugging. Fine by us.

Speaking of conversation, earlier today I had one with a friend who attended all three Royals games in Arlington. He's from Texas and as true a Rangers fan as you can find -- that is to say, he wants the team to do well but finds it difficult to be committed to anyone who plays in 105-degree heat and thinks that's okay, and can't get over that the front office essentially gave away Alfonso Soriano, Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young -- but he's also a baseball connoisseur, so we're happy to report some of the things he said, by way of paraphrase:

-- Someone should feed Leo Nunez.
-- The air left the stadium on Wednesday when Benoit (not Chris) walked TPJ on four pitches.
-- The 9-6-3-4-5-2 tag-out was a mess, but had left fielder Nelson Cruz been backing up center fielder Marlon Byrd behind second, DeJesus never would have half-walked around the bases to score after catcher Gerald Laird's throwing error.
-- Two crummy teams + 105 degrees = AWFUL crowds.
-- The Dallas/Fort Worth area doesn't have an opinion on the Rangers. Apathy. Dust. We will all be that in time.
-- You know Jarrod Saltalamacchia? I hate him now.

This last comment made me curious.
Me: what?
Rangers Fan: he's married to one of the teachers at his high school. she didn't teach him, but she was a teacher at his high school while he attended. she's 14 years older than him.
"Nothing wrong with that," I said. "Picture???"

This got him off.
NOTHING WRONG
wow
no picture
they're elusive
that's wrong!
and messed up
"Well, he's like 22 now, isn't he?" I said. "I mean, that's an early age to be married, but I can see the attractiveness in 30+ year-olds."
yes
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER!
but imagine
when jarrod's about to cash in on a HUGE contract
he'll be about 30
married to a mid-40s lady
past her prime
Then he complained a bit about Salty not putting his foot down on first base in the 9th inning Wednesday. I steered the conversation back to its nub by re-expressing my amazement over the lack of pictures of Mrs. Saltalamacchia on the Internet.
RF: she'll be dead in a few years, so we'll see her picture then
or maybe they'll ask her about life with the dinosaurs
Me: c'mon she's not that old
RF: it troubles me
i've heard a couple of people say that it's hot that he married a high school teacher
Me: it is kind of hot
RF: you think they're hot
but never consider MARRYING them
or asking them out
Anyway, I think RF's high school teachers must have been repulsively hideous. Velcro Vernacular, Rightfielders and the Dallas Observer blog have more on this subject.

Rangers Fan also saw a guy wearing a David DeJesus jersey.

POSTSCRIPT: For those who don't know, there's a formula for figuring out whether a couple's age difference is wide enough to warrant pubescent gossip: divide the elder's age by two, add seven; if it's still older than the younger's age, then you have a taboo. There's room for maneuvering, depending on what part of the country you're in. Indiana, for instance, you divide by two, add 10. Los Angeles, you divide by three, period (to allow for the 20-year-old trophy wives for the 60-year-olds, which is apparently perfectly normal). According to this formula, the Saltalamacchias aren't completely out of bounds, though there's enough of a difference to invite this type of dissection and discourse.

Royals avoid sweep with exciting win

A tough night for Leo Nunez, not because of his pitching -- on the contrary, his stuff was sharp as usual, with his three-inning, one-run performance actually bumping his ERA up to 1.96 -- but because the fates conspired to knock him off his pedestal. Conspiring fates, by the way, are the scourge of man, along with air horns and Texans with too much state pride.

First a thunderstorm caused a 22-minute delay, then a liner off the back of Nunez's knee made him buckle with pain. Finally, he was unable to continue... due to a ripped callous. Cruel, Fate, that's what you are. Later in his hotel room, we think Nunez wrestled a rattlesnake and suffered a near-mortal wound to the cheek before he subdued the serpent. Then, delirious by the venom, he flung himself out of his 13th-story window and fell into the hotel pool, where a few conscionable guests quickly dragged him out. On the way to the hospital, EMTs suctioned the poison out of his face, and he is not expected to miss his next start in Chicago.

Here's how Yahoo described this series of events in its "Game Notes" section:

KANSAS CITY PITCHER LEO NUNEZ LEFT THE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH INNING WITH AN UNDISCLOSED INJURY.

KANSAS CITY PITCHER LEO NUNEZ LEFT THE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH INNING WITH AN APPARENT RIGHT LEG INJURY.

KANSAS CITY PITCHER LEO NUNEZ LEFT THE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH INNING DUE TO A TORN CALLOUS ON HIS RIGHT THUMB.

