Spectacular Day at the K for Counting Jerseys

IMG_5712It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Kansas City today. And the best place to be was out at Kauffman Stadium, eating a Sheboygan brat and watching the almost first-place local nine beat the AL East’s top team, the Baltimore Orioles, 6-1.

The game was pure Royals baseball. There was a sacrifice bunt. There was aggressive base running. The other team made blunders because they knew they had to hurry if they were going to get the fellows doing what speed do on the bases. The pitching was outstanding, especially by starter Yordano Ventura who worked his way through a rocky first inning to post a fine 7-inning performance, only allowing three hits and one earned run to one of the most potent offenses in the league. The Kansas City offense used homers by Alex Gordon (a just-enough fly to the left field corner) and Eric Hosmer (in a rope to the right field seats) and one of their patented “keep-the-line-moving” innings where a single by Alex Gordon was followed by doubles by Christian Colon and Sal Butera, then singles by Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to push the game out of reach. Butera’s double was key. After Colon’s hit, Jarrod Dyson hit a fielder’s choice grounder to first. Colon lit out for third and Chris Davis threw to Manny Machado covering. Colon was called out. The reply shown at the game looked like Colon was clearly safe. But after review, the “out” call was upheld. (They must have thought he broke contact or something.) Those kinds of plays can be momentum busters but Butera delivered when needed and the good guys kept denting the plate.

And while the weather was perfect and the game satisfying, I noticed a couple of things. First, whomever is in charge of playing that damnable “Make Some Noise” video that’s accompanied by some screeching, thumping music needs to take it down a notch. Maybe three or four. We know you are trying to whup the crowd into a cheering frenzy but when you do it every other pitch, it becomes just plain annoying. And I am pretty sure the team is using recorded crowd noise because when this vulgar cheerleading was going on and a roaring crowd could be heard, I would scan the crowd and see not a soul yelling. Hmmm. Well, even if they are not pumping in crowd noise, the in-your-face shrieking that implores you to applaud is embarrassing. It is telling the fans that they are not smart enough to figure out when to cheer.

Second, I enjoyed seeing the number of player jerseys being worn. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different ones. We saw fans in Escobar and Cain jerseys, Perez and Hosmer, Moustakas and Gordon and Dyson and Soria jerseys. And there was also a Billy Butler, a Greinke, a Zobrist and a Bo Jackson. And then there were the personalized ones. There was a Jones, which I supposed could have been a Lynn Jones but the guy didn’t look old enough to remember Lynn Jones (OF, ’84-’86.) There was also a Kirkman, “Elisa da Beast” and, simply, Cookie, who mysteriously sported #66. It was hard to tell which of the current Boys in Blue was the most popular. It was a toss up between Moose, Hos, Gordon and Perez. Which is appropriate I think, as it is hard to pick a most valuable Royal. They all contribute in different ways at different times, like a championship team should.

And they won, which makes all criticisms irrelevant. And like I said, it was a spectacular day, enjoyable and entertaining in ways expected and unexpected.

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Miggy Cabrera Shows Respect For Alex Gordon’s Catch

Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon made an incredible catch in last night’s game against the Detroit Tigers. That’s not news, of course, at least not to Royals’ fans or those who pay attention to things like which players win Gold Gloves. But it is getting some love in the national press today, which is good and proper. However, Gordon’s efforts were not the only remarkable thing about that little slice of the contest, won by KC 4-0. The reaction of Detroit Tiger superstar and almost certain future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera should also be noted.

It was the eighth inning. Gordon had just slammed the door on Detroit in the seventh when he gunned down Jose Iglesias at third for the final out of the inning. (The Tiger shortstop was trying to advance on a fly out. Ah, foolish youth and inexperience!) Detroit’s Justin Upton smacked an Edinson Volquez offering deep into the Kansas City night, far, far into the left-centerfield gap. Gordon turned to his left and ran. Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain had moved slightly to right field, anticipating that Upton would pull the ball and so was farther away than he might have been. It didn’t matter. Gordon bounded like a deer over the vast greensward of Kaufmann Stadium, the largest pasture in major league baseball. On and on he ran, over and back and back and over until he finally gained the warning track in deep left center. He then twisted, gloved left hand extended fully, out and back towards the wall, and caught the ball that had left Upton’s bat maybe 12 minutes before.

