Wednesday, May 28, 2008

And Finally Tonight, As Promised, A Special Comment.

On August 9th, 2005, the Royals were struggling to break a 10-game losing streak, but it finally looked like it was their day. They took an early lead on the Indians, and the bullpen held the lead into the ninth inning. With three outs to go, the Royals were up by five runs, 7-2. Mike MacDougal came into preserve the lead.

Five of the first six Indians he faced roped base hits. Even so, after Ronnie Belliard grounded into a fielder's choice, the Royals still led, 7-6, with two outs and men on first and third.

Jeff Liefer was the Indians' last hope, and he lofted a routine flyball to left that Chip Ambres settled under for the final out.

And then he dropped it.

The game was still tied, there were still two outs, but if you had given 10-1 odds that the Royals would win the game at that point, you wouldn't have found a Royals fan anywhere in the Midwest who would have taken your bet. Aaron Boone doubled to take the lead; Jimmy Gobble came into pitch; an intentional walk, single, walk, and grand slam later, and the score was 11-7.

The Royals would go on to lose their next eight games for good measure.

The sad thing was that, at the time, the losing streak was almost liberating for Royals fans. We had a pathetic manager, an impotent GM, a meddling, cheapskate owner: we deserved to lose 19 in a row, and in the most excruciating way possible. More than that: we wanted to lose 19 in a row, because we wanted it to get into the thick skulls of all the people running this team that THEY HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL THEY WERE DOING. And it worked, sort of. Nine months later Allard Baird was fired, Dayton Moore was given carte blanche, David Glass & son moved into the shadows. It took a while longer for Buddy Bell to be shown the door, but the momentum had shifted.

Or so we thought. Which is why tonight's game may have been even more painful. The Royals had lost 9 in a row, but we weren't losing because we couldn't hold leads - we were losing because we were less likely to get a lead than Maxwell Smart.

But tonight we had our young ace going, and Greinke didn't disappoint. He gave up a couple of early runs and the lead, but the Twins graciously responded by starting Livan Hernandez, and even the Royals can take advantage of 85-mph fastballs. Thirteen hits off Livan - who's on pace to give up 315 this year, by the way - and eight runs. After the 12-inning affair last night, Hillman tried to milk another inning out of Greinke that he probably shouldn't have, but Greinke went 1-2-3 in the eighth. Once again, the Royals took a five-run lead to the ninth inning.

And unlike in 2005, or 2006, or pretty much every year since Jeff Montgomery lost his fastball, there was no reason to have even the slightest bit of fear that the Royals would blow a five-run lead in the ninth. As an anonymous poster had just commented this morning, the Royals had not lost a game all year in which they were leading after even 7 innings, and only one game they had led after 6. It's not just that the Mexicutioner (yeah, that name is growing on me) has been lights out, but that the Royals have three relievers who have all pitched better than their best reliever in seasons past. And Ron Mahay hasn't been bad.

Ramon Ramirez comes in. Strikeout. Single. Strikeout. The Twins need four more baserunners to score just to tie the game, with one out to play with - basically, they need to channel the 1986 Mets twice. Single. Single. Single. 8-5, two on, tying run at the plate.

I don't fault Hillman for not getting Soria up, not one bit. He was absolutely right to pitch Soria on Monday to get him some work, and he was absolutely right to pitch Soria two innings in a tie game yesterday. And he was absolutely right to give Soria the day off today.

But with the tying run at the plate and two outs in the ninth, when a home run will tie the score, with an all-or-nothing slugger at the plate, how on God's Green Earth do you call upon Joel Peralta, a flyball pitcher who has given up 3 homers in 17 innings already (and 28 in 213 innings in his career) instead of Leo Nunez, who is clearly a different pitcher this season and hasn't given up a homer all year? Nunez pitched an inning and threw 23 pitches last night, but didn't pitch the night before that. And you only needed him to get one batter.

