Monday, April 30, 2007

The end of a cruel, cruel month

I'm going to forgo the poetic flair of T.S. Eliot and say it straight up: April is a bitch. Forget mixing memories and desire, per "The Waste Land": what memories? Just that one surprise of a season in 2003, when the winning happened so fast no one quite knew what to make of it. What else is there?

Here, including this year, is how the Royals have done in the past seven Aprils, and their final records:

2007: 8-18 (.308) ... ?
2006: 5-17 (.227) ... 62-100 (.383)
2005: 6-18 (.250) ... 56-106 (.346)
2004: 7-14 (.333) ... 58-104 (.358)
2003: 16-7 (.696) ... 83-79 (.512)
2002: 8-16 (.333) ... 62-100 (.383)
2001: 10-15 (.400) ... 65-97 (.401)

And probing a little further...

2000: 12-13 (.480) ... 77-85 (.475)
1999: 9-11 (.450) ... 64-97 (.398)
1998: 12-15 (.444) ... 72-89 (.447)
1997: 11-12 (.478) ... 67-94 (.416)
1996: 9-18 (.333) ... 75-86 (.466)
1995: 2-2 (.500) ... 70-74 (.486)
1994: 9-11 (.450) ... 64-51 (.557)
1993: 9-14 (.391) ... 84-78 (.519)
1992: 3-17 (.150) ... 72-90 (.444)
1991: 8-11 (.421) ... 82-80 (.506)
1990: 6-12 (.333) ... 75-86 (.466)
1989: 16-8 (.667) ... 92-70 (.568)

Since 1989, the Royals have finished above .500 in April just once. In this article by Alan Eskew, Mark Teahen is quoted as saying: "I said in the spring it was important for us to get off to a good start. We haven't really done that, but at the same time there's a whole lot of season left. We haven't gotten the wins, but you can see as a whole the organization and this team is a lot better than what we've been putting on the field the last couple of years." I'll let you ponder that statement, knowing the Royals, in the last two years, have lost 100 games both times and started their seasons by winning 25 percent and 23 percent of their games.

Now inhale for a second. Hold that breathe, let it mix with all your cynicism and frustration and disappointment. Exhale.

The negative vibes gone?

Good. Because Teahen speaks the truth. And though spring is traditionally the time for optimism, it's apparent the Royals prefer deferring till the leaves turn greener. We're waiting for the summer rain to surprise us, and here are five reasons -- one for each month left to play -- they may yet:

1. Pitching help is on the way, this for a team that has more than held their own in the starting pitching front (tonight's 6-inning, 3-run performance for Odalis Perez marked his second straight quality start). In the first six innings of games, Kansas City's staff has posted a 3.90 ERA, which is fourth best in the league. Unfortunately, in innings 7+, the team's ERA jumps to 5.40, which is third worst. (And if you want a real disheartening aside: the Royals are batting .194 in the late innings, which is unfathomably bad.)

If this was the same old, same old non-Dayton Moore team, we'd all be lamenting the hopelessness of this setup, where the team seems cursed to play low-scoring, tight games for six or seven innings, then allow two or three runs and watch as everyone shuts down. But alas, this isn't your same old non-Dayton Moore team. Consider:
  • Octavio Dotel, the team's should-be closer, threw off the mound today and will be making his first minor league appearance in less than two weeks.
  • Lefty specialist John Bale, who will be Lefty No. 3 in the Royals' pen, threw an inning of scoreless ball in Double-A Wichita and felt great doing it.
  • Could-be starters Luke Hudson and Scott Elarton, both coming off injuries, are both at Triple-A Omaha and might get called up before this next month runs its course. This would solidify the rotation -- Gil Meche (2.18 ERA), Perez (possibly, though he can be replaced by Brian Bannister, especially if Bannister pitches like he did Sunday in Seattle), Zack Greinke (3.51 ERA), Jorge De La Rosa (3.82 ERA) and Hudson -- while adding some live arms to a lethargic pen that's been carried by Jimmy Gobble and Joakim Soria.
  • With the addition of Bale and Dotel, Soria can move into his role as the primary set-up man and David Riske, we think, will find a comfort zone working the 7th. We haven't even mentioned the value of Brandon Duckworth, a possible starter whose contributions from the bullpen should keep him there for the foreseeable future. And let me not neglect to mention that veteran Todd Wellemeyer looked sharp and effective tonight against Anaheim in his three innings of work: zeros all across the board except his one strikeout. That 7.36 ERA will come down. The team's ERA will lower, too.
2. Trust us on this: Alex Gordon will not end the year batting .169, Ryan Shealy will not finish at .096, Emil Brown will do better than .194 and -- even though cynics among you will disagree -- Tony Pena Jr. will finish above .200. The bats will come alive, and when they do, the Royals will go on a three-game winning streak that stretches to four and then six and then, possibly, eight, and everyone will suddenly be wondering aloud, "Who saw this coming?"

3. Speaking of Gordon (featured in this week's issue (5/7) of ESPN The Magazine)... remember, Ryne Sandberg started 0-for-20 before getting his first hit; then he came up empty in his next 11 at-bats; George Brett began 2-for-25 and 5-for-40 in 1973 and hovered around the Mendoza line through the All-Star break; for a more recent example, there's a kid down in Baltimore by the name of Nick Markakis -- a real natural of a talent-- who batted .182 last April as a 22-year-old rookie and only rose to .209 by May 28. What'd he do the rest of the way? Hit .338 in June, .403 in July and .354 in August, with 10 home runs that month. So it's not too much to expect Gordon to live up to everyone's expectations (though you'll notice I've stopped referring him to Mr. God or His Holiness the Savior).

4. Here, you might expect me to say something about the Royals' Pythagorean record being much better than their actual record, that they're losing heartbreaking close ones, etc. etc. I can't do that though, because reality is, the Royals aren't supposed to be much better than their record indicates (Breaking 100 can take it away from here).

But here's what is true: this team is young -- real young and getting younger, after some team realizes Reggie Sanders still has some value and trades for him -- which means it's hungry. It's eager. And it's just about ready to make its move.

5. Every year since 2000, when the Royals have been sub-.500 in April, they've played the rest of the season at a better clip. That means KC will be no worse than 42-94 the rest of the way, which would be good for 50-112. Of course, this isn't the NBA, and the day my favorite team starts shooting for 50-win seasons is the day I quit baseball.

So have heart, Royals fans. Shanti, shanti, shanti, the rewards will come.

UPDATE, 5/1: This from ESPN's daily Elias Says feature: "Kansas City lost to the Angels 3-1 dropping its record to 8-18. It's the third straight season in which the Royals have ended April at least 10 games under .500 (they were 6-18 in 2005 and 5-17 in 2006). No other team in major league history entered May 10 or more games below .500 in even two straight seasons."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Gil Meche Cy Young Watch continues

From the great land of the evergreens, the Gil Meche Cy Young Watch rolls on:
  • Fifth quality start in six appearances. [KC Star]
  • Three earned runs in his last 27 innings.
  • Money earned in the Meche Meter last night: $400,000 (out of $500,000).
  • Money earned for the season: $2.1 million (out of $11 million).
  • Season ERA: 2.18, second best in league behind Dan Haren.
  • 29 strikeouts, 8th best in league.
  • And, for all the criticism the Royals got for Meche's contract, at least they didn't pay $8.325 million for Jeff Weaver. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Opponents are batting .283 off Meche, which is high but only means he's been gritty. (His performance yesterday, according to manager Buddy Bell in the above-linked PI article, was "probably his best grittiness all year." Can't disagree with the spirit of that.) In his homecoming, he was helped by a six-run first inning. Jered Weaver's big brother got through the Kansas City lineup exactly once, and here's what transpired:
  1. David DeJesus single to left-center.
  2. Mark Grudzielanek single to left.
  3. Mark Teahen single to left, 1-0.
  4. Mike Sweeney single to left.
  5. Ross Gload double to right, 3-0.
  6. Emil Brown ground-out to short, 4-0.
  7. Alex Gordon single to left.
  8. John Buck walk.
  9. Tony Pena Jr. (who made yet another great defensive play... more on this in a future post) single to right, 6-0.
Six runs and a sigh of relief. Brandon Duckworth came in from the bullpen and picked up his first career save, pitching three innings of stress-free ball.

