Sunday, April 27, 2008

On hiatus for a while

Losing streak? What losing streak? It's far in the rear-view mirror as the Royals look to sweep... such is baseball, the violent lurches and sways capable of turning on themselves overnight.

On that note... I'm jumping ship, temporarily. Not for any good reason, really, but it's just that I've been a little out of the way these last few days, geographically speaking, and I'll be remaining out of the way for the next five months. I initially thought I could continue blogging about the Royals from out here, but I've come to realize it's just not going to happen. The hours I normally devote to this blog are gone, and with so many good Royals blogs out there -- all of them, I believe, listed on the blogroll to the right (do let me know if I'm missing any) -- my little voice just wouldn't be much good, like shouting at a runaway train.

Anyway, there's no good way to sign off, but I do want to say thanks to anyone and everyone who's dropped by this little corner and especially to anyone who's taken the time to leave a comment -- they all pass through my inbox, and I'm always happy to see it.

This isn't goodbye, of course. I'll continue reading the RSS, following the Royals, baseball, etc., and I'll be back in time for the stretch run and to cheer the Royals in the postseason. Yes, I said it. And I won't actually be going away, cybernetically (?) speaking -- I've started a new project, a link to which you'll find in my profile. It's not at all like this one and I don't expect to draw the same viewers, but give it a look if you're interested.

Anything else, feel free to email. Let me know if something incredible happens, or if Reed Johnson almost breaks his neck diving for a ball in left-center again. Stay classy, Kansas City.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Welcome to the Royals blogging community

We imagine this is like having a baby on a cruise ship leaking water around the Arctic Circle amid a global depression, but Breaking Bats, the newest Royals blog, wishes to be, and so it is. It aspires to "become a strong community and a daily stop for Royals fans," which reminds us of the verity that people, ideas and things become great only when they want to be. Anyway, Bats could've found a better time than a seven-game losing streak to announce itself -- some losses worse than others -- but they'll be around for the winning streaks, too. If Alex Gordon has a say, the good times will roll around sooner than later.

POSTSCRIPT: Also added on the blogroll: George Blowfish's Royals 2008 blog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Return home to sunshine

C.C. Sabathia and all the ugliness of his fan site takes on Gil Meche and all his (productive) anger as the Royals return home. Unlike the first home stand, the weather's supposed to be terrific this time, 73 degrees and partly cloudy around game time at 7:10 p.m. CT. Both aces have struggled this year, but only one of them threw fewer than 256 1/3 innings last season.

Also, it's New Blue Tradition T-Shirt Night. First 20,000 get this piece of awesomeness:


In other parts: Brett Tomko writes his mind, and it's, well, it doesn't have any grammatical or spelling errors.

And finally: he has his own site, but Blown Save goes to Royal Review to tell us not to worry. Remember, this year's 9-10 start is the team's second-best 19-game start since 1997.

POSTSCRIPT: Fire Joe Morgan and a couple guys named Cohn are about to engage in an all-out blog war. Hopefully.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Another feature on Brian Bannister, this time from The Seattle Times. Cerebral counter: add one.

Editor's note: IDWT's taking the next three days off for traveling. Please visit our sponsors (it doesn't have any) and partners (maybe he's referring to the links on the blogroll?) for Royals news, commentary and merchandise.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Swept, and saying goodbye

Luke Hochevar should get a wedge of cheese for all the nibbling he was doing yesterday.

That's all we got. We won't be here all night. Sorry folks. Cya later.

Royals Authority has more on the game and series, so hop on over there if you'd like to read about things that get us down.

But the big news from the weekend, of course, was the DFA of Hideo "Tornado" Nomo, which likely brings his career to a close. The Warrior himself. At another time in history, in another place, warriors would have to perform ritual disembowelment on themselves for failing, but luckily nothing of the sort is required from Nomo, who, at age 39, can retire, return to Japan (or wherever) and, if he wishes, start counting his advertising Yen. A former Rookie of the Year, Sports Illustrated cover boy and tosser of the no-hitter, his stay in Kansas City was short and not all that memorable, but we wish him the best anyway.

Sam Mellinger's story here, blog reaction here.

POSTSCRIPT: Star Magazine's caption contest winners. Who can forget this famous shot of Morganna the Kissing Bandit?


(I'm as confused as you over some of these. "The breast of George Brett"? C'mon...)

POSTSCRIPT 2: A few days ago, I commented on the T-Bones' promotion involving Mike Vick and prison garb. Suffice to say, I thought it was great. A couple of KC Star columnists, however, disagreed. I was going to post my reaction in this space, but once the ball got rolling I grew angrier and angrier, and eventually realized I was just ranting, and this blog's no place for that. This one is, though.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Your Sunday starter: Luke Hochevar

Recalled from Triple-A Omaha to start today's game, Luke Hochevar.

Stats this year: 3 GS, 1-1, 17.1 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 2 HR, 6 BB, 12 K, 2.60 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

The K rate's not great, and ideally you'd prefer your pitchers to walk fewer than a batter every three innings, but we're nitpicking here. If you remember how well Hochevar pitched down the stretch last season -- including his final few starts in Omaha -- and how he performed this spring, you'll agree this call-up is well deserved.

The big question, though, isn't whether Hochevar can maintain consistency of delivery in the big leagues or if the expectations associated with being the No. 1 overall pick will weigh too heavily on him. Of greater concern: How will his departure affect the first-place Omaha Royals?

As long as Angel Berroa's batting .364/.375/.582, they'll keep winning.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of Berroa... Chris Rasmussen of Bugs and Cranks is on the record as suggesting Berroa would be a suitable replacement for Tony Pena Jr. at short. It's not as crazy as it sounds. We'd prefer Alberto Callaspo, but at this point, the Royals pitchers could bat and that'd still be a better option than Pena. Rasmussen's got the stats to prove it, too (linked above).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Robert Mapplethorpe and Juelz Santana (we guarantee you won't find these two names in the same title anywhere else)

Really, our previous entry was the wrong way to begin the weekend.

This is much better:


This brings us to our point of the day: Robert Mapplethorpe should never, ever appear in any sports-related context -- not even as a scathing insult from some natty sports fan -- but that's exactly how it was used in Rany's latest blog post:

It’s been two weeks since the Royals foisted their team calendar on the world, and I still can’t get over this photograph of Mark Grudzielanek (scroll down.) Who took this photo? Robert Mapplethorpe?

Not all the photos were bad, but Grudz... geez. We're flabbergasted. [HT: Sports Hernia]

On the bright side, that has to build team morale, right? A little razzing's good for chemistry, we think. Of course it is. A team that laughs together, stays together. We believe that's a relatively accurate paraphrase of Juelz Santana (listen for it):



Making-of video here. God that makes me look forward to the NBA playoffs.

So that's what it feels like

We're not going to hang our heads too long after this one. Sometimes you get whipped, and though it's hard to watch, you just have to accept it and move on.

It was close for six innings, even though Brian Bannister wasn't very sharp, and then it was over. Four runs in the bottom of the 6th after a string of base-hits, then eight runs in the 8th. In that inning, Yasuhiko Yabuta walked four straight, then Hideo Nomo was called in and you pretty much knew all hope was lost. With the bases loaded, he did induce what appeared to be an inning-ending pop-up to shallow left -- off the bat of Emil Brown, if that isn't ironic enough -- but Tony Pena Jr., drifting back, decided at the last moment to not try to catch the ball, apparently because he thought he heard Mark Teahen call him off, even though Teahen was nowhere near the ball. We didn't think screaming "I got it!" from the stands actually ever worked. Does sound carry just that well in McAfee Coliseum?