And the moment the ball left Craig Monroe's bat, you couldn't have set the odds that the Royals would still win high enough for me or any Royals fan to take them. The irony is that if I had had the time this morning, I had planned to write that last night, when the Royals tied the game with three runs in the ninth on a freak inside-the-park home run, the first thought that ran through my mind (the first being, of course, "WTF?") was "we're only tied." As a Royals fan, you know that momentum means nothing. Being the home team in a tie game in the ninth inning means nothing. Having the other team's ace reliever blow only his second save ever against the Royals means nothing.

If the tables had been turned - if the Royals had taken a 3-0 lead into the ninth, but our manager stuck with our young starter for way too long (five of the last ninth batters Blackburn faced reached base safely, and one of the four outs was a lineout-double play), if Soria had come in and blown a three-run lead on a fielding misplay, if we had been on the road and Joe Nathan was already warming up to pitch the tenth...I mean, there's no way in hell the Royals would have come back to win. The only question would be, will we lose it in the ninth, or will we go meekly in the 10th and then lose it in the bottom of the inning? As we saw tonight, when the shoe is on the other foot, the Royals might as well forfeit the game on the spot so the fans can get home at a reasonable hour on a weeknight.

The Twins couldn't get to Soria, but they didn't have to. They got out of the 9th, they got through the 10th and 11th, and they scored in the 12th. They could have waited until the 18th inning to score - we would have been waiting with them.

Should we blame Trey Hillman for this? I'm willing to cut him some slack, if only because he's been in Japan for all these years, and so hasn't had the opportunity to watch the Royals up close the past five years so he could see just how star-crossed this franchise is.

(Late update: it turns out we have to give Hillman some slack, because Nunez didn't pitch tonight only because he couldn't - he's going on the DL. So Hillman, without his two best relievers for one night, did everything he could - he let Greinke go eight innings, and he turned to his third-best reliever to protect a five-run lead. He did everything he could - except to pick a team other than the Royals to manage.)

If he had been following the Royals the last five years, he would know that the Royals are the team that bad stuff happens to. If any team can blow a five-run lead in the ninth, the Royals can. If any team can lose 7 or 10 or 19 games in a row, the Royals can. If any team can get no-hit in a series opener and give up two grand slams in the series finale, the Royals can. And it doesn't matter how good the Royals are playing - the worm can turn at any time.

Remember 2003? Remember the glorious month of April, when the Royals started 9-0, and 16-3? Remember when it all started to go wrong? Let me refresh your memory. The Royals were 16-3, they went to Toronto, lost the first game of the series 6-5 when Vernon Wells led off the bottom of the ninth with a homer. But the next night Ken Harvey hit a three-run homer in the ninth to win it, 9-6. And in the series finale, the Royals scored early and often; they were up 8-4 after eight innings. They scored a run in the top of the ninth. They had a five-run lead with three outs to go.

They gave up six runs in the ninth and lost, 10-9. They would lose their next three games, and 24 of their next 35, and fall under .500 by the first week of June. They would rise again and lead the division for much of July and August, but the chance to build an insurmountable lead had died, and a small lead was not enough for the Royals to hold onto against the irresistible pull of reality. The beginning of the end came on a night when the Royals held a five-run lead in the ninth inning.

Tonight wasn't the beginning of anything, nor was it the end. It was just another loss in a series of losses, some spectacular, some excruciating, but all of them the mark of a team that has no business calling itself a major league team. If 2005 is any indication, tonight may in fact just be the middle: the middle of a really, really long losing streak.

Only this time, there's no silver lining here. No one is going to lose their job over this. Ten days ago, this team was a game under .500, two games out of first, and we all thought that Moore and Hillman had managed to do the impossible - they had managed to overcome the perpetual stink of loserdom that had overwhelmed this franchise since Billy Butler was in third grade. Turns out it really was impossible after all.

(Second Update: we just learned from Ryan Lefebvre, by way of Posnanski, that David DeJesus - who might have ended the game with a catch that Ross Gload couldn't make in the ninth - left the game because he broke out in hives. Hives, people. Apparently I'm responsible for the Royals losing - if only I had been in the dugout with some medicine on hand, none of this would have happened. You don't see the Red Sox or the Indians or the Rays or even the freakin' Pirates lose games because one of their players broke out in a rash. So I say...)