Now let's go cut down some trees!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Can't score, bullpen problems, Part... sept? huit?

Last year, Baseball Prospectus wrote of Rafael Soriano: "He's one of the few players the M's consider close to untouchable, with both the statistical track record and the stuff to back up his rep." Not so untouchable, apparently, if you can get Horacio Ramirez for him straight up.

And this same HoRam (as I've seen him referred), a guy who BP says would be "better off as a LOOGY" (lefty one-out guy) and has the stats to prove it (2005 under Leo Mazzone: 4.63 ERA, 31 HR allowed, only 80 strikeouts in 202.3 innings), kept the Royals to one run on seven hits in 6.1 innings. That run, by the way, snapped KC's 21-inning scoring drought. I'm a bit saddened by our team's offense -- second fewest runs scored in the league -- but not as much as by this pitching line:

Jorge De La Rosa: 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3.82 season ERA

Let me explain. De La Rosa, who may be having a breakthrough season, worked six innings of two-run ball, then got sent out for the 7th because there's no way a tired De La Rosa is worse than any 7th-inning Royals reliever. Problem is, he gave up a homer, then "allowed" Jose Lopez to reach on an "infield hit" (should've been a two-base error charged to Alex Gordon). Then he was told to intentionally walk Ichiro.

This was unnecessary punishment, especially considering the state of the Royals' bullpen. And sure enough, Ryan Braun is summoned and promptly throws a wild pitch and gives up a two-run single. Bad for Braun's IRP, unfair to De La Rosa's ERA.

(According to the fine Seattle blog U.S.S. Mariner, Dan Duquette once called De La Rosa "the Mexican John Rocker." It's funny because I can swear I heard the Mariners' color guy compare Ramirez to Rocker before yesterday's game. And I quoted Rocker two posts ago. Coincidence?)

In the 8th, the Mariners handed the ball to some guy filling Soriano's role, who gave up a three-run homer to mighty Ross Gload. But down 1 in the bottom half of the inning, Bell had to dip into his bullpen again, which I imagine is like sticking your hand in a cauldron of burning sulfur. Here's the first sentence in Bob Dutton's KC Star gamer.

It’s way too easy, as opposing hitters keep proving, to take swings at the punching bag the Royals’ bullpen has become.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Zack Greinke also wants to be a Sweeney-like hero

Zack Greinke just wanted to make a sick kid happy, too. Courtesy of tman's tip in the previous post's comment section:

So, just so we're clear: Greinke hit Torii Hunter in the face with a pitch yesterday -- then almost got charged on the mound -- NOT because of the four bottles of Dom Perignon Hunter sent the Royals last fall, which, you may have heard, caused somewhat of a stir. Completely unrelated. Greinke was just trying to be more like Mike.

Sweeney, that is, who's only the nicest guy in the world.

You know, I say that tongue-in-cheek, but there's some truth behind it. And after his epic home run Wednesday, I can only hope people unfamiliar with Sweeney now appreciate, just a little, why we in Kansas City will always embrace him (it's not just because he hit .333/.407/.523 with 29 HR and 144 RBI in 2000). I think I speak for a number of Kansas Citians when I say I hope he stays healthy, shows what he can do and then, for his sake, gets traded onto a winning team that makes a deep October run.

Matt, you've picked a great favorite player. And we're pulling for you. (I wonder if Rick Reilly will be on this story... it sounds like something he'd seize, especially as it presents him the chance to kick yet another team that's down on its luck.)

POSTSCRIPT: Chest-bump back to FanHouse and thanks to Deadspin.

Mike Sweeney hits home run for sick boy

Matt Herndon is an 11-year-old kid from Overland Park, Kansas, who was in the hospital on Wednesday night with a brain aneurysm when he got a call from his favorite baseball player, Mike Sweeney. As Sweeney is his favorite player and the time seemed right, Matt asked Mike to hit him a home run in that night's game. Then Sweeney, being the nice guy he is, went out and did just that!

You can see the extra bounce in Sweeney's step as he trots around the bases after his 1st inning home run, a two-run shot off Sidney Ponson. "I never ran so fast around the bases after hitting a homer," he says. Then, as Pat Borzi of reports:

Thursday morning, Sweeney almost teared up when describing the postgame phone message he got from Herndon. The boy had called many of his friends in Overland Park to tell them of Sweeney's call.

"He said they couldn't get the game at the hospital, but when I homered, all his friends from Overland Park started calling," Sweeney said. "He said, `You did it, Mike!'

"David said that Matt told him this was the greatest day of his life. That boy's got some courage. He's a hero now."

I thought this stuff was reserved for books and tall tales of American icons. Well, Sweeney is kind of a mythic figure in Kansas City...

(Take that, Onion.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Makes me want to smash watermelons

It's foreseeable that losses can be harder than the one KC suffered today in Minnesota, but I don't believe it. (To the baseball gods: this is NOT a challenge.) It's not that the Royals thoroughly outplayed their opponent or the opponent tried giving the game away, but within three hours and forty-two minutes, it's just that the repetition of failure, the selfsameness of botched and aborted rallies, the predictability of the strikeout and the stranded runner, the heartless effrontery of it all... is utterly infuriating. Even when things appear to go right, like when Reggie Sanders knocks a potential double-play ball out of Alexi Casilla's glove and advances to third, you just knew someone was gonna screw something up. I hate that feeling. In this case, the screw-up was Sanders tagging up and trying to score on a pop-up to Jason Bartlett. That's Jason Bartlett, shortstop. As you can guess, Sanders was out by eight or so feet. (On a related note, if there's a less masculine baseball name in North America than "Alexi Casilla," please present it.)

And who can forget that delightful top of the 10th when, with Joe Nathan on the mound and two out, Royals third base coach Brian Poldberg -- who kind of looks like Gallagher -- decided to hold Ross Gload on Alex Gordon's single to right. Gload, in case you need me to mention it, WAS IN SCORING POSITION WITH TWO OUTS. How does he not score on a single to right? That wasn't even hit very hard?! HOW DOES BRIAN POLDBERG HOLD HIM AT THIRD? These are the times I scream, WHY? WHY? WHY?!?!?! I pause to wonder, Is EVERY fate conspiring against Gordon now? The kid could have had the game-winning RBI!

All told for the offense: 14 stranded runners, 13 strikeouts (to 10 walks... we have a patient team, at least), runners who were in scoring position in the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 10th, and -- this you already know -- 0 runs. A miserable 1-0 loss. I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if either Bartlett or Sanders had rushed the mound after their HBPs. I mean, I wouldn't have wanted to see Zack Greinke -- a fine seven-inning performance, if not altogether good for the nerves -- fend against any onrushing man, but I mean, how hard can it be fighting a team that has a guy named Alexi Casilla?

