On August 31, 2004 the 45-85 Royals (yes, they were 45-85) took on the 61-70 Detroit Tigers at the K.
Your starting lineups that fateful day:
Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals2. C Guillen SS 2. D Relaford SS3. I Rodriguez C 3. J Randa 3B6. C Pena 1B 6. C Pickering DH
J Johnson P B Anderson P
I've written about Brian Anderson before, and longtime readers will know that he's one of my favorite obscure players of all-time. Say what you want about Allard Baird, but his August 25, 2003 trade for Anderson, though a bit late, was a win for the Baird-man. Although it looked like the Royals were buying high on a guy having a fluky season, Anderson was a very good pitcher for the Royals down the stretch in '03, and neither Kieran Mattison or Trey Dyson, the players the Royals sent to Cleveland, ever appeared in a Major League game.
Anderson made 25 starts for the Royals in '04, and in 166 innings total posted an ERA+ of 85. That number is dragged down by an absolutely awful start however, one that was so bad he eventually did some penance in the bullpen. His ERA in April was 6.44 and 9.62 in May. From early June onwards however, he made a minor recovery, posting a 4.53 ERA over his final 21 games.
Anderson's problem all season, and indeed throughout his career, was a susceptability to the long-ball. Although the K's fences were moved back prior to the '04 season, BA still allowed 33 HRs in '04. Although generally he had scuffled his way back to being an acceptable pitcher by August of '04, he would really struggle against the Tigers inn Game 131. Surprisingly, homers only played a minor part.
Oh... in this fateful game the Tigers countered with Jason Johnson, one of a number of B-level Tiger pitching prospects that emerged around this time. Was he the one with diabetes? I can never remember.
The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to three-straight two out singles and an error by Aaron Guiel. In the second, they went double, strikeout, single, single, single, double, in taking a 5-0 lead with runners still on second and third. If not for two groundouts to end the second, it could have been much worse.
The bottom of the second turned the game around, however. Matt Stairs and Abraham Nunez led off the inning with singles, and after a Calvin Pickering walk (I'm sure NYRoyal was snickering all the way about how much he sucked that whole August... ok, maybe that was cheap, but the man is always on the spot with a Huber put-down) loaded the bases with no outs. With the bases loaded, John Buck heroically singled to left, plating two. Following Buck, Ruben Gotay bunted for a hit (at least according to the play by play) again loading the bases. Alexis Gomez (God there were some names in this game) who weirdly would two years later would emerge as a Tiger post-season hero weakly flyed out to left, which was followed by a Guiel strikeout. Amazingly, with the rally fizzling, Desi Relaford stepped up and roped a two-out single, and the score was 5-4. With two outs, Joe Randa struck out to end the inning.
Weirdly, other than a rare shallow left-field single from Pickering, the next inning and a half was uneventful. I'm sure multiple broadcasters made the point that both pitchers were settling down. In reality, only one of them was.
With two outs in the fourth, Anderson walked I-rod, then allowed a homer to Dmitri Young, and suddenly, life sucked again. 7-4, Tigers. The Royals then went meekly 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fourth. Then they did it again in the fifth.
In the sixth, Shawn Camp -- another guy I pointlessly liked, along with Nate Field -- replaced Anderson, who had somehow slogged through five innings and "only" allowed seven runs. It was the kind of performance we'd grow to love from Odalis Perez, who always looked like he was going to give up five runs an inning. Maybe it was this game that made me like Camp, because in the sixth he shut the Tigers down 1-2-single-3. I can only imagine how the K must have roared.
Inspired by Camp, the Royals finally decided that Jason Johnson's weak offerings were not going to be accepted anymore. Nunez singled, then Pickering reached on an infield error (rushed due to the speed), sending Noonie to third. Up again in another huge spot, John Buck delivered the clutch productive out double play grounder, to make it 7-5. Rattled by Buck's playing the game THE RIGHT WAAY, Johnson then allowed a Gotay single, and was lifted. It looked like a blue tide was rolling in when Jamie Walker allowed a Gomez single, but Guiel popped out to end the inning. Tigers 7, Royals 5.
In the 7th Camp dispatched the Tigers with Mechean efficiency: flyball-single-wild pitch-strikeout-groundout, putting the pressure right back on the Tigers. Although Detroit was nearly twenty games better than the Royals at this point, plainly, they still didn't know how to win. I blame the lack of veteran leadership. They were no match for one of the Royals classic singles-based offensive attacks, as the Royals went single-single-single (Relaford, Randa, Stairs) to start the inning. Throughout an economically-ravaged and racially divided Detroit Metro, tens of fans became nervous. The one local grocery store inside the city limits reported a run on mallox. The ground around the K vibrated as Jaime Walker was replaced by Esteban Yan and Abraham Nunez stepped to the plate. For like the twentieth time in this game, the Royals had the bases loaded with no outs...
And its a single to center for Nunez...Relaford scores!
The Royals had done it. For once and for all they had proven that you don't need power or patience to build a winning lineup. You need batting average. Getting four straight singles is nothing. NOTHING. 7-6, Tigers.
Unfortunately, the one guy on the team who couldn't single, Cal Pickering was up next and... struck out. Deflated, the rally ended as Buck and Gotay were both retired. Somewhere, Ken Harvey smiled. Top o' the mornin'!