The never-followed axiom of journalism: it's not that you get it fast, it's that you get it right.

Nunez's departure left the door open for Ryan Braun to earn his first Major League win. Alex Gordon tied the game at two with a solo home run -- his 11th -- in the 7th, and Mark Grudzielanek, who had three hits, gave the Royals the lead with a head-first slide into home in the 8th. The Royals tacked on three more that inning to secure the victory, 6-2. Consider this series salvaged.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Texas not so kind

Tony Pena Jr. was on first and advanced to third on David DeJesus's single to right. What happened next can be best explained by the official score:

9-6-3-4-5-2-8
Pena out at home
DeJesus scored on catcher Gerald Laird's error.

Actually, that explains nothing. But that's quite a line.

Despite Meche's third quality start in his last five outings, Royals lose again, 4-3.

Welcome to the team, Mike Moustakas

This news makes me happy enough to ignore the two losses in Texas.

Joe Posnanski first broke the news to the media, then wrote about it in today's column. Read it.

Conor Nicholl of MLB.com, also elaborating:

Moustakas' family called back 10 minutes before the 10:59 p.m. CT deadline. They would sign KC's offer for $4 million, more than Major League Baseball's slot recommendation for $3.1 million for the No. 2 selection.

"He actually called me after he had agreed to terms and you could hear the excitement in his voice," [Royals scouting director Deric] Ladnier said of Moustakas. "He wanted to be a Royal. He was happy to put this uniform on and is happy to represent the organization."

$4 million, it goes without saying, is considerably less than superagent Scott Boras had hoped to get for a guy he's calling, according to the MLB.com article, "the best power-hitting high school middle infielder since Alex Rodriguez." Alex Rodriguez? Hmm.

Let's compare Moustakas's deal with that of other Boras clients this year:

Our guy: $4 million
David Price, No. 1 overall: $11.25 million
Rick Porcello, No. 27: upwards of $7 million

I think Dayton and Co. played with fire on this one, and though they insist they weren't nervous, others of us surely were. At 5:30 p.m. yesterday -- hours before the signing deadline -- Boras fired a shot at the organization by way of message through the media. The KC Star reported:

The first real bit of news about the Royals’ negotiations with No. 2 overall pick Mike Moustakas came in the form of a message to The Kansas City Star from Scott Boras, who is advising Moustakas.

“As far as I understand from the family,” Boras said, “he’s returning to school.”

No one ever said Boras didn't know all the tricks. Alas, it all worked out in the end, as saner heads came to agree that $4 million is a lot of money, certainly more than any insurance policy would have paid had Moustakas gotten injured at USC, like from falling off a cliff while drunk. Our Hero 1, Boras 0; one tie for the Luke Hochevar deal last year ($5.3 million).

We'll leave you with a reader comment to this KC Star story from Bridget M:

Just you wait. KC got their money's worth with Mike. My son has played with him at Chatsworth HS for 4 years and Mike is a superb athlete. All I can say is I will be the first in line to watch him play. Congrats!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Royal in Time Magazine

A story in yesterday's Time.com Health and Science section, titled "Are Baseball Umpires Racist?" introduces a study that claims umpires are more likely to call strikes if the pitcher is of their same race.

The highest percentage of strikes were called when both the home-plate umpire and pitcher were white, and the lowest percentage were called between a white ump and a black pitcher. The study also found that minority umpires judged Asian pitchers more unfairly than they did white pitchers. It's a significant disadvantage for Asian pitchers because the MLB doesn't have any Asian umpires. Interestingly enough, Hamermesh's research found that the race of the batter didn't seem to matter — the correlation was only between the pitcher and the home-plate ump. Rich Levin, an MLB spokesman, refused to comment on the research findings.

This in itself is interesting enough. But then you look at the picture they used. And you realize it's a stock photo of a Royals batter in spring training facing the Braves. And then you look at the last name on that jersey.

The Royals batter is Sal Fasano.

Who was last seen in Royals spring training in 1999.


Russ Schleipman / Corbis

Sharing the same office building as Sports Illustrated, you'd think Time could've dug up a more recent photo.

Sal Fasano!

Shine on, optimism, don't feel the cold or wind or rain

You don't always need a home run to validate your worth as a baseball player, but it's a nice way to get noticed. For a No. 3 hitter, it's a little weird that Mark Teahen hadn't homered since May 29 before last night's jack against Toronto, but save the complaints: in August he's 17-for-43 (.395) with one home run and five RBIs, with the best news being his strikeout total: four. Just four, for a guy who came into the month with 97.