We don't mean to pick on Yabuta and Nomo -- and we would never even think about pulling a Cubs fan -- but the two of them have allowed 15 earned runs, while the rest of the bullpen has allowed three (Ron Mahay, 2; Brett Tomko, 1).

Anyway, like we said, we're not going to hang on this for too long. It's the weekend, after all.

But there is one last thing: the interview we were all waiting for. After the game, FSN KC found Mike Sweeney in the tunnel, and what followed was a bit hard to watch without feeling a tinge of remorse. Here was a guy, after all, who plainly loved Kansas City and playing for the Royals, the team that drafted him and the team he represented five times as an All-Star. It's easy to forget, but here was a guy who posted consecutive 29-HR seasons. Here was, in 2002, a .340/.417/.563 hitter. Here was a clubhouse leader and bona fide Royals captain -- and now here he was wearing a different uniform.

"In a dream world, I'd still be a Royal," Sweeney said, right before he went on to praise Dayton Moore as one of the best people he knew. Christ. Thanks for trying to make us cry.

The final thing he said: "If the Royals win a world championship, just remember to tell Dayton Moore my P.O. box is in Rancho Camarillo, California. He can send me a World Series ring."

Peanuts. He said he'd re-sign with the Royals for peanuts.

Friday, April 18, 2008

GMDM speaks, and... 22 innings!

First things first: this comes three days late, but when The Man speaks, he has this forum:

On the meaning of happiness: "We're encouraged," [Dayton] Moore said. "I would use that word over 'happy.' Just encouraged over what we're doing."

On universal inevitabilities: "Offensively, we've certainly got to improve, and we will. Once David [DeJesus] gets back in the flow of things. ... Mark Teahen will swing the bat better, Jose Guillen hasn't gotten going and Tony Pena will be swinging the bat better. And we'll get more production out of John Buck and Miguel Olivo.

"Right now, we're getting production out of Alex [Gordon] and Billy [Butler] and Grud [Mark Grudzielanek], of course. [Ross] Gload's been producing, but those other guys I think will be even better."

On fate and providence: "We had a couple situations in the last Minnesota series when we were just one big hit away from putting us in a position to win a game."

On fortune: "You're always open-minded on how to improve your roster, but most clubs are in a wait-and-see mode right now and just evaluating their talent. Obviously, there was a lot of thought over the winter [about] putting your team together and now you want to see it play for a while."

We eagerly anticipate what's to come.

In other parts of the baseball world...

We opened up our browser today to find this headline, which made us gasp: "Rockies top Padres in 22 innings." You can read about it here; judging by the box score, the six-hour, 16-minute game was probably unbearable to watch (Rockies: 20 strikeouts), but at least it inspired one of the better leads in a baseball story we've seen in a while. From Troy E. Renck, Denver Post:

This wasn't a game. It was a relationship.

The Rockies and San Diego Padres stayed close for hours Thursday night. Problem is they don't know to break it off. Or break away.

After 6 hours, 16 minutes, 15 pitchers, 658 pitches and even a kid mooning the in-stadium camera, the Rockies outlasted the Padres 2-1 in 22 innings, mercifully drawing the curtain on the longest game in both franchises' history.

Breakfast anyone?

KC vs. Oakland, 9:05 p.m. CT; everybody's favorite pitcher, Brian Bannister (3 GS, 3-0, 0.86 ERA), faces Chad Gaudin (2 GS, 0-1, 7.20 ERA). On a personal note, I've made a flurry of long-term bets with a friend of mine, an A's fan, and one of them is who'll end the year with a better VORP, Bannister or Gaudin. The other is whether Oakland will finish within two games of the Royals by season's end (I sorta went out on a limb and said no). This game, needless to say, is of utmost importance.

And if you haven't heard, the A's Mike Sweeney used to play for the Royals.

POSTSCRIPT: Add one to the "cerebral" counter, this time courtesy of Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.

Angels end six-game losing streak vs. Royals

Alberto Callaspo needs to be playing every day. After watching his at-bat in the 9th against Francisco Rodriguez, we're convinced the Royals' offense will improve significantly more than their defense will be hurt with him at short.

His encounter with K-Rod: after going down 0-2 -- an 89-mph fastball he took for strike one (taking all the way, because his first at-bat resulted in a first-pitch flyout) and an 88-mph fastball he fouled back for strike two -- he laid off two nasty off-speed pitches that would have had a lesser hitter flailing. We'll not name that lesser hitter. At 2-2, though, the advantage was still K-Rod's. A guy who's earned his bread on a fastball-curve/curve-fastball combo, this was now his moment to ratchet up the heat, since he'd set up Callaspo with four pitches low in the zone, most recently a curve that bounced in the dirt. The high fastball came, at 91 mph, and it had swing-and-miss written all over it. But Callaspo was ready. He swung above the ball and made solid contact, not a foul tip or a slice into the 3rd base dugout but a liner into left field. The look on K-Rod's face said, "What the hell just happened?"

Callaspo can help the Royals' offense.

Other things that can help: not running into outs. It's getting painful, really, and Royals Review, one of the best ranters on the 'Net, is ranting about it. Rany's mentioning it. We're all alarmed by it.

Of course, we trust we'll see improvement soon, but on the heels of a 5-3 loss, it just gives us one more thing to fret about, which is never good when the game ends around midnight, i.e. bedtime.

Three-game set in Oakland begins later tonight.

POSTSCRIPT: Due to John Bale's "dead arm" and subsequent placement on the DL, Joel Peralta has been recalled from Omaha, according to tonight's FSN KC telecast, and will buoy the already rock-solid bullpen. Hopefully no one believes superstitiously in cosmic equilibriums or the sort, because the last thing the Royals' bullpen needs is some sort of dilution. Hideo Nomo: we'll call him a colloid.

POSTSCRIPT 2: "Cerebral" count in this Yahoo column about Brian Bannister: 1. But not the first and won't be the last.

POSTSCRIPT 3: Who cares, really?

POSTSCRIPT 4: This just can't be left un-linked: as reported by Jeffrey Flanagan of the KC Star and coming to us via Chris Rasmussen of Bugs and Cranks, this T-Bones promotion has the chance to be an all-time great.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

High five!

We're firm believers that the expression "high five" should only be said ironically or by Borat, or people imitating Borat.

Nonetheless, in honor of National High Five Day, a preview of things to come tonight in Anaheim (hopefully):


Jeff Chiu, AP Photos

Oh. My. God. (Senor Smoke does it again)

We're going to start from the end, because Joakim Soria makes us tingle. We sincerely hope everyone saw those consecutive curveballs thrown to Mike Napoli in the bottom of the 9th, because if not, you probably missed the sensation Beowulf felt while slaying Grendel the dragon, or Shelley upon mounting Mount Blanc. The everlasting universe of things were in those curves.

The first of those yakkers was fouled off, barely -- the ball bouncing straight down off the end of the bat and back-spinning behind the catcher's head. The second: that patented 66-mph curve. You know the one. It should be given a nickname, something like SeƱor 66, but wittier (we're on it). We've yet to see a batter get a good swing on it this year, and Napoli, well... he was caught in a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't moment. He swung only because he would've been punched out if he didn't, but the pitch was absolutely unhittable. (Napoli didn't hit it.)

Next batter: a sawed-off bat (two pieces and a splinter) on a 1-2 count for a weak dribbler to short.