POSTSCRIPT: This comes from Royal Reflections: Our very own Ross Gload, it seems, has been profiled in The New York Times. Way to go, man. I guess one of the perks of growing up in New York -- to countervail, supposedly, the kid with purple hair and queer with AIDS and some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time and the 20-year-old mom with four kids (NOT my words... I live in New York, and while some of these towners are admittedly a bit off kilter, this is a GREAT city, best in the world) -- is the gaggle of mediafolk who write stories about you 13 years after you've by all accounts ceased to be relevant to any of them. As Royal Reflections reported already, Gload was quoted as saying, "They're going to have to go into my locker and pry the uniform out of there to make me go home." That's nice, that's really nice.

Shouting to make us feel better

The bullpen doesn't blow it! Odalis Perez wins again! David DeJesus picks up three hits and his fourth home run! Nice guy Mike Sweeney hits his second! Everything is right in this world and we are all angels!

POSTSCRIPT: We get on the Cubs too much, we know, but at least their fans have this: plenty of good Cubs blogs. Not as many as Red Sox blogs, but enough, anyway. Wrigleyville23 is such an example. Just one question, though: how do you do it? Seriously, how?

POSTSCRIPT 2: If you haven't already, check out Ben McGrath's profile on Manny Ramirez in
The New Yorker. Here's an excerpt:

Ramirez’s dreads were bundled up in a translucent red hairnet, like a Rastafarian kippah, through which I could see that he is starting to go gray...

Oh wait, that's the wrong excerpt. Here we go:

When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, “As a crazy motherfucker.” Then he pointed at my notebook and said, “You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker.’ That guy, he’s in his own world, on his own planet. Totally different human being than everyone else.”

Just imagine: these two were on the same team as Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling, Derek "Would Screw Anything, Don't Even Have to be Moving" Lowe and Caveman Jesus. It's, like, someone should write a book about this or something.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A joke getting old

There are some who believe the Aristocrats joke -- the secret handshake among comedians -- can be told a hundred times and elicit a laugh every time. Not the exact same version, of course, as that would destroy the joke's premise. Still, I'm not sure I agree. It's not the vulgarity that bothers me so much as the snootiness of those who tell the joke. Take the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, in which a bunch of comedians extol the post-9/11 telling by Gilbert Gottfried. Basically, they say his version that night -- which revealed you can always be dirty in comedy but not grossly insensitive -- was the funniest joke they've ever heard. Personally, I think this is better, but maybe it's a context thing. No matter.

The first site linked above, if you haven't already realized, is a collection of crude and grody Aristocrat jokes. Very dirty. And by the dozenth version, it gets kind of old.

Kind of like the Kansas City Royals bullpen blowing another lead: 4.2 IP, 5 R, 4 ER. No need to name names. It's hard to believe, but the Royals fought back hard in the seventh and actually seized the lead, only to see it disappear on a Joe Crede's solo home run to lead off the next inning. I don't want to talk about the 9th, except to say if you have to go down, I suppose there's consolation in going down with the best you've got.

Oh well, at least I haven't started frothing at the mouth.

UPDATE: Correction appended. Thanks K.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Buck HR, Meche quality start not enough in 7-4 loss

John Buck now has four home runs on the season and two in the last week. He's only played 11 games, but he's now batting .389 with a 1.337 OPS, which isn't quite A-Rod or Reyes level but still pretty darn high. At this pace, I don't expect we'll see Jason LaRue very much for the next couple of weeks, especially since he was brought in basically to motivate Buck to seize the job as the everyday catcher. This hot start, I should think, has earned him at least a week's stretch of uninterrupted playing time.

I've always liked Buck's upside, and not just because he was involved in the deal that sent away Carlos Beltran. The guy had a sterling fall last year, batting .321/.341/.568 from the beginning of September, and at 26, he's one of the youngest catchers in the league. Just remember that. And if you need any more reasons, check out Royals Retrospective, a very cool and well-kept blog (though I'm not a big fan of the Windows 3.1-esque layout and design), which has Buck as No. 91 on the "100 Greatest Royals of All-Time" list.

While Buck's two-run home run in the 5th gave KC a 2-0 lead, Gil Meche, who pitched a solid if not dominant game, couldn't hold it, giving up an equalizer to Paul Konerko in the 6th. The Royals went up again in the bottom of the 6th, only to give up the lead again the next half inning. The ups and downs of baseball sometimes upsets my diaphragm (thoracic, just so there's no confusion), like the Mamba at Worlds of Fun. Then Buddy Bell went to the bullpen and the wheels fell off. Four pitchers appeared in the 8th -- including previously ballyhooed lefty Neal Musser -- but only two picked up outs. And those two were charged with three of the White Sox' four runs that inning.

Apparently the Royals' pen has been struggling. This is what I hear through the grapevine, anyway, like here, here, here and here... uh, here too... and I guess this counts... and, oh, here. (Just so you know why I'm not going to comment on this any further.)

POSTSCRIPT: I'm convinced no matter what happens to the Royals this year, Cubs fans still have it worse. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have an over/under bet with a friend on how many games the Royals and Cubs will win this year. I took the over on both the Royals (79) and Cubs (83).) Just read this article from the Tribune: blown four-run lead to the division leaders, post-game shouting match, Piniella chewing out his reliever on the mound, 3-8 home record... UNCLE! Christ, mercy, mercy, mercy. To top it all off, there's this quote from Mark DeRosa: "Like Lou said, everyone just needs to relax and start having fun again." Lou said that? That kind of breaks the irony scale, doesn't it?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Royals in verse, thanks to De La Rosa

First, De La Rosa just looks and sounds poetic. Maybe it's the concise trochees, the evocation of the maudlin rose, the three capital letters jutting above the rest as if leading a procession... I don't know. But eight innings of one-run ball? Now that's definitely poetic.

Every once in a while, I believe we need a little poetry -- "finer and more philosophical than history," according to Aristotle -- to expand the boundaries of the things we consider, the things we see in everyday life, the things we experience. And so, today's poem -- actually, just a verse, as we're getting dangerously close to tonight's game time -- shall be titled, "Disaster Averted." It's dedicated to the Royals' 3-1 home win over Minnesota yesterday:

Bases loaded and one out in the very first frame
And who but last year's MVP to stride into the fray?
Mighty Casey in the almighty flesh,
Slowly he sways out of the deck.
Five series and five losses to trigger five bouts
Of fits and fuss and howling and doubt
(Not to mention loud fulmination!),
And who but Mighty Morneau, vexing and flexing,
To ensure a sixth damn ruination?
A grand slam is an f-in' comin'.

Of course, it didn't. Jorge De La Rosa struck out Morneau on a 1-2 curveball, got Torii Hunter to fly out to center (never mind that it was deep), and the inning, like that, was over. At one point in the game, De La Rosa retired 16 straight, which almost matched Mark Buehrle's last effort against Texas. (Speaking of Buehrle... he takes the mound tonight, aiming to become just the second pitcher in baseball history to throw consecutive no-hitters. A cookie for whoever can name -- WITHOUT LOOKING IT UP -- the only pitcher to accomplish this feat.) The game lasted just two hours and seven minutes as the Royals claimed their first series win of the season.

If that's not worth pulling out the Dr. Seuss-like verse for, show me the opium.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Another fine comeback win and impending bullpen help

It's the bottom of the sixth right now in Kansas City... this isn't meant to be an in-game thread, but I'm posting now because isn't working and I'd like to share my excitement. (The Red Sox just beat the Yankees after trailing 6-2, and their players -- especially Hideki Okajima, who got the save -- look really happy.)