Gordon belly flopped onto the track, hard. Cain was on the scene immediately and signaled to all that his teammate had caught the ball. Upton was pulling into second by this time and stopped. Volquez had his hands on his head, mouth agape, in a pure “You-gotta-be-kidding-me” pose. Then he tipped his cap to Gordon, as did many other Royals. The crowd leapt to its feet and roared its approval for their adopted son of Nebraska. Gordon, characteristically, got up without demonstration or celebration, spat out a little mouthful of warning track material, and trotted back to his position.

Then came the other newsworthy event. Miguel Cabrera was the next batter. With the home crowd still roaring for Gordon’s prowess, Cabrera stood outside the batter’s box, nodding and smiling, letting the crowd cheer the fantastic play, simply acknowledging a superb display of baseball skill. And while Gordon certainly should be cheered for the play, Miguel Cabrera should also be noted for his display of professionalism. Hat tip to you as well, Senor Cabrera!

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The 2016 season is still very young. Yet KC fans have got to be happy. Very happy. The Royals have now completed two series and sit alone atop the division at 4-1. Sure they just wrapped up a three game sweep of the hapless Twins but a win is a win is a win. Every game you win in April, you don’t have to win in September.

But I think the point Royals fans should be most happy about is how similar this team looks to last year’s World Championship squad. Now, on one hand that seems like a rather stupid thing to say, since it is almost exactly the same team, give or take a starting pitcher or two. But my point is that you never know how guys are going to play after a couple of months off. They are all a year older. And life happens. So it is great to see that they look as fast, skilled and aggressive as in 2015.

One hears baseball announcers talk about weapons, and I think that it is an apt term. The Royals, once again, are not a one trick pony. They have no stat superstar to lean on, but a bevy of men that can and do get the job done. They have, as it were, many weapons. Whether it’s the defense, from Hosmer, to Moose, to Cain, to Gordon, to Perez, to Escobar, with their good gloves, good arms and good baseball intelligence or the offense, with the same cast of characters along with Morales, and Colon, and Infante, and Gore For The Score, or the pitching. And in the game just ended, I noted the contribution of another weapon–the smart and supportive home field fan base in Kansas City. Case in point: a couple of dudes along the right field side just past the KC dugout. Late in the game, with enemy runners on base, a Twin batter lifted a shallow pop foul to right. Hosmer drifted over, glanced once at the tarp, then returned his focus to the ball, Colon close behind. Hos leaned over the tarp, almost on top of the short wall separating the stands from the field, and made the play. The dudes, instead of losing their cool and scrambling for a souvenir, leaned back and out of the way, giving Hos plenty of room. (One dunce was trying to get the ball, but he was (thankfully) too far away.) These unknown fans, paying customers, should be credited with an assist.

Anyway, the Long March has started here in April. And Kansas City looks well stocked with weapons for the haul.

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Okay, let’s address the obvious. Why no posts since the middle of the World Series? Easy. I had nothing to add. It was obvious that the Royals were a much better team than the Mets and, in my opinion, that they were going to win. Since the spotlight was on KC, everybody and their dog was writing about the Boys in Blue. (With the dog usually producing better stuff.) I thought it was silly to simply say what everyone else was saying.

That being said, the time has come to defend the crown.

I like KC’s chances. It will all come down to, as always, injuries. If Salvy goes down, yikes. He’s the key. I’d like to see the team give him more days off, especially now since they gave him a much deserved contract increase and extension. The team has good depth all around–heck, they lost All-Star Gold Glover Alex Gordon to an injury to his Netherlands for, what was it, a month and a half. And what happened? Division title, AL pennant, World Series Championship. The pitching staff is the biggest issue. Is pitching coach Dave Eiland’s magic enough to bring back both Chien-Ming Wang AND Ian Kennedy? I openly questioned previous moves such as adding Eddie Volquez and others and it turned out, happily, that I was wrong. Way wrong. So at this point, I am more inclined to just believe that the Royals have superb talent recognition and development skills in their coaching ranks (although, well, Luke Hochevar) and to trust their actions.