Royals win 6-2, thanks in large to a bullpen that's given up just one run in the last 17 2/3 innings.

With this four-game series split, the Royals now have 52 wins, and used 23 fewer games to get there. Just another one of many signs that times are changing. More enumeration by Poz in yesterday's Kansas City Star:

And the last 10-plus years for the Royals have been every bit as bad as the long Chiefs’ nightmare. The Royals have had one winning record since the 1994 strike -- that was 2003, and the manager of that team quit a little more than a year later. The Royals have had two Rookie of the Year winners; they could not afford one (Carlos Beltran), and they paid too much for the other (Angel Berroa). The draft picks routinely flopped, trades busted, free agents collapsed, and the team would flip-flop each year from lousy pitching to bungling hitting and back again.

Then, Dayton Moore was hired as general manager. There’s the first similarity. Moore, like Peterson, came in with a more serious and professional approach. He hired a few good baseball people. He made some quiet trades.

This year’s team started off lousy, as Royals team generally do. But after a few weeks, you could see the change. That’s a second similarity with those Chiefs. The Royals have been playing better than .500 baseball since May 12. They beat Toronto 6-2 Monday night and are now 41-39 over the last 80 games. Skipping that fluky 2003 season, this is their best 80-game stretch in a decade.

Welcome back on the bandwagon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What a catch, part deux

Toronto's Aaron Hill has what we call "six inches over the wall" power. Which is to say: not enough for Joey Gathright.

Gathright robbed Hill of a home run for the second straight night, and it was even better this time. The color commentator on Rogers Sports Net screamed, "Not again!" when it happened. Too bad style points don't count on the scoreboard. Blue Jays 4, Royals 1.

POSTSCRIPT: Last night:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lazy Sunday notes

DOTEL TO DL: Can't say we're all that surprised. The shoulder injury doesn't seem serious, but you never know with shoulders. Or Dotel, who has an injury rap sheet.

On the other hand, Kyle Davies is feeling well physically and mentally, and not eligible for free agency until after 2011.

DO YOU HAVE A LUCKY COIN TO FLIP? It's come down that in the Mike Moustakas negotiations: a 50-50 chance. And yes, it's because Moustakas is a Boras agent.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: whatever you think of Scott Boras the man -- and by all means, he seems congenial and hard-working -- the idea of Scott Boras is nefarious and maddening. He's single-handedly turned the amateur draft into a second free agent market for his clients, completely upsetting the competitive balance.

From Posnanski:

There were not any bold demands from the Moustakas camp before the draft -- in fact, there have been constant public indications that Moustakas and his family want him to sign and play ball. But, everyone in baseball knows that you are playing a dangerous game any time you draft a Boras client. The last No. 2 pick to not sign was J.D. Drew in 1997. He was a Scott Boras client. Before that, the last No. 1 pick to not sign was Tim Belcher in 1983. He was a Scott Boras client, too.

Royal Blue Baseball has a video of a Dayton Moore interview on Moustakas (and Davies).

MINOR LEAGUE EDITION OF ROYALS SURVIVOR: Via The Royal Treatment, something to check out.

What a catch!

Yahoo play-by-play:
Top 9th: Toronto
- V. Wells flied out to deep right
- F. Thomas flied out to deep left center
- T. Glaus doubled to deep center
- A. Hill flied out to deep left burgled by the nonpareil Joey Gathright

Dick Whipple/AP

The man who can leap over cars did one better last night: leaped against the wall to rob Aaron Hill of a two-run home run for the game's final out in a 4-1 win. The look on Joakim Soria's face was excellent.

Leo Nunez's ERA is now 1.80. After his spot start for Scott Elarton in Boston, the former Pirates starter-converted-reliever-converted-back-to-starter has strung together some eye-opening performances. Six innings and no runs against Texas, then only two runs in four innings against the Yankees, now a six-inning, one-run outing against the Blue Jays. The Royals are obviously protecting him, keeping his pitch count low and keeping him out of the 7th, and it'll be interesting to see what happens once they unleash the true fury that is Leo Nunez. But I think we've found this season's fifth starter.

On a related note: Scott Elarton has a supporter.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hotter than two rats screwing in a wool sock

That's how hot it can get in Kansas City this time of year, and that's the temperature at which pitcher calves catch on fire and burn. (Ichiro attribution in link is apocryphal. Ray Bradbury reference apropos of very little.)

Shaun Marcum, used to considerably milder weather in the north (despite being born in Kansas City), took a no-hitter into the 7th last night, then lost the no-hitter and had to come out of the game because of cramps in his right calf. "I was tired after I warmed up," he joked.