Welcome to Kansas City, Dayton and Trey. Welcome to the nightmare the rest of us have been living in for a long, long time.

32 comments:

RickMcKc said...

Great post, especially the conclusion.

One point of clarification: Trey said that Nunez was going on the DL and wasn't available tonight. If he had been, it's a victory instead of a loss. Yet another example of the horrible timing that is KC Royals baseball.

I'm betting that Davies comes up and Tomko moves to the pen for at least Nunez's time out. I'm hoping that Peralta goes to Omaha and Aviles comes up.

Mark LaFlamme said...

I'm stunned. I'm in shock. The game has been over for 90 minutes, and I'm still shaking my head, expecting to wake up in some 9th inning fugue. It will still be 8-3. Hell, maybe even 8-5, but surely we won't blow it that big. Surely, a loss this epic isn't upon us. A blown five run lead after a beautiful, offensive outpouring is just too much, more deflating even than last week's no-no.
I disagree somewhat on the Soria decision. Sure he pitched two innings last night. Sure logic dictates that they rest him.
But this game was phenomenally important. To win with hitting and great pitching and to completely dominate a team, it's exactly what the boys needed to snap out of their malaise. Hillman should have done anything to preserve it, particularly after it was clear Ramirez was in trouble. He should have treated the ninth as the pivotal moment it was, heaping upon it as much care as he would a playoff game. Bringing Peralta back for the tenth? Peralta??
A daze. I must be in some sort of semi-delirious daze.

Isaac said...

It's so true. The minute that Monroe hit that ball I said game over. Last night I said it would end in the 12th when I saw Soria come out for the 11th. I remember that game against Toronto in 03. I also remember the game against the Indians when we scored 10 runs in the first and lost the game. This team is destined for failure and I need to find some way to eliminate all ability to have hope so that I no longer get depressed.

On the bright side, we almost made it to the end of May before we were completely out of it. Congratulations to a great season Royals!

Ryan said...

Posnanski just wrote on his blog that Gload took over for DeJesus in RF in the 7th, because...wait for it...DeJesus came down with hives and had to leave the game.

Hillman could have put Teahen in RF and Gload at first. He didn't. Gload had played RF back in...wait for it...2006.

Hillman didn't switch them, because...wait for it...he didn't want to put two players in new positions late in the game.

Gload has ball drop in front of him in the 9th that Teahen may have gotten to.

We lose.

Again.

Shelby said...

I hate everything.

Casper said...

I don't know how, and I don't know why, but I think this is all Mark Davis's fault. We've never - NEVER! - been the same franchise since he put on Royal blue. He brought some weird, freaky-azz dark karma to this organization when he came over from the NL. Mark Davis, man. Freakin' Mark Davis.

troyt said...

@Shelby: Best. Comment. Evar.

antoniomo said...

I'm with Mark about bringing in Soria. Where's the harm in that with two outs in the bottom of the ninth? To stop a nine game losing streak.

Why were we fooling around at that point??

I wonder if we'll see any interesting Greinke quotes on this game.....

Dallas Tucker said...

The NL central would be nice... haha.

Ron Rollins said...

Yes, we can blame Hillman. Not bringing in Soria is his fault. If they guy can't go 1/3 or an inning, especially in the middle of a 10-game losing streak, he shouldn't be on the roster. But he is, and he's our best pitcher and the bad manager didn't use him.

And putting Gload in RF? Does anyone need anymore proof that Hillman doesn't know how to manage? Every game he does something like this.

Replace him with Slugger. At least we would expect him to screw it up. But he couldn't actually do any worse than Hillman.

Ron Rollins said...

And the only reason Guillen is backing up Hillman is becasue he's the only manager around who will let him play every day and bat 4th, when he should be 6th or 7th.