And I like the team. It was hard when KC had Cueto. I found him annoying and rooted for his success only because it meant team success. Petty? Sure. But this is just a game, right? Anyway, what I like most about the Royals is that they are not only superb players, maybe not the top of the league, but solid B+/A- types, but they seem to be genuinely likable people. Of course, I’ve never met any of them but one gets a sense of someone’s personality over time by watching interviews and reading about actions. I could be completely wrong about this of course but my point is that they are good and easy to root for, and that makes the glow from their success even more fun to bask in. It just feels good to be a Royals fan.

So on with the show. We’ll see if they stick the ball in Syndergaard’s ear when he brings his little plastic hammer to the plate for the first time. We’ll see what speed do. (Well, we won’t really since Jarrod Dyson is on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique issue.) We’ll let the Moose loose and see how many girls still want to marry Eric Hosmer. And we’ll see if Salvy douses Ned Yost with a victory shower. It will be a fun run, even watching from home. PLAY BALL!

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Time For Cueto To Put It Up

Here’s the moment. Here’s why the Kansas City Royals gave up Brandon Finnegan for a shiny rental pitcher. It’s the big game. And it’s high time much-ballyhooed Johnny Cueto lived up to his past numbers.

Far too often lately, of course, he hasn’t. The King of the shimmy-shimmy-ko-ko-bop pitching style has been seeing the “bop” transform from the sweet sound of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt as the batter flails to the ugly noise of an opponent’s bat solidly meeting the horsehide. And with each bop, KC fans have been getting more unhappy. Cueto’s wiggling and nonchalance may look clever and root-worthy when he’s effective, but they look like amateur trickery when he isn’t.

After five terrible outings, each probably costing him millions going forward since this is his big contract year, he finally said that it was probably because catcher Salvy Perez was setting up too high. OH, of course. And you waited five games? Sounds like BS to me. I’d expect that kind of excuse from a rookie or other unestablished player but Cueto? He’s been around for years and has been an All-Star just like Perez. True, he was new to the team and the league, but he already had his best friend, fellow pitching Dominican Edinson Volquez on the team, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t have spoken up immediately if he had wanted his catcher to set up lower.

In any event, the past does not matter. What the Royals and their fans have is tonight’s game. The ball and the future of KC’s wonderful 2015 season will literally be in Johnny Cueto’s hands. And I hope that manager Ned Yost will position himself on the top step of the dugout, ready to catapult out to yank Cueto if the dreadlocked one looks disastrous.

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For KC, These Are The Good Old Days

If you look back into ancient history, say a year or so ago, we fans of the Royals were happy. The team didn’t suck, wasn’t going to lose 100 games and had several genuinely likeable players who also happened to be pretty good at baseball.

Now, our Boys in Blue are the defending American League champions, have the best record in the American League, and we are as fretful as could be. Wade Davis and Greg Holland, closers supreme (and yes I consider Davis a closer. He slams the door after Morales or Herrera has shoved the opponents out, then Holland nails it shut), have been roughed up a couple of times and people are in something of a panic. This is completely foolish. These are the good old times we will look back on.

Lets look at the stumbles of HDH. They are to be expected. Those guys were pitching such perfect games, for such a long period of time that even one with the most rudimentary grasp of statistics would have to realize that sooner or later, there was going to be some sort of regression back to normalcy. Perfection is not normal. They were going to get hit. They have. The bubble has burst and KC is still in first. So exhale. Relax.

Alex Gordon went down with his groin issue. Oh dear. It almost calls forth a yawn. I mean, honestly. We have Jarrod “That’s What Speed Do” Dyson, who has more than earned a chance to play every day. And Alex Rios shouldn’t be nearly as bad as his stats so look for one of the statistical corrections mentioned above. And Paulo Orlando has certainly been serviceable. While I still miss My Man Aoki, the team did itself proud by grabbing Ben Zobrist. And Kansas City is, here in the last half of August, 12 games above second place Minnesota with, as I said, the best record in the American League.

Pitching? Well, I thought getting Edinson Volquez was a bad move. I was wrong. I thought getting Johnny Cueto wasn’t a good move, not because he was bad but because the Royals would only have him for, what, eight starts? Ten? And at too high a price, conscripting 22-year-old Brandon “Win Again With” Finnegan lost to the salt mines, aka Cincinnati’s AAA team in Louisville. But he’s been pretty good. And did I mention that the Royals are in first place? In the American League? With the best record?