Another tough loss for Gilgameche, our conquering hero.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bienvenue, Canadiens!

Bienvenue, les ánes qui tuent les phoques. Nous souhaitons que vous appreciez votre sejour ici a Kansas. Nous esperons que vous ne souffrez pas de morts plein de la douleur comme les phoques de la patrie.

(I apologize to Canadians everywhere who have never killed a baby seal. The picture of the hakapik-wielder is just too much fun. Many thanks to the lovely Kira for that French, which I'll be the first to admit isn't completely accurate.)

Jays-Royals, tonight! And the next night! And the next! And the next!

POSTSCRIPT: Following up on something: I fussed about a certain Oprah-Cormac McCarthy interview in the above-link, which you'll find here (you have to sign up for the book club to view it). I like the part where McCarthy says, "Oh I don't know, passion sounds like a fancy word," this from a guy who routinely drops phrases like, "They passed through a highland meadow carpeted with wildflowers, acres of golden groundsel and zinnia and deep purple gentian and wild vines of blue morninglory and a vast plain of varied small blooms reaching onward like a gingham print to the farthest serried rimlands blue with haze and the adamantine ranges rising out of nothing like the backs of seabeasts in a devonian dawn." Blog Meridian has more to say on that book.

Bravo, former Brave

Is the difference between the Twins and the Yankees really five runs and three hits? In New York, Kyle Davies looked overmatched and resigned to his fate of an unkind bludgeoning. Against Minnesota, he was unhittable for four innings -- literally, as he took a no-hitter into the 5th (and recorded the first two outs on foul pop-ups). The Yankees probably aren't that good and the Twins -- despite getting shut out a Major League-leading 11th time -- aren't this bad, but it's likely we've seen Davies' worst and best performances of the season (let's hope only the former is true). Six and 2/3rds innings, three hits, two walks and five strikeouts for the W, his first as a Royal.

"Pretty cool. Pretty neat," Davies said. "It's gratifying because it was a whole team win. You win a game 1-0, you've done a whole lot of things good -- pitching, the defense was awesome. We made some great plays in the infield."

This is all true. The fielding was terrific, and the bullpen even better. Zack Greinke didn't look focused, but he still managed to record a couple of outs. Jimmy Gobble does what he does best, get out lefthanders (Joe Mauer, of all lefties). And then Joakim Soria made short work of Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and Jason Kubel to preserve the 1-0 victory.

One last note: that win was the 500th of Buddy Bell's managerial career. First Davies serves up HR No. 500 to A-Rod, now he sets up win No. 500 for his departing manager. With that, Bell's set to go out on top, with a career record of 500-694. Gotta give him credit for the longevity.

[PHOTO: Ed Zurga, AP]

POSTSCRIPT 1: Braves-Mets yesterday has to be an early favorite for baseball game of the year.

POSTSCRIPT 2: If anyone ever deserved his curtain call, it's the Cardinals' pitcher-converted-outfielder Rick Ankiel. In his first Major League game since 2004, he homered in his final at-bat, this after popping out in the 1st (Tony LaRussa had him batting second; no pressure, kid) and striking out his next two times up. Afterwards, LaRussa choked up at the podium as he said, "Short of winning the World Series, it's the happiest I've seen our club." Very nice moment. Now we can hope Sports Illustrated ditches its mentally challenged "Ankiel Watch" meter.


POSTSCRIPT 3: This comment thread, in all its ignorance about our Royals, makes me sick. I considered a riposte but decided it wasn't worth it. Don't let that stop you though.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A windy night where nothing particularly important happened

The Royals' fielders should know better than to put Odalis Perez in a situation where he has to bail them out. I'd rather watch Kyle Davies. We get our second chance this afternoon, 1 p.m., when he takes on Matt Garza in the rubber game.

POSTSCRIPT: As the reader known as K points out, Tony Pena Sr. was on the receiving end of some harsh words for his involvement in Tuesday's bench-clearing non-brawl. Blue Jays pitcher Josh Towers:
"I heard somebody chirping when I was talking to Lyle [Overbay] and I didn't think it was Alex [Rodriguez], and it was Tony Pena running his mouth," said Towers, who insisted the pitch to Rodriguez got away from him. "What is this guy running his mouth for? This dude is a quitter. He managed a team [Kansas City] and quit in the middle of the season because he couldn’t hack it. He's going to run his mouth to me? It didn't have anything to do with Alex the second time."
Hmm.

This land is mine!