And then, the final out: with Chone Figgins, who came into the game with a .507 OBP, at the plate, Soria quickly got out ahead with two strikes, setting up the hammer. And then it came.

And our reaction: Oh. My. God.

Afterwards, as Soria walked into the congratulatory line, Miguel Olivo couldn't wipe a smile off his face. Who knows what he was thinking. That was us, though -- laughing to ourselves, shaking our heads.

Royals 3, Angels 2.

GIL MECHE pitched six innings of two-run ball to pick up his first win of the year. He escaped several jams, and it was apparent he was having trouble consistently locating his fastball. Still, a quality start is a good sign, and with the way the bullpen's going -- Trey Hillman had the luxury of bringing in four guys (Ramon Ramirez, Jimmy Gobble, Leo Nunez and Soria) who have yet to allow a run this year -- a quality start is usually enough for the win.

ONE NOTE ABOUT THE OFFENSE: Opposing teams are now treating Tony Pena Jr. like a pitcher, and not even a good-hitting pitcher like Carlos Zambrano or Mike Hampton. Ross Gload got intentionally walked in consecutive plate appearances to bring up Pena, and both times Pena failed with runners in scoring position. This brings up the question: when's enough enough? Craig Brown of Royals Authority says now, but apparently Hillman likes Pena's defense (granted, it's quite good) and won't be going to Alberto Callaspo anytime soon. But just know that Pena's 5-for-32 (.119) on the year and that he's certainly bad enough to threaten the Mendoza line over 400 at-bats, or however may he ends up getting. That's about as nicely as we can put it.

SOMETIME TO COME: Praising Mark Grudzielanek, who picked up career hits 1,927 and 1,928 tonight. An everyday player in every sense of the word, both on the field and off.

POSTSCRIPT: This will get its own post later -- it would've gotten one yesterday, except I was traveling all day -- but Rany's unveiled the No. 1 reason it's great to be a Royals fan right now, and that reason is (of course) Dayton Moore.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Mark Teahen, the offensive hero of the night (3 for 4, walk, run scored) and a generally smart guy -- 3.59 GPA at St. Mary's, neck-to-neck race with Brian Bannister (as selected by teammates) in the clubhouse's Presidential Primary contest (or whatever it's called) -- was presented a microphone by FSN KC and asked to interview some teammates about California (Teahen is from Redlands, after all). Here are two snippets:

Teahen: What's the state tree?
John Buck: Um... pine tree.

Teahen: If you were to go to the nearest beach, what direction would you head?
David DeJesus: [Long pause] South?

Nice.

POSTSCRIPT 3: Milton Bradley -- in one game, mind you: two hits,
five walks. That's working for your money.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If anyone in Seattle heard the sound of thunder over the weekend...

It was actually the sound of a shotgun blowing someone's balls off:

A 20-year-old man shot himself in the groin early Sunday while trying to hide a shotgun down his pants, city police said.

A news release did not describe the injury except to say that it was "serious."


In other places, if you haven't already, this latest Rany post is a must-read. Positively gives one the chills.

And in case you missed it, Kinsella posted a link to a Chicago Tribute (we think) blog in which the Royals are called a "joke team":

What exactly are the A's doing winning all those games? I mean, they traded Nick Swisher to the Sox and Dan Haren to Arizona, so what are they doing in first place? Probably the same thing Kansas City and Baltimore are doing in first place. Yes, Kansas City and Baltimore. And Florida in the NL East. Here's the rule: If some joke team such as Kansas City is in first place after two weeks, you say it's early; if your team is in first place, you start talking wire-to-wire.

First, allow us to state for the record that while we have no idea who Steve Rosenbloom is, we're more than willing to assume he's a kind, caring man, possibly even a baseball man, but at least a hard-working, fine sports journalist.

Now: Steve, you know nothing about baseball and are an awful example of a functioning life form. How long do you suppose it takes to open an Internet browser and look up a couple facts about the 2008 Kansas City Royals, to find they have a terrific bullpen, three very good front-of-the-rotation starters, emerging young stars, veteran leaders and a beyond-capable manager? Or, at the very least, to find another word for "joke." Possibly you meant "surprise," as in, "If some surprise team such as Kansas City is in first place after two weeks..." You see how much more civil and, more importantly, accurate that is? But no, you had to try to make a funny, and now you've drawn our ire. Damn you.

Royals go for the sweep today: John Bale vs. Miguel Batista, 5:40 CT. It's tax
Jackie Robinson Day.

POSTSCRIPT: FanHouse reminds us that Alex Gordon is awesome.

Suddenly the bullpen must be very, very bored

And well rested, after Zack Greinke followed Brian Bannister's complete-game victory with a complete-game win of his own.

To give you an idea: Greinke struck out Jose Lopez on a 96 mph fastball in the 9th inning.

About 15 minutes later on Baseball Tonight, Buck Showalter commented that Greinke looked almost bored out there, as if he was wondering, Which pitch should I use now to get a strikeout? And at the show's conclusion, Showalter selected Greinke's performance as the night's most significant happening. "Don't let a young club get their sea legs under them," he said.

And about Greinke: "He's capable of big things, this guy's got special stuff."

Special, indeed. He was helped by double plays in the first two innings, then was an Ichiro half-step away from getting out of the 3rd with his shutout intact, but the stuff he threw was absolutely beautiful. After the Mariners' first and only run, the next eight that walked out of the home dugout took a couple hacks and made quick U-turns back to their seats, many of them after grounding out to Mark Grudzielanek. When all was said and done, a measly "5" showed under Seattle's hit column. You think the Mariners might have been consoled by the fact that their efforts actually bumped Greinke's ERA up to 0.75?

Billy Butler drilled his first home run of the year in the 2nd, and Miguel Olivo followed with a two-run homer a few batters later (with Jose Guillen on second). And on the field -- besides the double plays (three total) -- Mark Teahen turned in Baseball Tonight's No. 1 Web Gem, a jumping grab in the 8th to rob Yuniesky Betancourt of a possible home run. No one will confuse Teahen for Joey Gathright, but that was a great play. Yet all the while, it seemed, well, conventional. Everything good the Royals did seemed like they'd done it before. Part of the reason was Greinke, who set the tone from the onset, but another part may be because these Royals, just like Trey Hillman has preached, expect to do good things every time out. Fundamentals is the word. Make the play if the ball hits the glove, make no excuses, act like you've been done it before and will do it again. You've heard this before, of course -- every manager emphasizes fundamentals -- but we as fans have been so far removed from good baseball for so long that seeing it now, in real time, who can help but get unduly excited?

We go back to the thing Showalter said: "Don't let a young club get their sea legs under them." The Royals come back tomorrow with a late-afternoon game, and if the offense can finally come alive and score more than five runs (hasn't happened yet), carry the team to a two-game sweep, the Royals will have their ace going Wednesday in Anaheim with a chance to win four straight. Is that looking ahead too far? Perhaps. But we've been hoping for the best for too long around here to not indulge in this little bit of anticipating.

(In case you were wondering -- with the White Sox' loss to Oakland, the Royals are back in first place in the AL Central.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The long lead-up to tonight's game

You're probably on your way home now, or home, or about to leave the office, but the Royals aren't set to play for another four hours. Aren't time zones great?

To occupy yourself: Sam Mellinger over at Ball Star is starting a series where he interviews opposing teams' beat writers/bloggers, and the first entry comes from a guy at The Seattle Times who wrote, "And now that the Angels are gone, things don't get any easier. The mighty Royals are coming to town. It might not last, but they're looking great so far, with the best starting pitching in the American League." Not one drip of sarcasm, either.

