When fans of most teams think of the most memorable moments in their franchise’s history over the last 10 or 15 years, they’re likely to think of game-winning hits in the playoffs, or a clutch homer in a pennant race in late September. Royals fans are a little different.
9:38 am. HoltzyKC Lineup for Motown matinee: Blanco 8, Aviles 6, Bloomie 5, Billy DH, Kila 3, Pena 2, Mitch 9, Miller 7, Getz 4. O'Sully pitching.
We can’t reminisce over game-winning hits in the playoffs, because we haven’t been to the playoffs. We don’t have clutch homers in a pennant race in late September, because our team has been mathematically eliminated by late September for 24 – about to be 25 – straight years.
We have to take our memorable moments where we can find them, even if they occur in a meaningless August game pitting a pair of sub-.500 teams against each other. Like, say, yesterday.
One of Ned Yost’s idiosyncrasies is that, whereas most managers look at a day off in the schedule as a built-in opportunity to get his players some rest without taking them out of the lineup, Yost actually likes to use a scheduled day off as an opportunity to sit some of his regulars the day before, giving them two days off in a row – but at the cost of fielding some of the weakest lineups you’ve ever seen. Like, say, yesterday.
In the 20-plus years since I started following the Royals closely, the weirdest lineup decision I had ever seen were these two games, on May 10 and May 16, 1992, when the Royals started Bob Melvin in the cleanup spot. The same Melvin who would finish with a career slugging average of .337, and had a .317 slugging average and a total of seven homers from 1989 to 1991. Melvin started the 1992 season 9-for-23, and the Royals faced left-handed starters in both games, and…yeah, there’s really no explanation for it. Melvin did have a huge platoon split in his career - .284/.325/.410 against LHP, .196/.225/.283 against RHP. It was still a comically bad decision. The Royals lost both games.
10:05 am. mellinger Galarraga's best chance at a perfect game in six weeks.
But batting Melvin cleanup was genius compared to batting Willie “Boom-Boom” Bloomquist third…against a right-handed pitcher, no less. Against left-handers, Bloomquist has an almost respectable career line of .273/.335/.366. Against right-handers, he’s hit .256/.302/.314. Ladies and gentlemen, your #3 hitter!
As it turned out, not only had Bloomquist never batted third in the majors, he had never batted third in the minors. Naturally, his teammates seized on the opportunity.
Teammates chimed in as the minutes ticked down in the clubhouse before heading to the field for batting practice.
“He’s my pick to click,” Jason Kendall said.
Alex Gordon added, “You’re going to go big fly all day.”
When asked whether he was playing a hunch, Yost replied, “You have a better idea?” Well, given that he had a couple of guys hitting under .180 (Kila Ka’aihue and Brayan Pena) batting fifth and sixth, and Jai Miller making the second start of his major league career batting eighth…yeah, I still had a lot of better ideas. But let’s be frank – this was one ridiculously bad lineup, no matter where Bloomquist was batting.
Early on, the lineup performed exactly as well as you’d expect, mustering just two hits – one a double by Bloomquist in the first – and two walks in the first six innings. Sean O’Sullivan righted the ship after giving up 3 runs in the second, but the Royals were still down 3-0 heading into the seventh.
1:35 pm. Royals_Report Bloomy watch: Flies out to right in sixth. Now 1-3. Needs one more hit to meet Yost's pre-game guarantee. Royals trail Tigers 3-0 in sixth.
Ka’aihue homered leading off the seventh. Pena and Mitch Maier followed with singles, but Phil Coke came on to end the threat with the Tigers still leading 3-1.
2:24 pm. Royals_Report Bloomy watch: Likely to finish 1-4 in first game as No. 3 hitter. Just struck out in eighth inning. Royals trail Tigers 3-1.
Bloomquist’s strikeout in the eighth left Mike Aviles on first base with one out. Ryan Perry then got Butler to fly out, but rather than face Ka’aihue – who had homered off of him the night before – Perry was pulled in favor of Jose Valverde, who hadn’t blown a save since the first week of the season (against the Royals, mind you.)
Instead, Valverde offered up a data point for why Yost has decided to reserve his closer for the ninth inning only. Going for the four-out save, Valverde couldn’t even get the first one. Ka’aihue doubled in Aviles, and Pena followed with another double to tie the game. Maybe Bloomquist would bat again after all.
2:50 pm. jazayerli That said, if Willie fulfills Yost's 2-hit prophecy with a game-winner, I'll never criticize him again. By "again", I mean "for a few days."
The frightening combination of Dusty Hughes and Jesse Chavez got out of the eighth inning unscathed, helped by a nice play by Ka’aihue that saved a run. Philip Humber came in to pitch the ninth and retired the side in order.
3:04 pm. Royals_Report Bloomy watch: He does get another AB but grounds out to first in the 10th. Now 1-5. Royals and Tigers tied 3-3.
You don’t have to believe me, but watching Bloomquist’s at-bat in the 10th, I was fully expecting – and even hoping for – a home run. In a world where Yuniesky Betancourt can be a useful player, why can’t Ned Yost be a prophet and Willie Bloomquist be a hero? Instead, the game continued, and Humber continued to stymie the Tigers in the 10th and 11th. (I would be performing a minor surgery when Bloomquist batted in the 12th, and was unable to watch live.)
3:26 pm. devil_fingers Yost not PHing Gordon for Bloomy made sense: Ned said Bloomquist would get a "couple" hits, so he's still got at least one more left in him.