The Royals were down 4-2 before scoring five in the fifth, three from a Mark Grudzielanek 2-run home run and an Alex Gordon RBI-double. Incredibly, this puts Odalis Perez, whose ERA rose to 8.64, in line for the win, again proving that a pitcher's win-loss record is less meaningful than old-timers think. Sorry for the lack of game description, but I can't even log into to get any audio. Let's hope the bullpen can hold the lead, though if they don't, they're gonna go down fighting: Ryan Braun, Jimmy Gobble, Todd Wellemeyer... soon Joakim Soria and, if necessary, David Riske (another two-inning save to come?).

Starting tomorrow, the bullpen's getting some help in the form of ... trumpets, flourish ... another lefty! Neal Musser, come on down.

Musser, a top pick of the Mets in 1999 (2nd round), has moved briskly through the minor league system. At Class-A Capital City in 2001, he struck out 98 in 95 innings, using control and an excellent change-up. A slew of injuries delayed his ascension, but he rebounded and recovered lost ground. In two games at Triple-A Omaha last year, he was 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA -- six strikeouts and three walks in 9.2 innings -- according to Baseball Cube. When he got the call-up today, he hadn't given up an earned run in Omaha and opponents were batting just .115 off him. "Hopefully I can be up here for the rest of my career," he says.

Musser has neither a biography nor a career highlights list nor a news archive on the Royals' official team page, so this from and this 12/20/06 post from Royals Authority -- excerpted below -- will have to do:

Musser is a left-handed pitcher who is cut from the Tom Glavine mold. At least he was until his control deserted him and he began leaving his mediocre pitches up in the zone to get hammered. He has a decent change-up that sets up his fastball and is most effective when he can spot his fastball on the corners. Otherwise, he’s over the middle of the plate and it’s hammer time.

Musser has never been anything more than a marginal Triple-A player. His strikeout rate, which was never that great to begin with, has been dropping steadily over the last several years. And his walk rate, which again was never that great, has been rising. Not a good combination for someone looking to land a major league job.

Nonsense, Craig. Now that the Royals have two lefty relievers, maybe they can improve that bullpen ERA, which is second highest in the Majors right now (5.74).

POSTSCRIPT: Check out the picture in the official Royals announcement of the call-up... seems kind of weak, doesn't it? Well, I just did a Google Image search of Musser, and suddenly I understand; poor editor at, he really didn't have many options.

UPDATE: Royals win 11-7. They didn't even have to use Soria.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The real force behind Mark Buehrle's no-hitter

I think we can fully credit Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson for Mark Buehrle's no-no last night, considering they didn't use the words "no-hitter" for all the later innings. Hawk, however, did say:

"He has faced the minimum all the way through to the sixth inning" (top 6th) ...

"Mark Buehrle has faced the minimum through six innings; the only baserunner in the 5th was Sammy Sosa, he drew a walk, and then Mark Buehrle promptly picked him off" (top 7th) ...

"Sosa, who has been the only baserunner for the Rangers this evening, he walked in the fifth inning, and then Mark picked him off" (top 8th) ...

"Another 1-2-3 inning for Buehrle" (top 8th) ...

Crowd has "seen something special" (bottom 8th) ...

"We will go to the top of the 9th inning. Mark Buehrle. Call your sons and daughters, friends and neighbors" (end of 8th) ...

Coming out for the 9th, Comcast Sports puts up a graphic showing when the last White Sox no-hitter occurred. Hawk doesn't bite: "Wilson Alvarez, the last one, '91, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore" ...

"If you're just joining us, only one Texas baserunner, that was Sammy Sosa back in the 5th, he walked, and then was picked off" (top 9th) ...

"HE GONE. ONE DOWN!" (top 9th) ...


I couldn't help noticing, though, that Darrin was unusually quiet in the final inning. I wonder if they had this exchange during the commercial break:

Darrin, sweating profusely: I can't do this anymore, Hawk. I gotta say it.

Hawk: Don't do it, man.

Darrin: I gotta do it, Hawk, I gotta do it.

Hawk: Don't do it, man.

Darrin: I gotta, Hawk, I gotta. The silence... it's... it's tearing at my soul, Hawk.

Hawk: Darrin, you little bastard, don't you dare do it.

Darrin: What is a color commentator if he's not allowed to tell viewers what is happening? What am I but a speck on an atom in a substanceless abyss?

Hawk: Shut your trap, D.

Darrin: I... I can't hold it in...

Hawk: You hold it, you son of a bitch! You hold it!

Darrin: I'm doing it...

Hawk: Don't do it...

Darrin: I'm doing it...

Hawk: Don't do it...

Darrin: I gotta say it, Hawk, I gotta tell the viewers Mark Buehrle is pitching a...




Darrin, screaming through the din: HE'S THROWING A NO-HITTER!

Hawk: I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU AND EAT YOUR CHILDREN YOU MOTHERF-- ... Wilson Alvarez. The last one. '91. In Memorial County Stadium...

Who says they're not a good commentating team?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mea culpas on this, the day of a brilliant comeback win

Al Swearengen: Are you dead?
: Well, I’m in pain, but no, I’m obviously not dead.
Al: And obviously you didn’t die when the doc slapped you.

: No.
Al: So including last night, that’s three fucking damage incidents that didn’t kill you. Pain or damage don’t end the world, or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man, and give some back.

-- Deadwood, Season 2

I'll take back everything I said in my previous post. Buddy Bell, you're not all that bad. Jason Standridge, you're a nice guy, you would've been a great quarterback at Auburn, and judging by your minor league numbers, you can yet be a serviceable reliever. I was confused earlier today. I lacked sleep (woke up at the hideous hour of 9 a.m.). I was stressed. I spoke rashly, and for that, you have my mea culpa.

About Bell: my criticism was unfair. The truth is, if Joakim Soria hadn't allowed three runs, the Royals might have rallied in the ninth -- they were scrappy all game -- and if they had made it 9-7, we would've all praised Bell for believing in his team. Maybe it's easier to believe when you're at field level, looking into the eyes of your players and seeing signs everywhere that make it impossible to accept that they'd ever let you down. I don't know. But for his belief, I'm 100 percent behind him, even if my last post made it seem otherwise.

Now onto present matters.

Al Swearengen and Gil Meche: it's in the jowls
If you play this game long enough, the breaks will go your way eventually. Gil Meche pitched himself into a bases loaded jam in the 6th -- abetted by an Alex Gordon throwing error -- and all kinds of worse-case scenarios flashed through my head. Considering the Royals have already served up three grand slams this season, this possibility registered distinctly as probable. Statistically, it was. But Meche made a good pitch on Sean Casey, who popped out to first, then -- after a Craig Monroe single -- embarrassed Marcus Thames on a slow 3-2 curve to escape with minimal damage. The best news? After that three-run 6th, Meche bounced back with two scoreless innings. That's the sign of an ace: a pitcher who'll buckle down no matter the situation, take his punishment, then deliver some of his own.

In the 9th, the Royals finally found grace's favor. With runners on first and third and one out, down one (Tigers' play-by-play Dan Dickerson: "And the Royal uprising continues"), Ross Gload, who was 0-for-3 with two ground outs, chopped one to short. Carlos Guillen stepped back, received the ball flat-footed, plodded to second and threw a weak one-hopper to Casey at first. The confluence of these events allowed Gload to beat the throw by inches and the tying run to score. By the time John Buck absolutely destroyed Fernando Rodney's fastball in the 10th to put KC ahead 4-3, I was so giddy I didn't even care if we saw David Riske or Todd Wellemeyer to replace Soria, who tossed a scoreless ninth.