It's only a two-game set in Seattle, so we won't get to see Gil Meche face his former team, but Jose Guillen's available. It'll be interesting to see if he can use this series, of all series, to finally get on track.

And because we're in Seattle -- No. 2 in Forbes' curious list of America's most miserable sports cities -- we have to remind everyone to keep an eye out for this guy. We don't know anything about him except 1) he's awesome, and 2) he's awesome. (And loves Adrian Beltre.)

Pitching matchup:
KC (7-5): Zack Greinke, 2-0, 0.60 ERA
Seattle (6-7): Jarrod Washburn, 1-1, 3.00 ERA
POSTSCRIPT: Congratulations to Brian Bannister, who was named one of the AL's two players of the week. The other guy? Now this is just too coincidental, isn't it -- Raul Ibanez, former Royal, current Mariner.

POSTSCRIPT 2: As if on cue, Bannister takes your questions.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Brian Bannister is unbeatable

Synopsis: Brian Bannister gives up just three singles and an unearned run in a complete-game 5-1 victory. Alex Gordon homers, his third of the year; Billy Butler extends hit streak to 12 games.

It occurred to me while watching Bannister set down batter after batter that all this talk about his fastball velocity and low strikeout rate and BABIP -- all those reasons he's supposed to have a bad year -- really doesn't matter when his opponents have no idea what he's throwing. They look fooled half the time -- when the ball goes by them -- and the other half they look merely glad to have made contact, usually resulting in a weak grounder or harmless flyout. Remember all those worries in the spring when he was getting shelled every outing? Apparently he really did know what he was doing all along, which was just "trying things out."

Francisco Liriano, 17 months removed from Tommy John surgery, simply got outpitched. Could there have been a better contrast in styles? Liriano, the wunderkind with electric stuff who wins by overpowering opponents, versus Bannister (still young, granted), the guy who has single-handedly made the word "cerebral" chic in baseball circles. Right now one of them is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA, and the other just gave up four runs while issuing five walks.

POSTSCRIPT: A few nice words about Trey Hillman from Sporting News.

POSTSCRIPT 2: The Royals have lost four times to the Twins this year. If you think that's bad, the Rockies have lost five times to the D-backs (trying to stave off six as we speak).

POSTSCRIPT 3: I was able to catch a bit of the Cardinals-Giants game on MLB.tv, and every time I watch ballgames in San Francisco I'm struck by how happy everyone looks. Never mind that the Giants will probably lose 100 games and that Matt Cain might go postal on his teammates if they keep losing him games; every person in that ballpark wears the most carefree, bubbly smiles you'll find anywhere. Today, a toddler nearly gets hit with a foul ball, and the Giants immediately send a rep to the family (the dad's bouncing the kid on his knee, smiling; Mom's laughing alongside; sister is next to Mom, smiling) to give them free tickets for a future game. A guy wearing a Cardinals cap catches a foul ball, and he gets playfully booed, then playfully slapped with a glove. Smiles and laughter all around. What is wrong with these people? Don't they know life is supposed to be hard?

Oh yeah, it was bright and sunny, of course.

POSTSCRIPT 4: The Royals had a 26-inning scoreless streak, sure, but the Tigers just got shut out for the
fourth time this year and are 2-10 on the season. I'll let you think about that.

We want pants! We want pants!

Why do it halfway?


John Sleezer, KC Star

Not bad, all things considered.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The FanHouse praises Dayton Moore

Tom Fornelli writes:

So far the Royals have played six games against the Yankees and Tigers, the two highest payrolls in baseball, and they've compiled a 5-1 record against them. It's something owner David Glass has noticed as well, and he's pleased with what he's seeing.
"It really comes down to the fundamentals," Glass told me. "The Twins have proven over the years that (it's not about payroll). If you execute and play the fundamentals and don't beat yourselves, you can compete and you can win.

"What I have liked so far is that we're not beating ourselves. Last year and the year before, you could sense that there were games we lost just because we beat ourselves. I think we'll do a lot less of that this season."
What Glass says is true, but there's one important thing he left out. The biggest difference between the Royals now and the Royals of a few years ago is Dayton Moore. Moore came into the organization from Atlanta, and unlike previous general manager Allan Baird, Moore actually has an idea of what he's doing.

Yup.

POSTSCRIPT: The following, I kid you not, is the picture accompanying the above-linked KC Star story about David Glass. It speaks for itself.

Guillen's sentence commuted, and woe to the Tigers

Gil Meche hasn't done so well against the Twins this year: two losses and an 8.49 ERA.

In other news, the Tigers -- with that offense Steve Phillips said would score 1,000 runs -- nearly got no-hit in Chicago today.

By Gavin Floyd.

Now, we understand Floyd is a big, intimidating young right-hander with pretty decent stuff, and there're worse things that can happen than losing to him on his best day. But... this is Gavin Floyd, after all, who in 2007 started 10 games and finished with a 5.27 ERA, and in 2006 started 11 games with a 7.29 ERA. He'd never pitched more than seven innings in the majors before. In the minors: 134 games/129 starts, 3.69 ERA, K/BB ratio a little better than 2:1. Respectable, but barely. Yet for seven and one-third innings, he had the Tigers completely handcuffed.

Worse, because of Detroit's unreliable, overtaxed bullpen (thanks, Dontrelle), manager Jim Leyland left Justin Verlander in too long. Going into the 8th, he'd given up just one run; his final line: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 6 ER; season ERA: 6.52.

Now the Tigers are 2-9, and it would be 1-10 if not for Dontrelle Willis's hyperextended knee that forced him out of last night's game in the 1st inning. That, my friends, is a bad way to start the season.

IN OTHER OTHER NEWS, Jose Guillen's sentence has been commuted, meaning he can put that saga behind him and maybe start hitting. We think he'll come around real soon.

POSTSCRIPT: Johan Santana's home debut: not so good.

POSTSCRIPT 2: We brought you lots of season previews in which the Royals were targets of mockery, but at least the Royals aren't the Pirates. Check it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Speaking of lock-up...

He didn't actually spend the night in jail, but Rays pitcher Al Reyes had quite the night:

When the pitcher "continued spitting blood and thrashing about," the officer told Reyes he was going to use his Taser, which knocked Reyes to the ground. He was shocked a second time after not complying with commands to stay down.

The perils of Florida. The angriest guy on the Internet elaborates.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lock-up: Inside the Kansas City Royals bullpen

There was rain in Mudville. Pain, too. They concealed it best they could, behind turtlenecks and necks shrunk into jacket collars, but it was seared into their souls, this I know. There was the gloom of overcast, the doom of knowing this would persist, the cold, the anger, the confusion. A bunt single by Joey Gathright. Another runner stranded on second. A grooved fastball redirected into the high mist, riveting in its trajectory, riving the deadbeat hearts of the visitors which beat with the empty thud of wooden hearts -- bitter hearts, as the singer sings -- their long, forlorn faces as plain as that element of blank (as a poet once wrote), as inscrutable as the pain of prisoners whose eyes fix on the jagged wires of their longing. Where, they implored to the high heavens lacerating their faces with tears, O where do we find peace in this cursed demesne called Kansas City?

Games are over when the Royals take a lead into the 7th, and when your starting pitcher gives you eight innings of zero-run ball, well, as Chris Keller of Oz would say... actually, almost nothing he says is quotable on a family blog, but if we had to choose something, maybe... "They stab me, they shoot me, I ain't going down."