Something very cool, via the excellent Cubs blog Wrigleyville23: The United Countries of Baseball, by strange maps (click on the picture for a larger view), depicting the relative sizes of baseball's fan bases:



I draw two conclusions from this: 1) The Devil Rays need to be contracted or moved to Helena, Montana; and 2) no wonder White Sox fans are so pugnacious: their tiny fan base is surrounded by the enemy, so they pick fights or risk becoming completely irrelevant. White Sox suck.

Incidentally, did you know the Angels have 35,000 season-ticket holders? In contrast, Fenway Park barely has 36,000 seats, and that's only during night games. 35,000 season tickets! Do southern Californians live in a different world?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Final thoughts on Barry Bonds



POOR NIKOLAI BONDS, for giving us that awkward, awkward moment at home plate. It looks like he was expecting a bear hug from his father, and all he got instead was... nothing. Not even a high five. Then he does this thing with his finger indicating something like "You're No. 1," and before you know it, he's patted his father not once but twice on the butt. Some variation of this clip will be played a thousand times over the next eight years, when A-Rod becomes the home run king, and I'll cringe every time I see it.

HOW IRONIC IS IT that Bud Selig missed the game because he was meeting with steroids investigator George Mitchell? It may be one of the definitions of irony, in fact.

WHO IS MIKE BACSIK? Just before serving up No. 756, he tried a behind-the-back catch of a toss from his first baseman. That's all I know about him. Really, that's all I care to know.

THE GIANTS ARE AN ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS TEAM, with a terrible front office and almost no chance of contending for anything in the next two years. Excepting the year he was hurt, Barry Bonds has carried that team for the last five years, so no matter how you feel about Bonds the person, you can forgive San Francisco for cheering him as a savior. Because in a way, he did save baseball in San Francisco, since it's no guarantee that the Giants' gorgeous ballpark would have been built if a big-name star like Bonds hadn't signed with the team. So go wild, San Fran: it's the last time you'll get to for a while.

TO THE GIANTS' PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER: You probably weren't trying to be, but your phraseology in introducing Hank Aaron -- "A very special message from a very special someone" -- was condescending.

AND HERE, FINALLY, at the risk of sounding like Jerry Springer, is my final thought:

I'll miss the live cut-ins and the feeling of watching impending history -- of being in the presence of a moment you understand will live for a very long time -- but really, it's better for everyone that this has passed. I don't know where we go from here. But even as I prepare to leave off this subject forever, I'm saddened by the realization that Barry Bonds, one of the greatest ballplayers who ever played, will never be the heralded ambassador baseball so loves to celebrate. Part of the reason is because Bonds wanted it that way -- Game of Shadows explains how he was always better when he thought the world was against him, when he was pissed off about something -- so you could say he deserves all the animosity he has gotten and has coming. But by denigrating him, we smear baseball, too, even inadvertently, and peel another layer off the veneer that sanctifies the institution of sports. I know I'm too old to be saying this, but that just makes me sadder, just a little.

So no, I don't hate Barry Bonds. I probably don't even despise him. But the day after he broke the most hallowed record in American sports, I feel disappointed, and in some ways that's worse. I feel like a kid who's been rooked by the magician who turns out to be a petty illusionist. Maybe, as someone said in Merlin, the NBC miniseries, the age of magic is over. Will the age that follows be better?

POSTSCRIPT: "Bonds! The Musical," via Gawker.

Matt Herndon visits Royals and Mike Sweeney

Remember in April, before a game in Minnesota, when Mike Sweeney called up Matt Herndon of Overland Park, a kid recovering from brain surgery, and said he'd hit him a home run? And then he went out and actually hit him a home run?

Well, the Herndon family was at Kauffman Stadium yesterday, as reported by Megan Stock of MLBlogs:

...Sweeney invited the whole Herndon family out to Kauffman Stadium as his special guests. Along with his parents and sisters, Emily and Katie, Matt took in some batting practice before the Royals game against the Twins on Tuesday, met a few Royals players and coaches and, this time, got face-to-face greetings and hugs from Sweeney and DeJesus. Just more than three months since his surgery, Matt is almost fully recovered, playing summer ball, getting ready for school to start (next week – yikes!) and gearing up for his fall league baseball to begin.

Re-sign Mike!

