And now you know why I almost never attend Royals games in person anymore.
I moved to the Chicago area five summers ago, and if I can't live in Kansas City, living in a city with one of the AL Central rivals is the next best thing - I'm guaranteed 9 or 10 Royals games a season here. And if I lived in the city proper, it's a good bet I'd attend the majority of them. But I live in Naperville, which is a little over 20 miles from downtown as the crow flies. It's a 30 minute drive with no traffic...and in Chicago there's no such thing as no traffic. Weeknight games require that I leave the house at rush hour, which almost guarantees the drive will take over an hour.
So I only make it to two or three games a year. Amazingly, in the five years I've lived here I don't believe I've seen the Royals win a single time. I've attended most of the games in the press box, and I can tell you that I have no idea what the mood in the clubhouse is after the Royals win, because every time I've visited the clubhouse it's after a loss and all the reporters are asking the players what went wrong tonight. I'm like the Grim Reaper. Players see me and they make a beeline for the trainer's room.
I vividly remember this game early in the 2005 season, before it was clear that the Royals were the worst team in baseball and the White Sox were the best. Greinke was brilliant that night, the Royals got a home run from Graffanino in the 7th...and in the eighth, the White Sox scored two runs on walk, a hit by pitch, and then with two outs, Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos combined to walk three consecutive batters to force in the tying and winning runs. Immediately after the game ended, one of the White Sox beat writers in the row in front of me stared at his scorecard for a long moment, puzzled, then said to the guy sitting next to him, "how the hell did we win this game?" I did not jump down, grab him by the throat, and explain to him, "because you're playing the Royals, you moron!" But I thought about it.
So I did not attend any of the games when the Royals were in town last month. But my brother Roukan moved to the Chicago area late last year, and had never been to the ballpark. Roukan is the sort of fan that would follow the Royals religiously if they just tossed him a bone. He's not a fair-weather fan - he hung with the team for most of the 1990s - but at some point the 90+ loss seasons started eating away at his soul, and he gave them up. Nowadays when I talk to him about Alex Gordon hitting a bomb or Joakim Soria making opposing hitters cry, he asks me very politely to save the Royals talk for when they have a winning record in August.
But tonight was a beautiful night for baseball, the weekend is upon us, and best of all, Zack Greinke was on the mound. If ever there was a chance to introduce him to the park, it was tonight. I slipped on my #23 jersey over my Mexicutioner T-shirt, picked my brother up and headed to the park. Traffic was a nightmare, and we weren't able to pull into the parking lot ($22, folks, and they cram us in like sardines) until about 7:15. By the time we got to the gate and found a scalper to buy tickets from, it was about 7:25. (What, you think I'm going to give the White Sox my hard-earned money? Comfort to the enemy? Never!)
We heard a few scattered cheers during our approach, but no wild yelling, no fireworks to signal a home run - and it's hard to hurt Greinke much without the homer. We figured the cheering was just there to mark the end of the top of the first inning.
And then we came out of the concourse and into the stands, and saw the score. It was 4-1, Chicago. There were two men on. There were no men out. And as we watched, Nick Swisher grounded one through the hole into left to load the bases. By the time we reached our seats, Joe Crede had poked another ball into left for a hit. Alexei Ramirez hit a sacrifice fly - the #9 hitter made the first out of the inning - but the Sox were already leading, 6-1.
We might as well have left the park at that point. Zack Greinke had somehow surrendered seven groundball singles in a row - interrupted only by a hit-by-pitch to the inveterate master of the form, Carlos Quentin. And this all happened in the blink of an eye - despite facing 11 batters in the first, Greinke threw just 28 pitches. The Sox had four runs on the board by the time Zack had thrown seven pitches.
And just as we were thinking that Zack ran into some bloody awful luck in the first inning, he hung a curve to Quentin leading off the second for a home run.
We trudged through the next few innings, watching as Billy Butler hit a drive to the deepest part of the park that was chased down by Swisher. We almost left the game in the sixth, but then Butler came up again and hit a towering flyball that was a no-doubter from the moment he connected. With the game within three runs, we thought we'd stick it out and see if the Royals could pull off the miracle, but then Jimmy Gobble decided he'd had enough of this whole "throw strikes" concept and put the game out of reach. We left during the seventh-inning stretch; I'm not a big fan of the Los Angeles approach to fandom, but at that point I felt that the best thing I could do for the team was to get as far away from them as possible.
I'm sorry, Zack. This game was all my fault.
I hope to see many of you on Sunday - just to confirm, you should find me directly underneath the little tower that stands outside the entrance to Gate 3 at 12:15. But if the Royals lose again on Sunday...that's it. I'm not going back there until the Royals figure out how to win in this Godforsaken ballpark. And until I find an exorcist.