Remember when Torre batted Rodriguez 8th in the playoffs because he wasn't hitting? That's what good managers do. Not just compounding the problem by going with lineups that don't work.

Anonymous said...

I call BS on the "Hillman should have pitched Soria" stuff. Is there a fan alive that KNOWS more about the Royals pitchers than their own Manager? I don't think so. Soria is a key for this team for the next several years by the looks of things. Why take a chance on hurting him in ANY way?

Having said all that... I do think that the pitching could have been handled better. The team apparently KNEW that Nunez was going to the DL prior to the game. Even if they couldn't get Musser to KC from Omaha prior to the game... they KNEW they had a change coming. Why not bring in Tomko or Meche or Bannister if we were so desperate? It should have been apparent that Peralta simply didn't "have it".

Upon reflection... I've tried to recall position players that have come in to pitch. Hell, Teahen or Gath (no real reason for picking those guys over anyone else) probably could have protected the five run lead with only one out to go!

At any rate, I'm not with the Hillman bashers at this point. I also have to say that I was glad that Guillen went off. This team needs some spirit even if it comes only after a horrendous meltdown. FIRE UP, ROYALS!!! Get some intestinal fortitude and start playing like your jobs depend on it... because THEY SHOULD!!!

Lastly, I am pissed that Zack didn't get the win! That is at least two games that even my failing memory can recall that he should have had WINS!!! Oh well, in another five days, he'll get after it again.

Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteveW

Alex said...

it's weird, i can't seem to stop banging my head on my desk.

Mac said...

"You don't see the Red Sox or the Indians or the Rays or even the freakin' Pirates lose games because one of their players broke out in a rash. So I say...)"

How about Joba and the bug bites...?

Maybe DeJesus got hives because he's allergic to winning. Maybe they all just need a short course of prednisone and then we can win the division.

Anonymous said...

This franchise is filled with losers. Datyon Moore and Hillman are no exceptions. People need to stop giving dayton and trey the benefit of the doubt. They need to stop being patient with this team. The MEDIA need to get on somebodies ass for once instead of being best buddies with them. SCREW THE ROYALS. I hope nobody goes to another game this season and glass losses money, just a pipe dream, I know. F U Glass.

Anonymous said...

NOSOTROS CREEMOS! Here's the deal, the Royals played nearly .500 ball up to the last two weeks. This sucks, its painful, but they have in recently years, hit better in June, etc... We'll straighten out, there is good pitching on this team, nobody predicted a .500 season (but it'd be nice) and right now, the teams record is a little more on pace with the 70 wins 90 loss mold.

Kirk Winkelman said...

All I know is that when there was a fly-ball to right field that could have ended the game, we had a 1st baseman there to try and catch it. That's a Hillman problem. No excuses.

Anonymous said...

Hillman had a 3 man bullpen to work with - Gobble, Mahay, Soria, Nunez all unavaible for various reasons.

Yabuta has not earned anybody's trust yet, so he is out. That leaves Hillman with Ramirez or Peralta to close it out.

Pick EITHER ONE, and STAY WITH HIM THE WHOLE INNING, and this doesn't happen.

Ramirez allows walks and singles, but not HRs, so the Twins would have to bunch 7 walks/singles to tie. Not likely.

Peralta is HR prone, but his WHIP is actually OK. The Twins would have to get 4 walks/singles, and then the HR, to tie. Not likely.

Instead, Hillman managed the two in a way that exposed one of their weaknesses.

I'm convinced that if he let Ramirez continue, there's NO WAY the Twins punch 3 more singles to tie.

I'm also convinced that if he let Peralta pitch the entire 9th, there's NO WAY he yields 5 baserunners ending in a homer.

Personally, I was just as baffled by not switching Gload and Teahen defensively.

The manager's job is to put his players in position to succeed; Trey had a bad game in this regard last night. Does that make him a bad manager? Well, in my mind, only if he doesn't learn from it.

Anonymous said...

I realize I am way to involved in the Royals, but last night I almost wept.

James said...