But wait! Bell -- and credit where it's due here -- left Soria in to finish the game. The 22-year-old blew a fastball by Gary Sheffield for strike three after setting him up with two curveballs for strikes, then polished off the Tigers by throwing a dart past Guillen. The kid has what you'd call "life" on his pitches. And that, folks, is how baseball games are won.

I'm going to savor this for a while now.


Gil Meche: 8 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 2.22 season ERA
Joakim Soria (W, 1-0): 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 3.24 season ERA

Back to losing the close ones

I trust Dayton, but Buddy Bell? Not convinced. I know he's the kind of "baseball guy" that baseball people like, but his baseball managing -- to say nothing of his track record -- leaves a lot to be desired.

Take Monday's 12-5 blowout loss. Bell removes Zack Greinke after he gives up the grand slam (on a 1-2 pitch, so he almost escaped the inning without any damage) and after he has already gotten two outs. I can understand Bell's thinking: we need to strap on the tourniquet ASAP. But why does he then lop off the arm altogether, inducing massive bleeding and cardiac shock, by calling on Jason Standridge? Wouldn't it have been better to stick with Greinke, see if he calms down and takes the game to the fifth?

I have nothing against Standridge personally. It's just that someday I hope to learn more about him, like why he's in the Majors. His WHIP the last two years were 1.74 and 1.66. It's 2.40 now. In his three appearances this year, he's given up a run in every inning he's pitched except one -- one meaningless donut in a 9-1 loss at Toronto nine days ago. In 6.2 innings, he's given up 10 runs (though to be fair, three of them were unearned). Ladies and gentlemen, your long reliever.

But this is about Bell, not the bullpen. Greinke should have been left in, especially since the bases were empty and there were two outs, affording him a fresh start. Instead, Bell pulls the hook, and at the sight of Standridge the Tigers' eyes grow wide, they rise on their fores and before you know it, they've put up five runs in three innings. It was a pity, too, since the Royals' bats were just beginning to show signs of life.

Wait, there's more. With the score 9-5 in the bottom of the 8th, Bell summons Joakim Soria, the best arm in the pen, followed by Jimmy Gobble, the Royals' only active left-handed reliever. The game's good as done at 9-5, considering the Tigers still had Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones in the pen. Why call on your best relievers here? Was Buddy Bell lured into a contest of one-upsmanship because Jim Leyland sent out Joel Zumaya? In any case, naturally, in last night's game, clinging to a 6-5 lead, Bell goes to the only options available: Joel Peralta, who blows the save, and David Riske, who loses the game.

Let's take small consolation in that David DeJesus and Reggie Sanders continued raking the ball, DeJesus especially, who hit HR No. 3. And that Detroit didn't hit a grand slam. The three-game grand-slam-allowed streak is over, thankfully.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Because food tossing is just so damn funny

The Boston Herald provides this excellent recap of last night's fling (the characters: Sole, hit by pizza; Madore, owner and proprietor of pizza; Kelly, Madore's friend and pizza tosser):

As if the slo-mo spill and requisite grimacing weren't enough, a large slice of cheese pizza then arced perfectly through the crowd, hitting Sole’s shoulder and face. Once he realized what hit him, he went ballistic while girlfriend Anya Ho, 29, tried to wipe off his face.
A few rows away, Madore and buddy Danny Kelly beamed. It turns out Sole had given them grief about having a large pizza in the stands just moments bef
ore the at-bat. He wanted to know where they got it.
"He turned around and said something like, 'Your mother,' " Sole said.
"No," interjected Ho. "He said, 'The pizzeria.' "
Either way, all parties were annoyed.
"They had been giving us (expletive) about it," Madore said. "Next thing I know, there's a fly ball to left field and it goes foul and my buddy says, 'You want some pizza now?' And he hits him right in the face. Hey, the guy wasn't paying attention. When you're in the stands you've got to be ready for anything -- a foul ball, a flying slice of pizza, everything."

And just when you think the best newspaper story of the year couldn't get any better...

By the time the eighth inning rolled around, however, most involved couldn't stop laughing. Sole fielded nonstop calls from friends telling him he was on NESN, which named him "Fan of the Game." He wondered if he could meet NESN’s Tina Cervasio.

Presque Isle, Maine, native Madore ended up at Game On, where he received a standing ovation. Friend Aaron True called the whole thing, "Pizza Bartman," a reference to the Chicago Cubs fan who cost the team Game 6 of the NL Championship Series in 2003 by trying to catch a foul ball.

Honestly ... and I don't mean to beleaguer Cubs fans here, because they don't deserve it, but honestly ... isn't that the difference between Chicago and Boston in a nutshell? A fan interferes with a foul ball in Boston and it happens 1) in a meaningless game, 2) it actually helps the home team, 3) said home team ends up winning anyway, and 4) everyone laughs about it afterwards. It happens in Chicago and it becomes one of the most tragic moments in the city's sports history. Poor Cubs.

POSTSCRIPT: For a limited time, if you click on that Herald story, you can vote in the poll, "Who had better stuff yesterday at Fenway Park? Sox hurler Josh Beckett or pizza thrower Danny Kelly?" Only 759 people had participated when I registered my vote for Kelly, but right now, the pizza hurler is up 62% to 38%.

"It seemed unprovoked"

This is a Royals blog, true, but sometimes we have to breach our narrow boundaries (growing narrower with every 4-run, 0.2-inning outing from Zack Greinke) to better express our infatuation and undying amusement for this crazy game called baseball.

Take this video:

Coming out of the commercial break for the top of the 8th, you'll notice that Don Orsillo, the play-by-play man, is giggling uncontrollably. I've been told by someone who had satellite feed of the game that during the break, NESN producers ran the replay of the pizza toss on loop, causing Orsillo to nearly have a heart attack.

Eventually, around the 1:41 mark in the video, color commentator Jerry Remy starts hitting his stride. The complete transcript:

Remy: I don't know why it was necessary. Now watch -- I can't circle it, I don't have my telestrator today, but wa… HERECOMESAPIZZA see it?

Orsilla laughs.

Remy: OH! Jeez.

Orsilla: Highly unnecessary.

Remy: The guy with the Patriots jacket, and of course he's been asked to leave the ball game for ruining a good piece of pizza.

Orsilla laughs.

Remy, laughing: He's got beer all over him… and here comes…

Orsilla, squealing: …a slice of pizza!

Remy: Why did he do that? Because he thought he was interfering with the play? That seemed totally unnecessary.

Orsilla: Just now getting the pizza off him.

Remy: He was hot for a while, but I think the pizza thrower apologized and he seemed to cool off a little bit, but I'd be kinda ticked off myself if somebody fired a pepperoni pizza on me.

Orsilla: Well, J.C. Romero is into the game here to pitch the eighth.

Remy: It seemed unprovoked, too.

Orsilla: It really did.

Remy: He just let it fly. One more look in slow motion if we can, and here's the Patrio… HEREITCOMES!

Orsilla: I'm going to throw my pizza!

Remy: The only thing, he didn't hit him with the cheese side. He hit him with the…

Orsilla: Sauce first.

Remy: That was an awful sight here at Fenway. That is not tolerated in this ballpark, he has been ejected and never again allowed to buy pizza.

Orsilla: Not so friendly.
As Cabrera leads it off.

Remy: And think about how much it costs for a piece of pizza. I mean, would you just fire it at some guy?

Orsilla: I personally would not, no. I wonder about the thought process though.

Remy: "Well honey, I'm going to the ball game today, and if I see some guy I'm going to throw a piece of pizza at him."