Bannister pitches lights out, and other bad puns

-- Lights still out in Twins' offense
-- Bannister lights-out in Royals win
-- Teahen's 4-for-4 night powers Royals in light-out
-- Lights-out pitching propels Royals over Twins
-- Royals, Twins play Lights Out
-- With the lights out, Twins less dangerous


Ed Zurga/AP

Maybe -- just maybe -- it's safe to say Brian Bannister is for real. He has three wins in his last four starts and hasn't allowed more than four runs in a game since June 23. Check out his game log if you don't believe me. He's made 18 starts and has gone into the 5th inning in all but two of them -- on April 24 and May 4. Suffice to say, with a Rookie of the Month award in June, he's learned a few things since then.

After last night's seven-inning, six-hit and one-run performance -- the Royals won 5-1, and as you may have heard, the lights temporarily malfunctioned in the 8th -- Bannister lowered his ERA to 3.32, which puts him at No. 10 in the AL, ahead of the likes of Chien-Ming Wang, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. His WHIP of 1.15 ranks No. 8 in the league.

By now, the league knows there's nothing overpowering about Bannister, but that he's still able to get hitters out -- his last start was also against the Twins, in which he went seven and gave up three in a 5-3 win -- speaks volumes for his pitching acumen. He relies on three and a half pitches -- two variations of the fastball, a straight one that hits the low-90s and a cutter that tops out in the high-80s, and a decent curveball/slider -- and while nothing will make your heart flutter, we all know it's not how hard you throw it, it's where, and with what consistency. To date, Bannister's command has been excellent, having issued only 29 walks in 114 innings (his walks/9 inn. of 2.29 leads the team). The strikeout total of 58 is low, but his K-to-BB ratio of 2.0 ranks second on the team, behind Gil Meche. So far, the only thing the Royals miss about flame-throwin' Ambiorix Burgos -- sent to the Mets by Dayton Moore for Bannister -- is the name Ambiorix (AM-BI-OR-IX). I'll take the production over the potential any day.

POSTSCRIPT: B*nds: they're not saying boo, they're... oh wait, yes they are.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ryan Shealy, Mike Sweeney and other fun tidbits

The long, wearisome off-day is finally over. Hope the Royals enjoyed it while it lasted -- they don't get another till August 23. News and notes to consider, while we have the chance:

REHABBING HIS HAMSTRING IN OMAHA, Ryan Shealy has hit five homers in 61 at-bats and has a .311 average. He's 11-for-25 in his last six games, with four home runs. The cause of the recent power surge?

O-Royals manager Mike Jirschele told Shealy to start swinging the bat more often -- and even swing at some pitches out of the strike zone.

"The key for him right now is just staying aggressive at the plate and not taking too many pitches," Jirschele said. "Sometimes, hitters go up there and they start taking too many pitches. It has started happening to him here, where he takes two strikes and has one pitch to swing at."

The best hitters in baseball, almost without fail, have one thing in common: they swing at strikes and take balls. It's such a simple concept that most players who are unable or unwilling to do this become infuriating to watch. If Shealy's having success swinging at pitches outside the zone in the minors, good for him, but when he gets his call-up -- and this could come either later this week or not till September, but it will come -- he needs to readjust to Major League pitching, which means letting the balls off the corner go by. Patience is rewarded more often at this level.

But five home runs... very encouraging.

MIKE SWEENEY WANTS TO STAY IN KC, so he says, and there's no reason to doubt him. Lots of fans have soured on Nice Guy Mike since he signed a five-year, $55-million deal four years ago, but he's still, for the moment, the name most synonymous with the Kansas City Royals, with by far more plate appearances in a Royals uniform since 1995 than any other player.

And then there's this:

"I've never played the game for money. I just want to play the game of baseball. If I have to come back to the Royals for minimum salary next year, I'd do it," he said.

Sweeney can become a free agent at the end of the season, so he could sign with any team.

"But wherever I am in 2008, whether it's DH, or first base, or backing up in Kansas City, or playing for another ball team, my heart will always remain in Kansas City," Sweeney said.

"If I play five more years and people ask me, 'Mike, you were a big league ballplayer? Who did you play with?' The first thing that will come out of my mouth is the Kansas City Royals."

Someone like Johnny Damon says that, you roll your eyes. Mike Sweeney -- captain of the Royals -- says it, and you listen. And ponder.

You ask, of course, where he would play, how he would help youngsters like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, and you question if he can still produce at the plate. But maybe bringing him back -- not at the Major League minimum, I doubt, but a significant discount -- for purely sentimental reasons will be good for the franchise. First, it sends the right message: this organization is classy enough to honor one of the classiest ballplayers in the game. It sets a good precedent. Second, if money isn't an issue, it doesn't make sense to not bring him back. Sweeney's realistic about his role for the immediate future, so if he accepts being a backup at 1b and DH -- perhaps catching, too -- then this should be a no-brainer: let the captain captain. Who's it going to hurt? And lastly, it's just the right thing to do. When he was one of the best sluggers in the game, he gave the Royals a hometown discount, probably against his better judgment, and endured all but one losing season with this, his only team. And now that the Royals are finally taking positive longterm steps, people are ready to cut him off? I know businesses have to be ruthless to an extent, but this just isn't right.