So these are the good old days. What team scares you? Houston? Nah. The Angels? Nope. Toronto? Maybe. NY? Maybe sorta but not really. The Royals are rolling and we all should just hang our heads out the window, laugh and enjoy the ride. Because we will all of a sudden be waving Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas goodbye as they head for the Dodgers or the Mariners or the Yankees. And be looking back fondly at these good old days.

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All Star Game 2015

I’m sure you’ve read all the blogs and heard all the folks hooting at the idea of the American League All Star team being predominantly members of the Kansas City Royals. I understand their pain. I wouldn’t want to see an All Star Game if every player was from New York or LA.

But here’s what I wouldn’t do: violate the Tom Hanks Rule. There is no crying in baseball!  I find myself forced to agree with Ned Yost on this whole thing–if you don’t like it, vote! Then shut up about it. (The last part was me, not Ned.)

Seriously, my point is that the people bleating about how this situation is corrupting the process and ruining the midsummer classic frankly don’t understand the midsummer classic at all. It’s an All-Star Game. All-STAR. What makes a star? Popularity, not talent. Paris Hilton is a star. Justin Bieber is a star. Tiny Tim was a star. You get the idea.

The All-Star Game started back in 1933 as an event to give baseball an economic shot in the arm by reviving interest the Great American Pastime in the depths of the Great Depression. Proceeds were donated to a fund for retired players. In order to get people interested, Arch Ward, the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune, designed the contest as one where the fans would vote for their favorite players. (The Game was also a means to publicize the Century of Progress World’s Fair being held in Chicago at the time.) It wasn’t for the fans to pick the best or the most deserving, it was the favorites. If the Royals’ players get the most votes, we’re at the end of the analysis and the only conclusion can be that they are deserving.

Now should Omar Infante play? In my opinion, yes he should, if he gets the most votes. Is he the best second baseman in the AL? Heck, no. Frankly, I’m not even sure he’s the best second baseman on the Royals. But if he gets the votes, he’s an All-Star.

So really, I think one should only take the furor and fume someone is making over the situation seriously if he or she made the same indignant noise last year when Derek Jeter played. It’s a popularity contest friends and neighbors. And if the American League is represented by it’s reigning Champions, that simply doesn’t sound like that bad of a thing to me.

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Volcano Ventura Erupts Again

Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did! Yordano Ventura, ace fireballing right-hander for the Kansas City Royals got himself tossed out of another game last night. KC Manager Ned Yost has got to feel something like a citizen of Pompeii, looking up at Vesuvius and wondering if he’s going to get buried every time Ventura goes out to pitch.

The specifics are short and rather uneventful. It was a cold contest on the south side of Chicago, the game was tied 2-2 with two out in the bottom of the seventh when Pale Hose outfielder Adam Eaton hit a comebacker to Ventura. They appeared to exchange opinions as Mr. Eaton made his way to first base. The umpires wisely intervened by placing their large bodies between the two.  This should have ended the deal but then, all the other players, bored and numb with cold, came onto the field because they too wanted to mingle.

At this point it was still one of those baseball fight/cocktail parties where everyone mills around. And, again, it should have ended there. But Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija decided to go after Royal outfielder Lorenzo Cain since, of course, neither was involved in the play that started these things. (Unless you consider back on Opening Day when Samardzija plunked Cain after Mike Moustakas took him deep.) Some say punches were thrown but others say that Edinson Volquez was really just acting out Billy Idol’s old song “Dancing With Myself.” In any event, Volquez punched like a pitcher and never came close to actually hitting anything.

After the dust settled, five players had been ejected and KC eventually won the contest in extra frames.

Ventura admitted that he had let his emotions run wild. And so the Big Question is ‘what to do?’ from this point on, for the Royals at least. They need someone to pull in on the reins a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t know who that will be. James Shields woulda done it but…  Ned Yost should do it and he’s probably tried in his way but he seems to me to be more of a sweet-tea-have-a-chew calm-to-the-point-of-dull kinda guy instead of a kick-ass ‘follow me boys!’ type. And maybe that wouldn’t work anyway in this situation. I mean, can you even tell when Ventura’s upset? His face shows about as much expression as the Mona Lisa or the Sphinx or Jason Vargas. He looks either thoughtful or bored, and next thing you know, he’s getting sent off for conduct unbecoming.