The video cuts off before NESN shows a close-up of the pizza resting on the railing and Remy saying, "I tell ya what, I would eat that. That looks pretty good."

The best part is, the guy who threw the pizza -- a full slice, mind you, which probably cost $5 -- was wearing a Patriots jacket. I don't know why that makes it funnier, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Patriots fans are generally bullheaded, cheeky, obnoxious and exactly the kind of people who would do something like this. The image of him turning 180 degrees in his seat, placing a slice of pizza on his hand, then launching it like a catapult for no apparent reason ("It seemed unprovoked") is seared into my head, and it's making me laugh every time I think about it. I hope I'm not at a funeral someday and suddenly recall this image.

Someone please tell me this was an only-in-Boston moment. Gordon Edes, writing in the Boston Globe, referenced the pizza toss in the lead of his game story. My roommate, who's from Rhode Island, has watched this video at least eight times now. You gotta love baseball.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Greinke, McCarthy, Oprah, Whitlock

Enough with the tough-luck losses, heartbreaking grand slams, dropped pop-ups, failed rallies... Zack Greinke, on this cold and lugubrious day, will take the mound, and that can only mean clear skies are in the Royals' forecast. Baseball Prospectus's John Perrotto, in a chat with one of his many adoring fans, was asked to rank Greinke, Ian Snell, Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and John Maine (see, this is what I love about BP: smart readers; this inquirer from Scranton, Pennsylvania, didn't even mention he was in a deep keeper league with 14 teams and a championship ring at stake).

Perrotto's response:

1-Snell (I think this kid is vastly underrated)
2-Greinke (he gotten things back togehter)
3-Wainwright (he's very talented and showed his poise last October)
4-Cabrera (great, great stuff, but still hasn't put it all together)
5-Loewen (gotta love a lefty with potential)
6-Reyes (showed he could thrive on the big stage when he won the World Series opener)
7-Maine (not overpower but has a great feel for pitching).

I'll say this, I'd love to have any of these seven. They all have a chance to be outstanding pitchers.

Jockeying to take his place as the staff stopper, Greinke will face Justin Verlander at 6 p.m. CT in Detroit, a generally miserable place that's somehow been blessed by the sporting gods: Red Wings, Pistons, Spartans basketball, the Super Bowl and, most recently, the Tigers. I'm not complaining, especially after I see their crime chart. Sports really can be a nice diversion.

POSTSCRIPT: Just a little over two hours ago, Cormac McCarthy, who I mentioned in consecutive posts last week and was shocked to hear was appearing on Oprah, has won the Pulitzer for his post-Apocalyptic novel The Road. It's not like he hasn't been honored before, but the Pulitzer, one of the literary world's two highest honors, is very well-deserved.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Speaking of Oprah:
Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, sitting in the center of the panel on her show, pretty much got overwhelmed by his fellow panelists, including Al Sharpton. It'll be interesting to read his follow-up column.

The show was interrupted -- probably rightly so -- by a live news conference in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Paying homage to the greatest show on TV

The rains that wiped out the game in Baltimore also swept through where I live in New York, and trust me, it was glum. Luckily, I had The Soul of Baseball to cheer me up. I'm reviewing it for an Atlanta-based magazine called Sports Unlimited, and so far, it's about what you'd expect from the nation's best sports columnist writing about one of baseball's greatest ambassadors. Then again, I'm only two-thirds of the way through (I'll be done by tonight), so the book may yet exceed my already lofty expectations.

Before we leave Baltimore behind, I'm obligated to say that for all its crime (No. 2 among big cities, behind only Detroit... where the Royals are now), summer humidity and failing public school system, the place known as "Charm City" will always, always have a spot in my heart for its role (it's the main character) in the greatest show on TV, The Wire. Disagree with that last sentence if you must, but just know that 1) you'd be in the vast minority, and 2) no one who has seen The Wire can argue it isn't one of the five most important shows in American TV history... and I'm talking about truly important, the stuff that sociologists will one day use as primary text. As Brian Lowry of Variety puts it, "When television history is written, little else will rival 'The Wire.'"

But of course, you don't have to take my word for it. (Spoilers within links.) The show has inspired one of the best blogs I've ever seen, Heaven and Here, and this, perhaps the finest piece of writing I've ever seen in a blog. The New York Times ("a beautiful, brave series), Post ("one of the finest TV shows ever made") and Daily News all agree that The Wire is nonpareil, and they never agree on anything. Soon-to-be-Oprah guest Jason Whitlock is on board, too, as is Bill Simmons (Google him if you must).

Hell, I can't get enough... and if you're like me and can't either, here's the largest Wire news archive I can find (pun definitely not intended). Now if we can only get the Emmys to see the light (but please, don't get me started on that topic).

We'll be revisiting The Wire when the Royals return to Baltimore for their makeup game, probably either April 19 or August 6.

POSTSCRIPT: There's nothing like a link in Royals Review (1,000+ visitors/day) to get the site counter spinning. Thanks guys.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Standing out

Last night's loss dropped the Royals four games below .500, making them the only American League team to be further than two games from .500 in either direction. Kinda feels like standing alone in the rain, if you ask me. The good news here is that they don't have far to go to catch Wild Card leader Minnesota/Detroit, at 6-4 (any wonder that the Wild Card team hails from the Central?). Granted, it's really early to be talking about standings, but this much is clear: if the Royals' bats remain dormant much longer, the team might find itself in a disconcertingly deep hole. Seven everyday players with at least 18 at-bats are hitting .200 or below, and as a team, KC's .226 BA is third-worst in the Majors.

On the other hand, David DeJesus has more multi-hit games (6) than anyone in the league, and Reggie Sanders is now batting .500, after his 3 for 4 performance. They'll need to keep it up today against Daniel Cabrera, a "stuff" pitcher who's 3-0 in four starts against the Royals with a 2.35 ERA. The good news for our boys is he's got spotty control, and so far the Royals have been good about staying patient at the plate (six walks last night).

And of course, since it's baseball, anything can happen.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another day, another game

I started this post last night but had to put it off, and now, as I resume typing, the Royals and Orioles are at it again, yesterday's game relegated to the archives. One of the beauties of baseball is that you can always count on it being there, steady as a metronome. That's why if you attend spring training in Florida -- Dodgertown, perhaps -- and sit with an old-timer donning a crisp baseball cap, creased down the middle of the bill, white tufts of hair poking out of the side, and talk about baseball, and listen to him reminisce, it'll be as if you've been transported into a world of a different pace, a different rhythm -- because metronomes don't just tell time: they capture it, each interval a folder to store life's offerings. The invariable truths of baseball -- the 6-4-3 double play, the sacrifice bunt, the timelessness of it all -- keep it clicking.

A few thoughts about last night's game: ballgames are especially tough to lose when they're low-scoring, for it's then that they're the tensest: every pitch contains the possibility of a big momentum swing, and every good play, like Esteban German tracking down the ball and relaying it to Tony Pena Jr. and the subsequent dart to nail Jay Gibbons to preserve a tenuous 1-0 lead (so tenuous, in fact, that it would be lost two batters later), is cheered with disproportionate vim. But no one said baseball was kind to its adherents. After the Orioles tied the game, the momentum swung decidedly to the home team, considering it has a $40 million bullpen -- including a dominant closer, Chris Ray, who ended up picking up the win after tossing a perfect 10th -- and the Royals, to put it nicely, don't.