And of course, there's this: Sweeney, just 34 next year, can still hit. As a part-time DH, well rested and playing without much pressure, you wouldn't bet he can get on base four times out of 11 and knock a few out of the park? Cause I would, and I'd bank on it.

FINALLY, excerpts from a few interesting baseball-related articles:
-- "In the first few years of doping, you'd see some wild variations in statistics, and some awful tragedies. A few players might die of heart attacks, suffer career-ending injuries, or otherwise flush away their talent with the wrong doses of the wrong drugs." (Imagining if steroids were not banned. --Slate.com)

-- "This surreal life, a chase to a celebrated record accompanied by asterisks, blindfolds and an intermittently appearing commissioner, took on a truly bizarre dimension Thursday. Seven hours before Barry Bonds trotted to left field at Dodger Stadium, about 100 kids trotted to center field to hear why they should just say no to steroids." (Just a coincidence? --LA Times)

-- "Most of us fully understand by now that ESPN has become a 'Proceed At Your Own Risk' deal. But still, assigning Joe Morgan to be America's lead baseball analyst . . . what did we do to deserve this?" (What will it take to get Joe Morgan fired? --NY Post)

-- "Did anyone catch the Padres TV broadcaster Matt Vasgersian' s on air battering of the Cardinals and their fans? It was live on San Diego Cox Channel 4 tonight in the top of the 9th. He told the Cardinal Fans to get in their El Camino's and go back to the ozarks and then he pressed his cough button and told his partner Tony Gwynn he's tired of coming to this hole and getting their ass kicked and he's not coming back next year, it was barely audible but it could be heard." (--Awful Announcing. Though considering what some people have said on-air, Vasgersian really wasn't that bad.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Mecca of and that is Yankee Stadium (the narrative)

Yankee Stadium, August 3, 2007
Bronx, New York
Royals, 1; Yankees, 7
The chant is less a chant than an occult incantation to summon the spirits of bleacher ghosts past to this modern game, which has changed through the years but, generally speaking, has aged well. There are few holdovers from those black and white years -- the Golden Age, as the wistful have come to call it, before steroids and Scott Boras, as if segregation and spitballs were somehow easier to cope with -- but the ones that exist have been granted immortal status, bestowed such honorifics as "shrine" and "church." One such place is Yankee Stadium, a "living monument" to baseball glory. And inside Yankee Stadium, there are few holies holier than the bleacher section, where if one closes his eyes, he (or she, as this is the modern age) can imagine a different time, a different purpose. This was where Jeffrey Maier stole the opening game of the 1996 ALCS from Tony Tarasco and the Baltimore Orioles. This was where Boston's longtime right fielder, Dwight Evans, defying the words of Robert De Niro's Jimmy Conway, "took shit." This was where Roger Maris, the former Kansas Citian, was booed by his own and, in his own words, was "drained of all my desire to play baseball" in his final years. The list goes on.

The incantation Friday night, completely atonal and said after the banging of a cowbell to an irregular beat, went like this: Yankees baseball. Mets suck. Royals suck. Teahen sucks. Boston sucks. Everything sucks.

In so many words, that about sums up the New York bleacher bum's life philosophy and worldview: full of contempt and self-pride rooted in that contempt.

My initiation was not harsh, but it came swiftly. Upon entering Section 39, my friend -- a Yankees fan -- and I walked across the front of the section, along the railing, in full view of the bleacherites. Within seconds, I heard a guy boo and say, "George Brett sucks." I got off easy. In the 2nd inning, a Red Sox fan walked in. There were two ways we could tell he was a Red Sox fan. The second way was from the Red Sox shirt the wore. The first way: the entire section rose and welcomed him as Roman plebeians welcomed Vercingetorix, the captured chieftain of Gaul: with taunts and vitriol. As he made his way up the aisle, it was like a scene ripped out of a WWE event, when a heel enters the crowd and the crowd parts for his passing, only to close in around him with their beer-drenched insults and middle fingers. The hatred felt overwrought -- intentionally, for dramatic effect -- though it was also much more carnal than that, as if an ancestral lodestone planted at birth and nourished through the years created some force field that made the carrier irrepressibly angry at the sight of Red Sox insignia. The cursing and booing, with an "asshole" chant (the irony didn't escape me, anyway), went on for minutes. It was as hate-filled a public lambasting as any mob could get away with in our enlightened times.

