Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm Back.

I didn’t intend to be absent this long. We had a lot of family in over the 4th of July weekend, including my oldest sister and her kids, who live in Dubai. I live by the rule of thumb that when someone travels 10,000 miles in part to visit you, you give them a high priority. And the last few days I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible with my wife and daughters, who are leaving this evening to visit relatives in Syria for four weeks. With any luck my kids will come back more proficient in Arabic than their father, whose vocabulary is limited to ordering food at a restaurant. (Not that being able to order Arab food isn’t a very useful skill on its own.)

The upside of all this is that I’m going to have significantly more free time over the next four weeks to do things like, I don’t know, update this blog. The downside of this is that over the ten days, the Royals have returned to American League action and returned to playing in such ways that they are once again threatening to suck the life out of me.

Tuesday night they lost in 13 innings, after holding a two-run lead with five outs to go. They lost because Ozzie Guillen pinch-ran for Konerko with Brian Anderson in the eighth, and Anderson alertly made it to third on a single, allowing him to score the tying run on a sac fly. They lost because Jose Guillen led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple and then died there. They lost because in the 12th inning Trey Hillman called for Billy Butler to do something that 1) he should never be asked to do and 2) he is incapable of doing, the result of which was a double play.

Mostly, they lost because the second base umpire failed to call interference on Alexei Ramirez when he ran into Esteban German trying to field a grounder in the tenth, leading to a bases loaded, one-out situation – and then when Gathright made a sensational catch in right-center but collided with Teahen, Ramirez raced home all the way from second base for the exceedingly rare two-RBI sac fly. The Royals managed to score two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, which only made the loss more painful when the Sox scored another run in the 13th. Naturally, the Royals teased their fans by loading the bases with one out, only to have Grudzielanek rap into the game-ending double play.

But as Buddy Bell once said, “I never say it can’t get worse.” When the Royals took a 5-0 lead after three innings on Wednesday, with Bannister dealing, I said to myself that if the Royals managed to find a way to lose this time, I was through with them. A pair of Carlos Quentin homers later, and the Sox had scored four runs through six innings without leaving anyone on base, a neat trick. Butler killed another rally in the sixth with a double play – this time he was swinging away – and Hillman tried to use Robinson Tejada to hold a one-run lead in the eighth to rest his weary bullpen, with unfortunate results.

Ramon Ramirez would be called to put out a fire, and as fine an addition as Ramirez has been, weird things seem to happen when he’s on the mound. He gave up the winning run on a wild pitch earlier this year; there was the ninth-inning meltdown against Minnesota when he gave up some cheap hits and Hillman decided to bring Joel Peralta in with the tying run at the plate. Wednesday he decided to raise the standard for bizarre methods of losing by balking in the winning run. Butler hit into another double play with two men on in the bottom of the eighth – a bunt might have been the right call there, if only Billy knew how to put one down – and that was that.

I don’t need this aggravation. I’ve spent half of my life as an utterly obsessive fan of this team, and in return, after 17 years I’ve received no playoff appearances, no thrilling September pennant drives, and only a single hint of a pennant race in the summer of 2003. And after the games of Tuesday and Wednesday, the Royals appeared no closer to turning things around than they did 17 years ago. Further away, actually. Why should I waste time following a loser with all my new free time when I could be playing GTA4 or something? At least in that game, someone else gets to be the victim for a change.

So it was with no expectations but more of the same that I watched yesterday’s game unfold, the brilliant but sure-to-be-wasted effort by Greinke tainted by a single homer, the utter inability to do anything against Mark Buehrle, who was 16-6 against the Royals in his career. A 1-0 loss after losing 7-6 and 8-7 the last two nights? Sure, why not.

And then they sucked me back in. They always do. John Buck reminded me that he’s having a much better year that most people realize, singling to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Paul Konerko reminded me that sometimes the breaks don’t always go against the Royals, it just seems that way. Mike Aviles reminded me that if nothing else, this season the Royals have found a shortstop who can hit. Jose Guillen reminded me that throwing him a first-pitch fastball anywhere around the plate is usually a mistake. Mark Teahen reminded me that he might be the smartest baserunner in the major leagues. Joakim Soria reminded me, as always, that I no longer have to be afraid when the Royals have a ninth-inning lead.

The Royals: I can’t live with ‘em, I can’t live without ‘em. I’ll never be through with them; just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in. If you’re reading this blog, you probably feel the same way. Which is why I’ll keep going, and keep hoping that the Royals don’t continue to test my limits.