After eight games, the Royals' bullpen has been swiped and shot at, but they haven't gone down: 22 IP, 2 ERs, 11 hits, 5 BBs, 28 Ks. Stunning.

The result tonight: a 4-0 win to improve to 6-2.

Who's singing the prison blues? The Yankees are, that's who. Locked up in Kansas City with nowhere to go but a cold, losing locker room, nothing to add to the world but scratches marking the passing of days and tallies in the loss column.

Maybe Johnny Cash can take this home:
Well, if they freed me from this prison -- if that railroad train was mine -- I bet I'd move on over a little farther down the line... far from Folsom Prison, that's where I want to stay, and I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hey A-Rod: Bannister sorta owned you today

Three strikeouts is a silver sombrero. Four is gold. Five -- platinum. Now, a corollary:

Three caught-looking strikeouts is you having no idea what the pitcher's throwing.

That was Alex Rodriguez today against Brian Bannister.
Sequence 1, 2nd inning:
  • Fastball outside corner, looking; 0-1
  • Sinker low, 1-1
  • Fastball inside, 1-2
  • Fastball high and inside, 2-2
  • Perhaps thinking he wouldn't possibly come back with another inside fastball, A-Rod watched as Bannister came back with an inside fastball for strike three.
Sequence 2, 3rd inning:
  • 80 mph fastball inside (missed location -- Buck was set up outside), 1-0
  • Inside fastball (again), 2-0
  • Challenging fastball, fouled back; 2-1
  • Breaking ball at 77 mph gets A-Rod to swing and miss, 2-2
  • 2-seamer on lower-outside corner of plate freezes A-Rod; it was apparent he thought the pitch would break out of the strike zone, kind of like the breaking ball that got him to swing and miss, but this pitch hugged the outer edges for strike three.
Sequence 3, 5th inning:
  • Bannister's pitches have all been down until now, but suddenly he changes things up and gets A-Rod to swing through a high fastball; 0-1
  • Breaking ball, swing and miss; 0-2
  • Comes inside again, catching A-Rod looking at a fastball on the lower edge of the plate.
So if you're keeping track at home, the strikeout pitches were located IN, OUT and IN. Even when he wasn't at his best -- he almost got knocked out in the 2nd inning, when he walked three (four total on the day) -- don't ever say Bannister doesn't know how to mix things up and keep hitters frustrated. (People say Bannister's not a strikeout pitcher, but we think he can be -- the sacrifice, of course, is his control. When he doesn't pitch to contact like today, he walks four but still limits his damage with six strikeouts. When he does pitch to contact, he walks none and goes seven scoreless, as in his first start. Which would you prefer? Does it matter if he still gets a win and is now 2-0?)

A-Rod's reaction:

"He made some great pitches. There’s not much you can do. I can’t really look back and say that there were pitches I could hit or crush. Perhaps I could have fouled them off. Today he was much better than I was. Give him a lot of credit."

Rodriguez's bad day wasn't done. Hillman brought in Ramon Ramirez -- who looks destined to become another one of Dayton Moore's executive successes -- to face A-Rod in the 7th, which almost didn't seem fair because Ramirez might have the second or third best "stuff" in the Royals' pen, behind Joakim Soria and Leo Nunez. A-Rod fouled off the first two pitches, laid off two power change-ups low and away, barely got a piece of pitch 5, fought off pitch 6, then flailed at a pitch tailing low and away. Your golden sombrero, sir -- and this from a guy who hit career HRs 499 and 500 against the Royals last year, and also season HR No. 50. [Picture via the Yankees blog Was Watching.]

Three more observations:
ONE
Joey Gathright stole three bases today, two of them on pitch-outs. He's now 6 for 6 on the year. This speaks for itself.
TWO
For the third straight game, Alex Gordon batted sixth, behind Billy Butler, instead of third, where he started the season.

The sample size on this is much too small to deduce importance, but from the 3-hole, Gordon was 3-for-18 with two home runs and five strikeouts, which suggests he might have been trying to do too much -- swinging for the fence, that sort of thing. Batting sixth, on the other hand, Gordon's had three straight two-hit games, with two doubles and just one strikeout.

When the spotlight's not on him, Gordon just seems more at ease at the plate and willing to let the game come to him. That's a phrase that doesn't have much concrete meaning -- let the game come to him -- but it's not a throwaway line. When one goes with the flow, he doesn't care whether he hits a home run, as long as he executes his swing -- for Gordon, it's a very pretty swing. That's the right way to approach batting, of course.

Now if we can only get the man a helmet that doesn't fall off every time he slides...

(Note: Credit Trey Hillman's flexibility -- oft-cited as one of his best strengths -- in dropping Gordon to No. 6 in the order, which is really where he should be at this stage in his career.)
THREE
The Royals improved to 5-2, which is, as the Yahoo game story notes, "the best start for Kansas City since opening 2003 with nine straight wins." Meanwhile -- how crazy is this -- the Tigers are 0-7 "for the first time since dropping its first nine games in 2003 en route to an AL record 119 losses." What's the theme here? Something about 2003?

POSTSCRIPT: A nice moment out of Boston: Bill Bucker returns. Amalie Benjamin's story here, video here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

At last, the return home

Sadly, I won't be able to watch it live, as I'll be attending the final home opener in Shea Stadium history. There really isn't all that much grumbling about Shea getting replaced by Citi Field, which looms beyond centerfield, but as with these things, a whiff of nostalgia sets in as people recount all the memories formed in this place. I will say this though: when the K turns 44, it's not going to be referred to -- offhandedly and alternatively -- as a "dump," a "monstrosity" and "the worst stadium in baseball."

I mean, look at this:


I suppose it's only fitting that the Royals' opponent in this afternoon's game is that other New York team. You know, that morally debased one. Maybe my wearing of a Royals hat will be interpreted as a stand against evil.

POSTSCRIPT: Really, you can't go without mentioning this: the Kansas Jayhawks are national champs. National champs! These are the text messages I've received since last night:

Congrats!

Congrats darling

Congrats. What a win!

What's up? A KU national championship? awesome

Biscuit-ball [I'm confused about this]

Congrats buddy

...and more...

It's as if I won something!

That shot by Mario Chalmers will be replayed many, many times (sorry to K-State and Mizzou fans). Considering the context -- the team was down nine with two minutes to go -- even KU haters have to appreciate the historic significance of that moment.


I'll write more about this on another blog after I've wrapped my mind around it. But just one more thing: Did everyone notice the sticker Roy Williams was wearing? (Hint: it was the same one --
is the same one, as it's still on my shirt -- I was wearing.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Roundtable: AL Central Preview, Part 2

This post is in honor of Cranston's bachelorhood, which left him at approximately 11:56 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on the Saturday of April the 5th, two-thousand and eight in the Year of our Lord, driven out by the lovely Theresa K.


Part 1 of this AL Central Preview roundtable here. Your participants:
Twins - Mike Kinsella
White Sox - Troy Appel (Rangers Fan)
Indians - Jeff Dees
Tigers - Cranston
Royals - Tom Atchity
Please slander a fellow fan of another AL Central team.

Twins: The Indians now play at Progressive Field. Cleveland, progressive? The only thing progressive about Cleveland is they are the first city to have a river that sets on fire, hey-o!

I want to slander Dees some more, but I just feel too bad about it. I guess I'll do the right thing, and since I'm in print, I'll LIBEL him. That's right Tao, this engineer done learned to talk good, y'heard?