Then again, the Royals could have pulled this out if Gil Meche, who was stellar, didn't tweak his hamstring and exit the game after six innings. Meche scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out seven, in the process lowering his season ERA to 3.10. In addition, according to the KC Star's neat "Meche Meter," he earned $400,000 of his $11 million salary. Check it out:

For each of Gil Meche’s starts for the Royals this season, The Star will analyze how well he’s earning his $11 million average salary. To do this, we’ve determined a set of five benchmarks based on how $11 million pitchers performed last season. In each of Meche’s starts, he’ll earn $100,000 for each benchmark reached.

•Innings pitched: 6 or more

•Walks plus hits allowed: 8 or fewer*

•Runs allowed: 3 or fewer

•Strikeouts: 5 or more

•Wins: $100,000 for win, nothing for a loss or no decision

* Must pitch six or more innings to qualify

POSTSCRIPT: Kansas City's own Jason Whitlock has been slated to appear on Oprah this Monday. (Remember, she's the most powerful human being ever to live. Forbes got it wrong.) I think it has something to do with his cogent Don Imus column.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Follow-up on the Monster known as Matsuzaka

A few days ago, I asked who was bigger when he left the motherland, Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki or Daisuke Matsuzaka. Looks like we have an answer, thanks to correspondent Sylvia Maria Gross:

Most of the reporters told me that Matsuzaka was much more special in Japan than the other two because he was the hero at Koshien, the high school championship. I have some clips of some of hte Japanese reporters saying that. It seems like he's more of a darling than the others.

Seems pretty definitive to me. SMG's Dice-K radio story can be heard here and here. Worth checking out, especially for the crazy shirtless Japanese fan who's obviously freezing.

UPDATE: A very interesting article: "Is the MLB destroying Japan's national pastime?"

Toronto, it's like we never knew ya

Oh how I only wish.

The city's official website says it's "a great city to live and work in, or just to visit," but I'll see it when I believe it.

In the meantime, you should know Lyle Overbay is a misogynist, A.J. Burnett has patrician leanings and Frank Thomas enjoys beating children.

Sorry Canada, it's not personal. We'll see ya this summer for moose-hunt season.

POSTSCRIPT: A friend of mine asks a favor from all IDWT readers: if you remember the Royals ever wearing a yellow (or neon greenish) uniform one day about five or so years ago, please let us know. Would be helpful if you could direct us to a picture. This is an earnest request, so as my friend can convince himself of his sanity. Personally, I think he lost it back in 7th grade when he watched Apocalypse Now. What fragile minds our bodies invent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Canadians are evil, don't support the Blue Jays

Solitary and dogged. A raw hill country. Aluminum houses. At times they could see stretches of the interstate highway below them through the bare stands of secondgrowth timber. Cold and growing colder.
-- Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Incidentally, the landscape in the novel as "barren, silent, godless" is also a fairly accurate description of Toronto... or, extrapolating slightly, all of Canada.

Tonight's 6:07 CT game pitting Jorge De La Rosa (1-0, 1.29 ERA) against Gustavo Chacin (0-0, 4.50 ERA) marks a relieving blessitude: the final time the Royals have to play in Canada in 2007, barring a miracle that enables the Blue Jays -- Tom Verducci's pick to be the AL's most disappointing team -- to make the postseason. After today, no more Mounties in their Red Serges and Smokey Bear hats, no more tree-huggers (until the West coast road trip, anyway), no more overly polite soy-coffee sippers and ehs and jaaahs.

On the field, it should be interesting to see how De La Rosa follows up on his seven-inning, one-run gem against Detroit. And if the triple is the most exciting play in baseball, then the most exciting player has to be Tony Pena Jr., who needs 18 more triples to set a team record (Willie Wilson had 21 in 1985). At this pace, he'll do it by late May.

And in case you need a reason to root against the Blue Jays, just know this: last year, Canada's Department of Fisheries allowed its countrymen to kill 335,000 seals, many of them looking like this, I'm sure.

So remember: Canadians hate baby seals. Let's put a face on this evil, shall we? Here's a picture of a hakapik-wielding Canuck:

The horror!

(Almost as horrifying as the thought of The Road being an Oprah's Book Club selection... until I realized that Oprah somehow leveraged this into the world's first ever television interview with America's greatest living writer!!! I can't adequately express how shocked I am by this, except to say that if aliens in 2,000 years need proof that Oprah was the most powerful human to ever live, this is it. The man is notoriously difficult to track down -- there are about a half dozen photographs of him known to exist (and this guy is living), and while some people have tried to get him on camera, I've never actually seen him in a moving picture. I'm not in the least embarrassed to admit I signed up for Oprah's Book Club mailing list so that I would "be among the first to find out when Oprah's exclusive interview with Cormac McCarthy will air.")

Reading Copy, Critical Mass (where you'll find a link to McCarthy's only published interview, in 1992), Paper Mag and GADNY have more.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First road win, and other firsts

Last year, it was in the 13th game on May 4 that the Royals finally notched their first road win, 1-0 in Minnesota.

This year: second game, April 10.

And on a night when that old ignominy -- the road winless streak -- was stopped dead in its tracks, there were these other notable firsts:

-- First home run for Alex Gordon, a blast down the right-field line (later selected the "Smash of the Night" on Baseball Tonight, with John Kruk saying, "Well Karl, it was just a sweet swing").

-- First ear-to-ear smile in the dugout afterwards.

-- First fourth triple of the year for Tony Pena Jr.

-- First career save for Joakim Soria.

The evening, though, belonged to Zack Greinke, who picked up his first W as a starter since September 20, 2005. It's good to see the Royals win a game they're supposed to, and with Greinke on the mound, there really wasn't that much doubt that they would.

In the bottom of the third, Grein-K (his website's moniker, not mine) struck out Vernon Wells on a change-up, this after blowing two 91-mph fastballs by him for strikes one and two.

Then in the next inning, in a highlight replayed several times on Baseball Tonight, Frank Thomas got called out on an inside fastball after whiffing on a breaking pitch off the corner of the plate. Over the course of the game, Thomas got set up more often than a thrice-divorced, overly tan, low-V-cut-wearing old housewife, mostly with off-speed stuff that forced him to play the guessing game with two strikes. Twice, in the words of Robert Frost, Thomas suffered "one of the hardest things to accept as just": a called third strike. And in the fourth, the ump punched him out with bravado, by delivering -- I kid you not -- a tiger uppercut, probably while screaming, HIIIIIIIUKE! I wish I had video of this. No wonder Thomas whirled around with an "Are you f*cking joking?" look on his face.

Anyway, after two games, Greinke's thrown 13 innings, given up two runs, struck out 12 and walked just one. That's cause to celebrate. Maybe we could invite 20 of his close friends and ask them to all chip in a dollar so we can buy him a new cap. You know, like one that fits.

Baby steps, Zack. We're behind you.

POSTSCRIPT: The Road hasn't been kind to the Royals in recent years, but it's one hell of a book.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Toronto: Diverse, perhaps, but only kind of strong

Except their baseball team was quite strong tonight. It was fairly apparent from the get-go that the Royals would be in for a tough one. Burnett threw daggers from the onset and, when he executed about four perfect pitches to John Buck with the bases loaded in the 2nd, eventually getting him to ground into a 3-6-1 double play to end the inning, that was pretty much the ballgame.

But, really, who can blame the Royals for not playing well tonight? They're in a dirty city in a foreign country surrounded by a bunch of pissed off Maples Leaves fans. Gil Meche took one visit and decided he'd go anywhere but there. And besides, it's not like games outside the U.S. actually count in the standings or anything.