Bloomquist batted again in the 12th, with one out and nobody on. He ran the count full against Alfredo Figaro.
3:44 pm. Royals_Report Bloomy watch: Yes, a sixth AB as game reaches the 12th in Detroit. Gets second hit as Yost promised...homer on full-count pitch.
3:45 pm. devil_fingers Wow. Boom, Yosted.
3:45 pm. nate_bukaty Ned Yost: prophetic!
3:49 pm. robneyer Meanwhile, Willie Bloomquist just became the Royals' No. 3 hitter for the rest of the season.
3:52 pm. jazayerli And by "ever again", I mean "ever again". Holy moly.
Joakim Soria retired the Tigers in order in the bottom of the 12th – his 29th converted save opportunity in a row.
3:56 pm. mellinger If Yost is willing, I have a friend who could really use a guarantee that he finds a woman.
It was a meaningless win in a meaningless game that brought the Royals to within 19 games of .500. The only impact that Bloomquist’s homer might have is that it might knock the Royals back a slot or two in next year’s draft.
But you know something? It might have been the highlight of the season. What can I say – we’re Royals fans. We’ve got low standards.
3:58 pm. jfishsports Yost's post-game should be him just walking in, taking the microphone, throwing it down, and walking out with two middle fingers raised.
The irony of Yost’s prophecy and Bloomquist’s homer is that it takes the spotlight away from the real story of the ballgame. The Royals did, in fact, win this game because of Ned Yost’s strengths as a manager, but it had nothing to do with the Spork.
Going into his final at-bat on Tuesday night, Kila Ka’aihue was hitting .152 for the season (10-for-66), and was just 1-for-his-last-19. He wasn’t striking out a ton – he had whiffed just 10 times, which is to say that despite hitting .152, he was only on pace to strike out about 90 times over a full season. This is Ka’aihue’s hidden talent, and the reason why it’s not fair to compare him to the Calvin Pickerings of the world: for a power hitter who draws a ton of walks, he very rarely strikes out.
The problem is that he wasn’t drawing a lot of walks either, having taken a free pass just four times so far.
“I just had to go back to what I need to be doing. I was trying to do some things I was not capable of doing. I was looking out of my zone and trying to hit more pitches. Stuff like that. Just not playing my game.”
Despite his struggles, Yost showed no signs of giving up on him. Quite the contrary; he kept moving Ka’aihue up in the lineup. After batting fifth against the Yankees on August 13 and 14, Ka’aihue moved into the cleanup spot in his next three starts, and then moved into the #3 hole last Saturday. It was because he was batting in the #3 hole that Ka’aihue got one last chance to bat on Tuesday, with the Royals down 9-0 in the ninth, with two outs and no one on.
And the Hawaiian kid with the slider bat-speed connected on a 95-mph fastball (granted, it was right down the middle) for his first homer of the season.
“Going into that at-bat,” manager Ned Yost said, “I was thinking about giving him a day off (today) to let him regroup a little bit. Now, that might be something that will get him going. He just needs a couple of hits to relax a little bit.”
Yost dropped Ka’aihue down to fifth in the lineup yesterday, because hey, when you have the opportunity to bat the Spork third, you have to take it. But Ka’aihue was in the lineup, and he delivered – multiple times. He led off the top of the second with a walk, and while he was stranded, it was a good sign that he was finally letting the game come to him.
After Armando Galarraga shut the Royals down for six straight innings, Ka’aihue went down and got a slider – not a hanging slider, but a decent pitch that was down and in – and pulled it into the right field seats. In the eighth, facing the Tigers’ closer while representing the tying run with two outs, Ka’aihue doubled, then scored the tying run on Pena’s double. In the tenth inning, he batted with Alex Gordon on first base; after Gordon took second base on a wild pitch, the Tigers elected to intentionally walk Ka’aihue on a 2-0 count. That’s quite a turnaround given that, just last week, the Indians twice intentionally walked Billy Butler in order to face Ka’aihue.
Kila Ka’aihue has been the premier power-and-plate-discipline hitter in the entire organization for the last three years, and he finally delivered on that promise for just one game. He had two extra-base hits and two walks in Wednesday’s game. That might not sound that impressive, but it’s just the sixth time in the last six years that a Royals player has done that.
I’m not going to argue that one home run is going to change the course of Kila’s season. After all, twice this year Alex Gordon has hit game-winning homers, and we’re still waiting for him to sustain any kind of a breakout.
But I will argue that by keeping him in the lineup, by publicly supporting him despite his struggles, Ned Yost has given Ka’aihue the opportunity to change the course of his season. As I wrote in May, while young hitters in Milwaukee like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun hit right out of the gate, Yost also stayed firm with hitters who didn’t, like Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart. Yost’s blend of patience and optimism with young players is his single best trait as a manager.
So go ahead and revel in the Bloomquist Prophecy, and sing Ned Yost’s praises. Or go ahead and mock Yost for being foolish enough to bat Willie Freaking Bloomquist third, results be damned.
As far as I’m concerned, though, Yost can bat Bloomquist third – and Jason Kendall second – in every game the rest of the season if he wants, so long as Ka’aihue adjusts to the major leagues and proves himself to be an everyday player by the end of the season. Yost seems committed to giving him that chance. That, not Bloomquist’s home run, is the real story of yesterday’s game.