After the blown playoff series last year and the inevitable departure of Carston Charles to the Evil Empire, I think Dees and other C-town fans are a little on edge about their beloved hometown. Throw in the fact that the LeBrons are going out in the first round this year combined with Brady Quinn about to take over as the Dawg Pound's head bitch, and Cleveland sports is at a crossroads. Do they take the next step to greatness, ending almost 50 years of heartache? Or do they again get squashed mercilessly, Craig Ehlo/Jose Mesa style? Don't despair just yet, Mrs. Sizemore, there's always Loyola Academy Girls' Lacrosse. Goo hustle, Scooter.

White Sox: Were there any Tigers fans before 2006? And at least our manager isn't a worn-out, chain-smoking munchkin.

Indians: No nickname for a ballpark fits their fan base better than The Cell. From father-son d-bags who roll onto the field beating down umpires to the 7-year-old child who told me two years to "go to Sears Tower and jump off because the Indians suck," The Cell is the future home for about 1/2 of this team's dirty fan base.

Tigers: Twins fans enjoy sloppy seconds. Look at how they welcome Torii Hunter... they don't care that he left them for a richer guy with a nicer house, they still cheered him like silly, smitten, loser lovers. Also, this is a city that saw Randy Moss, Kevin Garnett and David Ortiz waltz into history on other teams. Not much backbone among those 10,000 lakes.

Tom - you're a master at heckling, a skill honed during your playing days with the HorrorZontals, KU's legendary Ultimate Frisbee team. Say something particularly scathing about a fellow fan of the Twins, White Sox, Indians or Tigers.

Royals:
Twins: Following the Santana trade, your rotation is as shaky as your fine city's bridges.

Give an example of East Coast bias as it relates to one of the AL Central teams.

Twins: The East Coast bias where everyone's picking the Yankees and Red Sox this year, completely ignoring the addition of Jose Guillen to the Royals. Trey Hillman, bitch!

White Sox: East Coast bias? Sox need to worry about North Side bias.

Indians: I love how Sean Casey is basically working in obscurity for years while in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit. Yet, now that he is a backup on the Red Sox, his inability to travel to Japan is front page news on ESPN.com.

The Joba Rules! Every team with great young pitchers does this stuff. The Tigers did it with Zumaya. The Indians did it a little bit last year with Rafael Perez. But only with the Yankees guy do we get the RULES!

Tigers:
When the Tigers defeated the Yankees in 2006, the Mets finished off their sweep of the Dodgers on the same day. This, of course, limited the press coverage of the Tigers' win in New York -- bastards.

Royals: One Royals game is on ESPN. Against the Red Sox. Turns out there are only three teams in the MLB. The New York teams and the Red Sox.

Kinsella - as mentioned earlier, your city has seen the departure of David Ortiz, Randy Moss and Kevin Garnett to Boston. What should Boston give you in return?

Twins: The head of Larry Bird on a platter. Or let's make a trade, we get Theo Epstein, you get Kevin McHale.

Troy - what did Tom Gamboa, former Royals first base coach, do to deserve the beating he received at the hands of your fans?

White Sox: He ignored the genius of Tony Muser one too many times.

Dees - your team once had a player who escaped a shooting unharmed when the stray bullet lodged in his hooker boots, which he was wearing as part of a cheerleader's uniform. Fuck the hell?

Indians: The Indians definitely have a history of weird people, but these two take the cake for me:

Kyle Denney did escape from a random bullet thanks to the cheerleader boots he was wearing in 2004… I bet he wishes he could have worn those magic go-go boots on his head during a minor league start in 2005 when a line drive fractured his skull. What’s worse, a bullet in the leg or a line drive in the head? I’m picking bullet.

We’re not even bringing up Kaz Tadano’s “one-time incident” in a Japanese gay porn. Tadano asked for forgiveness after the film, saying, “All of us have made mistakes. Hopefully we can learn from them.” Yeah, I’ve made mistakes, yet no matter how far I’ve fallen, the hard times never led to starring in gay porn. Maybe I’m just not living enough. [Editor's note: As we all know, gay porn is the only gateway into straight porn, and Ozzie Guillen's heart.] [Ed.'s note again: These comments.]

Cranston - South China tiger or Royal Bengal tiger?

Tigers: I have far more affinity for the south of China, but given my druthers, I'd still take Eldrick Woods.

Tom - the Royals are probably the best organization in baseball, from the front office to the fan base. Elaborate.

Royals: No one represents the Midwest like the Royals. Look for them to win 162 games in a row.

How many games will your favorite team lose to the Royals this year?

Twins: 6

White Sox:
Every game that Hideo Nomo comes in and shuts down. But seriously, eight or nine times, the two teams are pretty evenly matched.

Indians:
The Royals always play the Tribe tough. Last year, it was 11-7 Indians. I’m looking for 12-6 Tribe this year.

Tigers: 6

How many games will the Twins, White Sox, Indians and Tigers lose to the Royals this year, respectively?

Royals: 14, 15, 11, 11.

When will your team contend again for the postseason?

Twins: 2008 -- surprise, motherfucker!

White Sox: When they stop overpaying for setup relievers and .260-hitting outfielders.

Indians:
The Tribe will contend again this year but will just miss out. Last year was our chance, and we missed it.

Tigers:
Every year from hence forth.

Royals: 2008, when the Royals move Teahen to 1st and Gathright to left. Gathright steals 150 bases and the Royals win going away.

What is your hard drug of choice, and what are you feelings on the War on Drugs?

Twins:
Alcohol, easily. Mission Accomplished.

White Sox: I pass on grass. Just say no. Two mantras that I live by. [Ed.'s note: Slim blond: "Will you have hot steamy sex with me and my girlfriend?" White Sox: "There are two mantras that I live by..."]

Indians:
While not into the actual drugs, my drug used to be gambling… oh man, what a rush. But after an awful waste of cash last week in Vegas, I’m going cold turkey. I’ll probably just switch to meth now. It seems like the cool thing to do.

The War on Drugs, why? Just make things legal and then tax the shit out of them. We’re already doing that with cigarettes, why couldn’t we do it with marijuana at least? With the way our economy is right now, it couldn’t hurt. [Ed.'s note: Nope, too reasonable.]

Tigers: My hard drug of choice is Julio Franco. The War on Drugs is fine with me -- after all, what else are the veterans going to do when they get back from Iraq than try to destroy every illegal substance they can to forget the carnage.

Royals: I like LSD because I trust my government to really cook up some good shit. In other news, I am all for a mission that involves pouring a bunch of money into something for no return.

And finally, please give us a glimpse of a day in your life -- or speculate what life would be like -- if Al Gore had not invented the Internet.

Twins:
ManBearPig would run wild. [Ed's note: This isn't quite what K is referring to, but it's damn brilliant in the sort of twisted, shocking, horrifying, this-is-what-we-expect-from-our-nation's-youth way.]

White Sox:
I'd actually have social skills and be able to have face-to-face conversations with people. I'd also be a lot more tan because I would actually leave my house once in a while.

Indians:
As a teacher, you can probably guess how my usual school day routine is. But right now it’s spring break, so I think you should get a glimpse of the good life:

10 AM-Wake up
10-11 AM: The Price is Right. God, do I miss Bob Barker? I do get to watch Cleveland’s finest, Drew Carey, host.
11-11:30 AM: Dana Jacobsen is telling Tiger Woods to choose his words better on the golf course. Wow, the irony is slapping me in the face.
11:30-1:00 PM: Tired again, nap.
1:00-2:00 PM: Scrubs time, I’ve been told that I teach like Dr. Cox. Probably the nicest thing that’s ever been said to me.
2:00-4:00 PM: The O.C. on SoapNet. It was Season 3 episodes, so not the best. Although I did get to see Jonny fall off the cliff and die today, kind of a nice metaphor for the O.C. during Season 3.
4:00-5:30 PM: Watched Just Friends for the 8th time on HBO this week. Ryan Reynolds is not a good actor, but his movies suck me in.
5:30-10:00 PM: Some sports program, terribly corny sitcom or Hannah Montana
Rest of evening: a combination of Stephen Colbert, Oprah reruns and Game Show Network. I love Family Feud more than any man should.