But they must get ahold of the reins. Ventura’s the ace and, as such, whether it’s fair or not, he’ll set the tone for the staff. And it has to be done quickly. The team has seemingly morphed from a silly, lovable group of young guys goofing around and having fun and playing exciting winning baseball to a group of obnoxious sixth graders who are running unsupervised through a museum. If a grown up doesn’t intervene soon, things are going to get broken and somebody is going to get hurt.

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The Fact Regarding the Lawrie Incident That Everyone Missed

I had thought that this post would be the last time I wasted any time or energy thinking about someone like Brett Lawrie. But since he took to Twitter today to throw some of the blame for what happened recently on, wait for it, Royals’ fans, I think I may have to beat on him some more. What a jerk. I mean really, just plain stupid.

Which is the point I wanted to make in this post. It’s the point that everyone has missed regarding this whole Lawrie Incident. (By the way, has anyone called it Lawriegate? No? Good. I hate it when people call some controversy whatever-gate.) On to the point, which is the whole point and nothing but the point, and it is this: whether Lawrie was dirty or aggressive or whatever is beside the point. The point is that he was stupid. Baseball stupid. His slide was stupid. Why? Because he would have been safe. Escobar wasn’t in position to try for a double play. A smart player would have seen that. And in aiming for Esky, he blew his chance to reach second safely, which was his only job in the situation.

Now I will plainly and loudly admit that I missed this point too so I must give credit to my friend Mario who brought it to my attention. Well done young man.

And with the benefit of this perspective and a few minutes of thought, I now see that Lawrie’s tweets are just further proof of his being not the sharpest spike on the shoe. And so despite what I said a few minutes ago, I think I will publicly hereby pledge to not talk about Brett Lawrie any more. It’s the smart thing to do.

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How MLB Handled the Lawrie Incident Wrong

MLB has handed out the punishments for the string of events that I will refer to as the Lawrie Incident. For those who don’t follow baseball or the Kansas City Royals and are, for some odd reason, still reading this, here’s a recap.

Oakland A’ third baseman Brett Lawrie slid into KC shortstop Alcides Escobar in what Lawrie claims was an attempt to break up a double play. Escobar was on the left side of the base, receiving a throw from third baseman Mike Moustakas. Lawrie slid with his spikes elevated about a foot off the ground and aimed approximately at Escobar’s calf. Lawrie was called out since he missed the bag and Escobar sustained an injury and had to be helped from the field.

Later in the same game, after surrendering some runs and trailing 5-0, Royal’s pitcher Yordano Ventura faced Lawrie and hit him on the wrist guard with a pitch. Lawrie trotted to first base.

Next game, A’s starter Scott Kazmir hit Royal’s CF Lorenzo Cain in the foot with two out in the first of a scoreless game.

Later in the game, when Lawrie was batting, Royal reliever Kelvin Herrera chucked a 100-mph fastball a foot or two behind Lawrie’s head or shoulders. He was promptly and appropriately ejected from the game but then childishly pointed at his head as he gave Lawrie the stink eye while being led off the field. Some interpreted this as a warning the future as in “I could have hit you in the melon had I wanted.” Herrera claimed he was channeling his inner Aretha Franklin and saying “think about the consequences of your actions.”

Now, MLB, in its wisdom, has fined Ventura and suspended Herrera for five games. Escobar missed two games with a mild knee sprain from the incident but played last night against the Twins.

MLB got it wrong. Lawrie walked away from starting the mess with no punishment and no injury. The Royals had their starting Gold Glove shortstop and lead off man miss two games. No telling if this incident will affect him going forward either mentally or physically. Kansas City will also now have to be without one of their key relievers, a situation made worse because closer Greg Holland just went on the DL.

The punishment does nothing to deter Lawrie’s actions. It  will only encourage him and others like him who believe that an assault on the basepaths is an acceptable part of baseball. My take is that aggressive base running–breaking up a double play or trying to jostle a ball loose–is fine, but if you injure someone in the process, you need to suffer consequences. Brett Lawrie, desperately trying to make a name for himself as he has been thrust into one of the rarified jobs of a starting major league baseball player, walks away from the damages he created (since he set the whole mess in motion) with only a glancing blow on a padded part of his anatomy from a relatively soft pitch.  Given the damage he did, this was not enough.

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