There's an age-old debate in baseball from the fan's perspective that I was reminded of last night, and it's whether 'tis more painful to see your team lose in a blowout or a one-run game. When you lose 10-2 when the other team scores six runs in the first, it stinks, but you get over the disappointment early. When you lose 6-5, your hope is alive the entire game and thens suddenly dies in a last, crushing at-bat. In last night's case, a Mark Grudzielanek flyout to right field. So which is worse: losing a game your team was never in, or losing a game your team had a great chance to pull out at the end?
I can pretty much guarentee you that it sucks about five times more for the players when they get blown out, but us fans don't really remember those 10-2 losses all that well. We look back on 6-5 games like this and say to ourselves "if Butler had swung at that pitch in the eighth..." or "if German had started instead of Grudz..." or "if Fuddo the clown wasn't the worst manager in MLB history..." because there's so much more room to look back at individual moments in game that ends with one team on top by a single run. If DeJesus hadn't been 0-for-5, we would have kicked the other team's asses.
Maybe you all get what I'm trying to convey, maybe you think I'm totally wrong. Thing is, it seems like even GMs have selective memories about this stuff. In my mind, remembering bullpen blow-ups more than starts getting killed in the first inning explains a lot of the recent bullpen spending sprees that teams like the Indians and Orioles have gone on. And ask them how that turned out, folks: having Joe Borowski as your closer or Danys Baez impersonating a set-up guy hurts.
Anyhow, I digress from the actual game that was played last night. We got our usual crappy six inning outing out of Odalis Perez, which put the Royals behind the eight ball from the get go. Brendan Harris and Carlos Pena both had RBI knocks in the first inning to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. They never lost the lead for the rest of the game. Joey Gathright plated the Royals first run in the bottom of the second, and, if nothing else, I have to give the lad credit for does his darndest to keep getting playing time: he's now hitting .328, so he's getting more than his fair share of base hits.
Delmon Young's sacrifice fly in the next half-inning extended the lead to 3-1. While Shields defintiely settled in for a while, walking no one on the night and striking out six, Perez was chipped away at in typical Odie fashion. Harris had another RBI single in the fifth and Raul Casanova's sacrifice fly in the sixth inning made it 5-1. Much ado was made about Harris hitting third for the Devil Rays last night, but the fact is that the former Cubs/Nats/Reds utility man has hit .301/.361/.466 in over 300 PAs this season in the process of wrestling the SS job away from Ben Zobrist. It might be that he'll regress a bit, but it looks like Harris has the bat to hold down a starting job. In the short term, that is a nifty line from a SS. Plus, the Devil Rays find themselves a little short of OBP these days and .360 ain't nothing to sneeze at.
Then, you have Casanova, a journeyman who has taken advantage Dioner Navarro's problems to step in and have the best 46 PAs of his career. In that extremely small sample size, Casanova is hitting .275/.354/.625 and has slugged four home runs. Couple the success of these two guys with Carlos Pena's resurgence and it's the year of the journeyman in Tampa this year.
Back to the game, the Royals were down 6-1 in the eighth when the offense awoke against a tiring Shields. Tony Pena doubled to start the inning and moved to third on DeJesus's fourth out of the game, a grounder to second. That bastard Shields then plunked Grudzielanek to put runners on the corners with one out. Teahen, who didn't exactly have a great night, hit a sac fly to center to close the gap to 6-2. Ross Gload hit a clutch double that plated Grudzielanek that will just give Bell more ammunition to play Gload over someone with a future (whoever that might be...I guess Huber's in the army or something). In the short term, the double knocked Shields out of the box and Joe Maddon, amazingly, decided Casey Fossum, a man with an ERA north of 7, was the best option. Fossum didn't disappoint, as A-Gord singled and take second on the throw to home that was too late to get Gload.
Now it's 6-4, and the Royals' faithful fans were rocking when Billy Butler stepped in to face the well-traveled, often-good Jay Witasick. Witasick struck Billy Ray out on a pitch that looked to be outside, and Buddy Bell was excused for the rest of the night by plate umpire Tom Hallion. Bell's argument seemed to be seen as a positive thing by RRers, so I'll trust you guys that he had a legitimate beef. Way to fight for the team for once, Buddy.
Whether you hated the call or hated Buddy or both, the inning was over. Setting the stage for some bottom of the ninth drama, Superman Soria struck out the side around two two-out singles. With Buck leading off and Gathright second, the Royals had their best power hitters coming up followed by probably their hottest hitter in Gathright. To close the Royals out, the Rays sent out Gary Glover because Al Reyes is on the DL.
There are some guys that I just don't understand how they stay in organized baseball beyond the fact that other people remember their names and always call them up instead of someone better. Gary Glover's one of those guys. His "career year" was a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings with the Brewers in 2004, and his career ERA is 5.06 and his career WHIP is 1.41. Nevertheless, because the D-Rays pen is pretty bad, he was run out for the ninth.
Almost predictably, Buck crushed a Glover offering into the seats for his 15th home run of the year, making it 6-5. Gathright, also, contributed true to his skill set, grounding to short slowly enough to beat the throw. Then, things got a little too Buddy Bell-ish, especially considering he wasn't in the game anymore. Tony Pena couldn't get a bunt down and then flew out to right. I don't know how many times I've said this, but bunts are usually just a waste of an out. Run expectancy with a runner on first and no out is significantly higher than with a runner on second and two outs, and Pena is fast enough down the line that you don't worry that much about him grounding into a double play. Alternatively, whoever was calling the shots could had have Pena pinch-hit for since he has very little power and a home run would've won the game.
Buddy Bell's take:
"Yeah, we've got to better all-around situationally this second half," Bell said. "A lot of it can be blamed on inexperience, but they've been in this situation enough to do what they need to do in terms of being aggressive in getting bunts down and getting runners over and being able to get runners in."
The disheartening parts of this quote are the fact that Bell seriously thinks that "situational hitting" is a problem that needs addressing and that "gettings bunts down and getting runners over" which both imply making and, which is the opposite of what a hitter should be trying to do, actually have a lot to do "being able to get runners in" which is a bit of a problem for the Royals sometimes.
Okay, so Gathright's on second and there's one out, and DeJesus makes his fifth out of the game (not a good night for DDJ) by flying out to left. Grudzielanek comes up and, on the fourth pitch he sees, follows Pena's lead and ends the game by flying out to right. 6-5 Devil Rays, end of their losing streak. Major bummer for the Royals. Feel free to use this thread to vent about the injustices of last night.
To keep you busy until we get to tonight's game:
Fangraphs confirms what we already know, which is that it stinks to get down early in a game. I won't spoil the entire story for you, but the Royals win expectancy never looked very good. I'm not a big fangraphs advocate, but it's still interesting to check over.
The Hardball Times had an interesting article on strikeout rates and pitch counts, using Scott Kazmir as the primary case study.
Marc Normandin has this week's Prospectus Hit List on Baseball Prospectus.
And in the category of the totally random, did anyone else see the movie "Smokin' Aces" and think the ending was kind of bull pucky?