Welcome to the Bronx, indeed.

But there's something else to all this. Pope John Paul II has said, "A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, people, must give it that soul." The bleacher section at Yankee Stadium does not lack soul, nor community. I don't mean for this to be a spiritual journey into the heart of a place many call baseball's cathedral -- one that, sadly, will be torn down after next season -- but "soul" is an apt word to define that quality that distinguishes Section 39 from, say, the Picnic Terrace at Petco Park. From the Hispanic man who bangs the cowbell to the Caucasian frozen lemonade vendor who gets playfully jeered for sounding like the Aflac duck, there is a sense of kinship as unshakable as the concrete underneath our feet. Everyone plays a part. In the grand scheme of things, each person in the bleacher is as integral a thread in the Yankee fabric, connected as much with one another as the past, as the front office or the newspapermen upstairs or the statues in Monument Park. Even the ushers -- they are played by New York's finest -- though more detached than I, the outsider, seem complicit in this Yankee machination.

This section is the Mecca of Yankee Stadium. I've sat along the baselines and in the upper deck and the press box, but no experience quite so approximates what it's like to be a Yankee fan and a New Yorker -- no offense to Mets fans, but around the world, the Yankees are the first team of New York -- like sitting in the bleachers. No wonder Joe DiMaggio thanked the Lord for making him a Yankee, and Mickey Mantle said, "I never knew how someone who was dying could say he was the luckiest man in the world. But now I understand." No wonder Alex Rodriguez, who was cheered long, loud and hard, and genuinely, says he wants to retire as a Yankee. (Scintillas of light, like fireflies in the impressionist painting of night, lit up A-Rod's at-bats.) "We are the New York Yankees," George Steinbrenner is quoted as saying. From any other owner, this is ridiculous: of course you are, as opposed to the Cleveland Browns or Toronto Argonauts. But to say one is a New York Yankee -- rather, of the Yankees, as if the Yankees were a beatified institution bigger than all of us -- is to be something more: it's to belong. Not just to a place or a club, but a part of history that extends further than any of our memories. It would be silly to call a team as reviled as the Yankees "America's team," but the Yankees are, unquestionably, part of Americana, what with their championships (more than any other professional sports team), legendary characters, myths and role in pop culture. It is about this team, after all, that Hemingway wrote, "Have faith in the Yankees, my son." Faith is not lacking in Section 39.

Don't get me wrong: they are not saints, not in this church nor any other. They are pompous and quite often rude, sometimes even downright boorish. But they are New York, which means you accept the braggadocio and bombast unconditionally, because New Yorkers have earned that right.

By dusk in Yankee Stadium, the home team had extended its lead to 3-1. This came after the 3rd inning, when Ross Gload tied the game with a single to center, prompting someone in our section to say, "I can't believe we're tied with the Royals," as if a mercy rule win should have been invoked by this point. The Yanks scored three more in the bottom of the 6th off Ryan Braun, though one of the runs was charged to Odalis Perez, making sure he'd leave with his typical four-run, five-inning performance that has come to both infuriate and amuse me. Royals manager Buddy Bell refused to pull Braun after the 6th, perhaps suspecting he'd need a fresh bullpen for the game the next day (which proved correct: he used six relievers on Saturday afternoon, who combined to give up 11 earned runs in five innings). It didn't matter though: the Royals' bats went cold, and there would be no comeback tonight.

Winds came in the 8th, sending debris swirling into the air. Thunder cracked above us, preceded by sky-fracturing lightning powerful enough to frighten away even some of the bleacherites. The Yanks scored another. In the 9th, as raindrops fell, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" sent what was left of the crowd into a frenzy. Now this was truly a scene ripped out of a graphic novel: fat goblets of rain falling out of a starless void and white hot blazes bristling forth to the heavy metal din of the executioner's entrance song. Jason Smith, Tony Pena Jr. and Joey Gathright had no chance.


Afterwards we stepped out into the rain, shoulder to shoulder, and marched pitter-patter towards our common transportation. The D train waited, doors open, for us to board. Another adventure lay ahead, with drunk co-eds, crazy bastards and parents riding with their kids who wore Jeter jerseys. All together now, all races represented, all faces, all emotions, all facial upturns and pitches of laughter and mannerisms. All squished together, as only New York could concoct it, each searching for a place called home and a thing called soul.