Good piece as always. This one will sting for a long while. Just wondering if in some of your upcoming blogs, I could get your thoughts on why in the freaking HELL isn't Olivo our everyday catcher and maybe dig up some stats on just how crazy and fluky Pena's hitting was last season? Something along the lines of I have a better chance at getting struck by lightning twice, then winning the powerball than he has to ever hit over .200 again. I honestly do not think, and I have money riding on it that he finishes the year above.200. How long will we put up with this?!?!?

rcrider13 said...

What now?

Anonymous said...

We're all upset by the pitching meltdown, but I am still upset the team doesn't do more with the bases loaded and no outs in the first. All we managed was a run, and if not for Delmon Young's poor defense, this game may have never been the tragedy it became because we couldn't capitalize in the first.

Mark LaFlamme said...

What about that Guillen rant in the locker room? Pure passion that we can use or simple verbal abuse? Frankly, I appreciate his intensity and promises for some serious #@!#%!! changes.

Anonymous said...

TREY HILLMAN LOST THIS GAME.
INSTEAD OF PUTTING GLOAD AT FIRST WHERE HE IS CLEARLY BETTER THAN TEAHAN AND TEAHAN IN RIGHT WHERE HE IS CLEARLY BETTER THAN GLOAD, AND BRINGING IN PERALTA INSTEAD OF LEAVING IN RAMIREZ.

HOPEFULLY HE LEARNS FROM THIS

Anonymous said...

Tonight should be interesting. My bet is that Kevin Slowey (1-4) gets a taste of what it's like to be an ace as he faces the Kansas City Slumpbusters.

We've gotten to the point where we can't even win when our opponent pitches and plays an absolutely horrible game. Can't say we haven't had any breaks. We've been on the receiving end of some very good breaks the last couple of days. But right now, we make winning look just as difficult as Tony Pena Jr makes bunting look.

Maybe we should all start placing bets on Royals opponents. At least we'll be able to make the best of the situation.

Ryan said...

If Alex Gordon can get two HBPs tonight, I think we have a really good chance to win.

Shelby said...

Alex Gordon and Billy Butler look to be on pace to be let-downs, a la JD Drew.

I mean, he's a fine player. But that's it.

For them to NOT be major disappointments, Butler will need to average .310 per year and have a .925 OPS. Gordon will need to average .290 and have a .975 OPS.

And it just doesn't look like it's ever going to happen.

Maybe I'm way off-line here....somebody set me straight.

Devon said...

The Royals have 2 players in AAA Omaha right now who are doing really good...Mike Aviles and Kyle Davies (who's spent some time in the majors already). Why aren't they bringing these guys up and seeing if they can help? Obviously, the Royals are in need of help. Especially when it comes to Aviles... right now, in 50 games in AAA, he's batting .338 with an OPS of 1.003 and slugging .634. KC is desperate for offense this year and they seem to be dragging their feet on someone right under their nose who might be of use to them. I just don't get it.

skeptic said...

Butler down, Aviles up. Losses like last night's don't appear to sit well with Dayton Moore.

I still like the way things are setting up long term. Exercise patience, but don't hesitate to pull the trigger when necessary.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly I don't get to "watch" the games but the statistics for Alex Gordon don't look so bad to me. Why are so many Royals fans acting like he is a "bust" or even a disappointment? He is young and still improving and I think a future star. Am I wrong or are the pessimists wrong?

Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteveW

Eric said...

And people still wonder why the Royals have to pay a premium to get free agents to come here. This 10-game - no wait, it's 11 as I write this, and will probably be 12 in a few hours - losing streak is precisely why you have to pay $12M/year to get Jose freakin' Guillen to play in Kansas City.

I'm in agony. Again. I had thought this type of horror was finally over.

Chris in Olathe said...

One thing you forgot to mention Rany:

Why in the HELL was Gload, whom normally plays 1B in RF, and Teahen, whom normally plays RF playing 1B? Was Hillman somehow not aware of the fact that he could move his defenders around during the course of the game?

Boneheaded move, absolutely BONEHEADED.