America’s youth are in very capable hands, if I must say so.

Tigers: I generally spend the day in my mother's basement -- I call her mom. I eat a lot of cereal, and I think Tool is awesome. I used to be a barista until I was no longer able to get up for the shop's daily coffee rush hour from 8-9. I have 14 fantasy baseball leagues and I do separate projections for each. Also, Baseball Prospectus has really fallen off from what it was before -- so many of those dudes have left. Finally, I also like Hot Pockets.

Royals: I would be about 50 pounds lighter, and I would probably be in the military. Well, not really in the military.

Actually, one more. What would you like your last words to be? In your life, I mean.

Twins: I love you, all of my 200 children.

Or, in the words of Steve Goodman:
Give me a doubleheader funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the "National Anthem"...
[Ed's note: Kinsella goes on to quote 19 more lines from this song, which we won't reprint here. Read it for yourself if you'd like.]
White Sox: N/A. I am immortal.

Indians: "Thank God, the (fill in any Cleveland professional team) finally won it all." Or some really disparaging, hurtful comment to my children that would haunt them for years.

Tigers:
Something in Gaelic -- perhaps, "Erin go Bragh."

Royals: "That wasn't so bad."

Thanks for participating, guys. Based on your answers, the likely order of finish in the division probably will be:

Indians
Tigers
Royals
White Sox
Twins
POSTSCRIPT: The third best thing about the wedding reception -- behind the lethal open bar that opened at 1 p.m. (corollary to lethal open bar: open dancing) and the old friends in town -- was the baseball-themed guest tables. I got the Royals table (or course) and sat with an Indians fan, at least one Cubs fan, a Rockies fan and at least one non-baseball fan. The mini-albums passed out to all of us at this table featured pictures of the likes of Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen and Willie Wilson (that was mine). All I have to say is: I can't wait for the 2008 powder blues. Hopefully they're nearly as sweet as the 1979 version.

Friday, April 4, 2008

First loss of season in hard-fought game

We knew it was going to happen sometime. It would've been nice to open a second series with a win, but the Twins proved better on this night. A few thoughts on the game:

  • Foiled by the suicide squeeze. What can you do but shake your head?

  • That last pitch that got Mark Teahen was not a strike. It was high and outside, and if you ask me, it wasn't really very close. Just a terrible call.

  • My friend K sent me a text message just now: "bull shit call - worst i have seen in awhile." I should mention here that while we joke about him being a White Sox guy because he's from Wheaton (and bleeds Cubbie blue), K actually claims the Royals as his second favorite team. True story. Oh yeah, he lives in Minneapolis.

    We'll take all the supporters we can get. My officemate (hereafter known as Astros Fan, or AF) you know about -- I converted him the other day. Joe Capron of MVN-White Sox came over to our side of the blogosphere yesterday to send his congratulations. And my roommate Cranston (we'll come back to him later in this post) has openly rooted for the Royals, and not just because I do.

    My point: this team is fun. They're young and exciting and play the game the right way. If you're a Kansas Citian and you can't get behind them, something's wrong with you.

  • How incredible has the bullpen been? Jimmy Gobble -- Mr. Cactoe himself -- struck out all three batters he faced tonight. A couple commenters to Joe Posnanski's Trey Hillman feature (recommended read) expressed skepticism before the season ("Has anyone seen our bullpen lately? Yikes!! He better keep teaching that team defense, because they'll get all the chances they can handle in the 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th"), but so far, after four games, the 'pen has been nothing short of dominant. Numbers: 10.2 innings, one run, five hits, one walk, 16 strikeouts. All this without appearances by the two big off-season acquisitions, Ron Mahay and Yasuhiko Yabuta.

    Just a thought: might Hillman be trying something outside-the-box here, rotating his relievers on a two/three-game ON, two/three-day OFF schedule? There will be small overlaps -- Leo Nunez pitched in games 2 and 3 but not 4, while Ramon Ramirez pitched in games 3 and 4 -- but I think we may be seeing a pattern here as far as when Hillman will use which relievers. If this theory holds, tomorrow Gobble, Mahay and Yabuta should be available, but not Ramirez and probably not Nunez (saving him for games 6, 7 and 8).

  • Believe the hype on Billy Butler.

I won't be posting tomorrow because I'll be performing duties as a groomsman in Cranston's wedding. If anyone has any advice, please send my way -- I haven't attended a wedding since 5th grade, when my 4th grade teacher (nee Ms. Firling) tied the knot. But Cranston: from all of us at IDWT, we'd like to wish you all the happiness and marital bliss due to a stand-up guy like yourself. And remember, if ever the situation arises that you're forced to choose between the wife and baseball -- say, your beloved Red Sox -- choose the lady. For the first couple of months, at least.

Structure of behavior and attitude - Greinke and Hillman

The Royals are battling it out in Minnesota -- down 4-3 in the 7th -- and for some reason I think now's a good time to link to this op-ed from the New York Times.

In "Pitching with a Purpose," David Brooks summarizes a baseball book by H.A. Dorfman called The Mental ABC's of Pitching, barely bothering to relate it to politics or everyday life (the column ran the morning following Opening Day). I found this passage rather insightful:

In the book’s only lyrical passage, he writes: “Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear — and doubt.”

His assumption seems to be that you can’t just urge someone to be disciplined; you have to build a structure of behavior and attitude. Behavior shapes thought. If a player disciplines his behavior, then he will also discipline his mind.


Discipline, behavior and mind are interconnected. It's apparent how this relates to Zack Greinke, of course, who pitched a fine game yesterday, giving up just one run in seven innings. I find no need to belabor the point that he's struggled with depression and self-confidence, which seem to be key traits to success for a Major League pitcher. What I will say, however, is that Greinke's had two years now to reestablish himself after taking a season off, and maybe, with his recent success, it's okay to believe he'll consistently put the task at the center.

As Brooks writes:

By putting the task at the center, Dorfman illuminates the way the body and the mind communicate with each other. Once there were intellectuals who thought the mind existed above the body, but that’s been blown away by evidence. In fact, it’s easiest to change the mind by changing behavior, and that’s probably as true in the office as on the mound.

And by putting the task at the center, Dorfman helps the pitcher quiet the self. He pushes the pitcher’s thoughts away from his own qualities — his expectations, his nerve, his ego — and helps the pitcher lose himself in the job.

And of course, Trey Hillman seems to have built a "structure of behavior and attitude" (Rany and Joe Posnanski elaborate). Once that foundation has been established, we can expect the various parts -- the players -- to perfect a repeatable routine and keep focus on every pitch and every play. That's how baseball games are won.

POSTSCRIPT: I can't find any irony in this post praising Dusty Baker over at Wrigleyville23...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

3-0

Royals 4, Tigers 1. Alone in first place. That is all.



UPDATE: The Nationals and Brewers just lost, making the Royals are the last undefeated team in baseball.

Brian Bannister on Baseball Tonight, and what's that buzz?