I asked an old college friend of mine (pictured) who hails from Toronto to tell me a little about her city. Here's the transcript of our online chat:

me: so tell me, exactly how crappy of a city is Toronto
Candice: uhh
excuse me?
me: no, seriously
you don't have to be modest or anything
Candice: why are you asking me this?
me: out of curiosity
Candice: you should know better
me: I want to learn more about my fair northern cousins
Candice: that's a great way to go about it
me: edify me
Candice: not worth it
me: oh come on, when have i ever let you down
Sent at 10:10 PM on Monday

And then there was a long pause. Yeah, so... pretty crappy.

POSTSCRIPT: Toronto may or may not actually be dirty. I don't know. And yes, I realize it's Leafs, not Leaves.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

No, I'm not going to use a stupid Riske/risk pun here

Normally I'd focus on the positive, and there's plenty of that -- David DeJesus's usual solid work from the leadoff spot, Ryan Shealy's first hit of the season, Brandon Duckworth's superb outing -- but instead I'm going to start with a simple opinion:

David Riske should not be closing games.

I know he's getting paid No. 1-setup-man-type money, but no one who throws 88 mph should be working the late innings, especially if he can't strike anyone out. Or when there's someone better (more on this in the next paragraph). Watching Riske try to preserve a two-run lead is like watching a first-year dental school student performing root canal: I'd rather not.
Duckworth, who threw a week's worth of good two-seamers and decent off-speed pitches, turned in a four-hit, no-run gem through six and a third. Jimmy Gobble came in to retire Sean Casey, then Joakim Soria, who should be the closer -- and not just because he threw the third perfect game in Mexican Pacific League history last season -- retired the next four. He polished off the Tigers in the eighth by rearing back and throwing a 91-mph fastball by Gary Sheffield.

Riske, on the other hand, came in and immediately gave up a lead-off double. After losing Carlos Guillen on a 3-2 breaking ball (if you could call that a breaking ball), he gave up a no-doubt home run to Ivan "No-Longer-Pudge-Cause-I-Quit-Steroids" Rodriguez. The rubber match went to the Tigers after Todd Jones came in and shut down the Royals in the bottom half of the inning, leaving us with this aggravating line score:

DET 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
KCR 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

...But I suppose it's all a learning process, so let's chalk this up to a lesson learned.

A cold, cold day

Maybe no one got chillblains, but 25 degrees is still cold, cold, cold. And if you don't think the cold affects pitchers, you're crazy. That means you, Gil Meche. You're crazy for saying, "I never felt like the weather was bothering me." Yeah, right. So you were blowing into your hand after every pitch because your skin was dry?

I said it yesterday, but I'll say it again: baseball is NOT meant to be played in the cold. We'll see how Meche's next start goes, if the weather's somewhere near above-freezing.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

What a walk-off grand slam from Yankee Stadium sounds like

This is a Yankees post, so if you'd like, I give you permission to stop reading now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was on assignment at Yankee Stadium yesterday and today with the Orioles in town. I had absolutely no intention of posting about this experience, except the following happened:

Friday, 4/6: Alex Rodriguez is cheered before his first plate appearance. Cheered wildly. Maybe this website had something to do with that. Anyway, he repays the people by smacking a double down the left field line.

Fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Yanks down 6-3. A-Rod comes up with runners on first and second and none out, and again the crowd gives him a standing ovation. I'm sitting in the press box listening to this, and somehow I know these people will be horribly disappointed. A-Rod swings and misses, and there is momentary quiet.

Of course, nothing can get New Yorkers down, not terrorists nor a right-handed submarine pitcher named Chad Bradford. So they rise again.

The next pitch, A-Rod swings and barely foul-tips it.

The silence is a little more prolonged and pronounced this time, but again it gives way to raucous cheers. New York fans always put their eggs in one basket like this. They're never ready to accept failure, so they open themselves to disappointment at every turn -- which is why they can't but boo when their impossible expectations aren't met.

A-Rod swings at the next pitch, a change-up, and misses by several inches. It's an ugly swing and an ugly end to a regrettable at-bat. The positive energy that had infected the place gives way to very strong shouts of disapproval.

Here' s a picture of the moment before Bradford released his strikeout pitch:

About 15 minutes after the Yankees lost that game, A-Rod stood outside the clubhouse in the basement of Yankee Stadium fiddling with his cell phone. Whether he was actually reading a text message or just trying to avoid eye contact with those around him, like that awkward kid who’s always standing by himself next to a punch bowl at the junior high dance, I don’t know. If there was ever an image of a loser, this was it.

But then...

Today: Cheered again in his first at-bat, though less enthusiastically, A-Rod smacks a two-run home run. As the game goes on, the Yankees fall behind, first 5-2, then 7-2. By the minute, the A-Rod homer's becoming yet another side note, like all his others, in that constantly reinforced misconception that he's not a "clutch" player.

But then the Yankees claw back, and by the bottom of the ninth, it's 7-6. Suddenly vindication is possible. With two out and Chris Ray on the mound, in an inning that saw a Johnny Damon pinch-hit strikeout, Melky Cabrera somehow punches a single into center. At this point I'm thinking to myself, I'd give anything to see A-Rod at bat with the bases loaded. With the crowd screaming, "Der-ek Je-ter," of course Jeter gets on (cause he's a winner), drawing a 3-2 walk on a pitch that was just barely high.

Vindication is around the corner. Up comes Bobby Abrieu, and with the crowd chanting "Bobby," Ray plunks him in the leg.

And suddenly vindication is at his feet.

I turn to Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck (that's his real name) and say, "I can't believe this."

The ovation is not as loud, not as hopeful, yet it is there. Just two days before, on this field, in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded and the Yankees trailing the Devil Rays 6-3, A-Rod had popped out to first. The expression on his face, after he'd slammed down his bat, was of pain mixed with shock and horror. At that moment, I actually felt sorry for him.

And now, the fates... well, what could they possibly do to dole out more punishment?

If you don't already know what happened, listen for yourself:

Click here to get your own player.

They were playing Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" as A-Rod circled the bases, and no one could hear it for the tumult. That, my friends, is the sound of redemption that has come, and redemption cometh with great jubilee.

Royals brrrrrrrrrrr-y Tigers

Apologies for the headline, but the sudden weather change resulting from our potentially catastrophic neglect of the environment has made baseball almost impossible to watch at the K since Opening Day, when it was 80 degrees. Yesterday it was 31 by game's end. Baseball should never be played in below-freezing temperature, though I suppose at least it wasn't snowing.

(I'd like to pose an innocent question to the good editors at the Plain Dealer: do you really want the first two words of your headline to make everyone think of a certain sex act? I mean, maybe if you're Pitch Weekly, but... I'm not alone on this, am I?)

Alas, Kansas Citians have the Royals to warm their hearts. In an uncannily important April game, our boys strapped up and dealt a KC steamer to the Tigers. Jorge De La Rosa, who had a poor spring but possesses decent middle-of-the-rotation stuff, pitched a career-best seven innings of one-run ball. And just when it seemed he might not get the win, Tony Pena Jr. continued his hot streak by smoking a tie-breaking three-bagger in the seventh. Pena bunted unsuccessfully in the fifth, but why is he bunting when he's slugging .769 with three triples?

The best part of this is the Royals won in spite of a sterling performance from Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. To have a successful year, the Royals will need these kind of wins: coming through just when everyone's dreading the worst. Now they'll have a chance to take the series today with ace Gil Meche to the mound. If KC can get through this dreaded month -- games against Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Minnesota, Seattle and Los Angeles of Anaheim -- with a .500 record, even Tony might have to crawl out of his basement, whatever the weather.