That low, unfamiliar, cicada-mating-like murmur is our part of the blogosphere telling each other that the entirety of the baseball season may be long, but the hours and days remain unchanged in length, and the time spent in first place, from now until the next game, remains unchanged and feels unchanged, as long in duration as the time it takes for about two dozen blogs to exclaim, as if in unison, Wow.

Wow was the first word used by Bruce of KC's Royal Fan Zone in his recent post, which summarized yesterday's game.

Lee Warren has been summarizing at Royals Reflections since 2004, but he'd never encountered a 2-0 start until now (in fact, the Royals have had only two 2-0 starts in 28 years; 2003, of course, was the last time, when they didn't lose until game No. 10).

Blimey, the sentiment is everywhere, even as people like Royally Speaking parse it into list-form logic and sense.

It's what Rany's thinking, smack in the middle of his 23-reasons series (down to No. 2... what's No. 1 going to be? (we know the answer, of course, but the suspense is fun, too)).

Minda, too, who must be breathless, and Chris Rasmussen from Bugs and Cranks, who we recently learned grew up a Royals fan.

Some, like Royals Authority, are just speechless -- figuratively speaking.

Do you believe like Royals on Radio Etc. believes? Even if not, doesn't it feel good to know the Royals' projected record, as Breaking 100 points out, remains 162-0?

And lest we forget, KC Royalty reminds us three times: Brian Bannister.

After a performance like his -- seven innings, two hits, four strikeouts and no walks (he threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 22 batters he faced) -- it's only fitting that he'd be interviewed on Baseball Tonight. The questions were asked by Karl Ravech, who strikes us as exactly the type who, like the rest of us, would have read all those articles:

KR: Alright Banny, you have to out-think guys to get them out, is that the secret to success?

BB: Yeah, y’know, I pitch like a lefty but I’m a righty, so I’m kind of a rarity these days.

KR: So you think backwards. So what does that do to a hitter?

BB: Just try to mix them up, play a little chess game with them. They know I don’t have a great fastball, so they’re kind of looking for something more. And I try to keep mixing it up the whole game.

KR: Royals off to a 2-0 start. Good for the manager Trey Hillman, good for the team. What is the mood in the clubhouse?

BB: It’s great. We’ve been confident all spring, we played well in spring training. We’ve got a good core group of young guys and the older guys have a lot of experience. There’s just great chemistry, we all want to play for each other.

KR: All right, let me know when you meet your match, mentally, as a hitter.

BB: Uh… [laughs] there’s a couple guys out there that confuse the heck out of me.

It's good that Bannister laughed off the last question, because who knows when other pitchers will begin to envy his "smart guy" label. Or as Steve Phillips put it: "He's a smart guy, we talked about that... he hits his spots, he executes exactly the sequence of pitches he wanted, very cerebral pitcher." And never shy about taking a jab at his old employer, Phillips added, "Big loss for the Mets."

Just before moving on, Ravech threw in his two cents: "Always one of those famous ones [lines?], regardless of whether it’s for the Mets or any other team, 'Boy, if only we had a guy like Bannister.' But of course, you had a guy who was named Bannister."

We have him now, and we're not giving him back.

Look, nothing lasts forever, of course. Losses come in baseball, as in life, just as hour hands move. But until we're faced with that reality, anything is possible. Even the bending of time to look into a future flecked with the bright, blinding gleams of victory and never-ending surprise.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Another day game, another day among kings

When the Royals win the AL Central and people ask if I really saw it coming, I'm going to show them this framed box score:

Kansas City

IP H R ER BB K HR Season ERA
B. Bannister (W, 1-0) 7.0 2 0 0 0 4 0 0.00
L. Nunez 1.0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0.00
J. Soria 1.0 1 0 0 0 3 0 0.00

Detroit

IP H R ER BB K HR Season ERA
K. Rogers (L, 0-1) 6.0 5 2 2 1 4 0 3.00
Z. Miner 2.0 3 2 2 1 3 0 9.00
Y. Bazardo 1.0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0.00


An offseason of Brian Bannister chatter followed by a poor spring, and what does he do in his first outing? Just about what he'd have you believe we should expect: seven innings, two hits, four strikeouts and no walks. The closest he came to allowing a base on balls was when he went ahead 3-0 on Gary Sheffield, who walked four times on Monday. Bannister dug in, threw a strike down the middle for strike one because he knew Sheffield doesn't swing on 3-0 counts, then went up-and-in with a fastball that Sheffield couldn't lay off (check-swing foul tip, strike two). With a much more favorable count, Bannister came back with a two-seamer to induce a groundout to end the 4th.

And who says an 89 mph fastball isn't fast? Ask Magglio Ordonez, who swung right through a fastball in the 7th. It was the last batter Bannister would face, and the 12th consecutive he set down.

Leo Nunez and Joakim Soria came in to complete the shutout. Soria, it should be noted, was particularly filthy while striking out the side, combining 92-mph fastballs with slow, loopy curves that buckled knees. He did allow one hit though, to Edgar Renteria -- who accounted for all three of the Tigers' hits for the day.

The mighty, vaunted Detroit offense, reduced to this: three hits by its lead-off man. If you take him out of the picture, here's the Tigers' box score:

AB R H RBI BB K LOB Season Avg










P. Polanco 2b 4 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000
G. Sheffield dh 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000
M. Ordonez rf 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 .250
M. Cabrera 3b 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 .125
C. Guillen 1b 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 .429
I. Rodriguez c 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 .125
J. Jones lf 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000
B. Inge cf 3 0 0 0 0 2 0 .167


It might be too early -- not to mention dangerous -- to look ahead, but with Zack Greinke on the mound tomorrow against a beatable Jeremy Bonderman, the Royals could start 3-0. Imagine that: a sweep to begin the season against the prohibitive AL Central favorites. That'd catch some attention, don't you think?

POSTSCRIPT: My unabashed enthusiasm for this team and my unadulterated joy over this recent win has converted at least one of my officemates, nee an Astros follower, into a Royals fan. "You'll be following the Royals this year, right?" I asked. His reply: "Oh yeah."

A pole, Mark?

This article from the KC Star, printed "in honor of the Kansas City Royals' home opener," is too good to save for Tuesday's home opener. Billy Butler reveals some of his teammates' interesting pregame rituals:

1. Right-fielder Mark Teahen stretches himself over a pole.

2. David DeJesus, center field, snarfs down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “He thinks it gets him hits,” Butler said.

3. Butler mainlines “some kind of caffeine or coffee.”

4. Some of the guys huddle over a card game. “It just helps them relax,” he said.

5. They do reconnaissance and watch opponents’ game footage. “The hitters watch the starting pitcher,” Butler said, “and the pitcher will watch game tape of the team’s hitters.”


Is it just me, or does the use of quotation marks for "some kind of caffeine or coffee" immediately after the verb "mainlines" make this act sound sinister? I mean, yes, of course, mainline doesn't have to mean what most people think the word means, but... you know what I'm talking about, right? I'm pretty sure "mainline" commonly refers to the injection of heroine and other hard drugs directly into the veins. Here, let me check... pulling up the dictionary now... typetypetype... yup, there it is, first definition, to inject a narcotic.

Actually, everything on this list is pretty banal. What team doesn't play cards in the clubhouse? It is interesting, though, that while a lot of players try to relax over cards, Butler pounds the caffeine. Whatever works.

POSTSCRIPT: The long wait is over. Brian Bannister, everyone's favorite pitcher, takes the mound today in just a little over an hour. We'll be watching.