If you thought the game was going to stay in Tiger hands, then Shawn Camp was there to tell you that he had other ideas, setting down the Tigers in order in the top of the 8th. In the bottom of the frame, the Royals briefly staged a two-out rally (error, walk) but Matt Stairs grounded out, to send the game to the ninth.
Pena sent Jeremy Affeldt out for the top of the ninth, which was an understandable move. Camp had thrown 39 pitches after all. Plus, Affeldt was a closer then, or maybe a swingman, or maybe a starter and it was his "throw day". I have no idea, actually. In any case, Affeldt came in and promptly allowed a single to I-rod, and, after two ground-outs a double to Carlos Pena which made the score 8-6.
The game was like five hours old at this point, and both teams had really played terribly. There had been three errors, about a thousand men left on base and only a handful of legitimate Major League players were even present for the preceedings. The '04 Royals were a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible team that had completely killed the illusion of '03 progress and were about to set a new franchise record for losses. The '04 Tigers were a generic bad team that had spent big on free agents just to not be historically bad. It was a Tuesday night in late August and the easiest money would have been made on a 1-single-2-3 ninth inning and light traffic on the way home.
Instead, something sorta cool happened.
With Detroit's mythical closer Ugueth Urbina (who had weirded America out with some of his teammate-kissing during Florida's '03 playoff run) on the mound, the inning began with an Abraham Nunez single, Nunez's fourth of the game. Nunez's single was followed up by a clutch walk from Pickering, who was then replaced by Wilton Guerrero on the basepaths. For the second time this game, the Royals then benefited from a "bunt single" (the one game story I found also labelled it as such) by a young John Buck. Loading the bases, with no outs, again. Ruben Gotay then... you guessed it... singled to make the score 8-7 and with still no outs and still the bases loaded, Gomez grounded out to tie it.
With one out and runners on first and third, Aaron Guiel, in the midst of a horrible season and a horrible 0-4 game managed a game winning sac fly, scoring Buck with the winning run. WIth three in the ninth, the Royals defeated the Tigers 9-8.
- The line about the singles-based offense was no joke. The Royals had 17 hits in the game, all singles. Considering everything, they were probably a little lucky to score nine runs, given that three tallies came via ground -out/fly out and that they concentrated nine of the their seventeen singles in two innings.
- Can we talk about how horrible the AL Central used to be? From 1997 through 2005 the Central was incredibly pathetic, something we would do well to remember in our heady days of bashing the NL. The Indians won the division in '97, '98 & '99 and each time they were the only team in the division with a winning record. In 2000, Chicago randomly won 95 games, with Cleveland taking 90. This was maybe the best season in AL Central history to that point. 2001 marked the beginning of the Twins being viable and the last year of the Jacobs Field dynasty in Cleveland. From 2002-4 however, the division was just absolutely, unspeakably, horrible. Chicago was a .500 team, the Indians were rebuilding and bad and the Royals and Tigers, save for the '03 blip by KC, were two of the worst three or four teams in the game. The fact that we've built up a mythology around the Twins for their accomplishments during this period really shows a true lack of understanding context. Hurra! You were a 77 win team that used a bad division to win 94, 90 & 92 games.
- Wilton Guerrero's game-tying run in the ninth was the 197th of his career. It would also be his last. In the season's final days he would make six PAs in seven games, going 1-6 with... a single.
- The Abraham Nunez that appeared in this game was not the Abraham Nunez is still playing, the longtime utility-3B type for the Pirates, Mets & Phillies. No, the Royals Abraham Nunez was more of an outfielder, who the Royals were briefly playing in center in '04. Traded to the Royals for Ruby Seanez in July, Nunez would appear in 59 games with KC, hitting .226/.304/.335. The final game of the season, a 5-0 loss to the White Sox in which he went 0-3 with a walk, was the final Major League game of his career.
- Pickering would play in 35 games with the Royals in 2004, totaling 140 plate appearances, both career highs. Pickering struck out constantly, but nevertheless managed a .246/.338/.500 line. In 2005, Pickering started on Opening Day for the Royals and homered, yet seemingly was already in Tony Pena's doghouse. Pickering next appeared in the fourth game of the season, then played occasionally through April 21. All told, he appeared in seven games with the Royals in 2005 and never played in a Major League Game again. In retrospect, the entire affair seems just as weird now as it did then. The previous August the Royals had given the minor league slugger something of the proverbial shot, and he had done alright. The following Spring Training a bizarre 1B/DH controversy erupted between Pickering and Ken Harvey, and Pickering seemingly "won". Then Pena just stopped playing him. Strangely however, Harvey didn't really win either and in fact, didn't appear until late April. Harvey played through May, then was done himself. Quite the end to such a heated debate -- which was essentially a batting average versus obp/slg one -- with neither player appearing in more than 12 games, or a Major League roster ever again.
- Do you know that John Buck hit 12 homers in his half-season of play with the Royals in '04 and that that total was still his career high until '07, when he blasted 18?
- Anderson would make five more starts in '04, good for a 3.89 ERA.
- I write above that there were only a handful of legitimate Major League players on the field in this game, but that's not quite true. The Tigers were putting together a good lineup and many of their core players from their '06 playoff run were on the field: Guillen, Rodriguez, Monroe, Young, Thames, Inge. Carlos Pena wasn't bad either. The Royals... the Royals were a different story.
- The Royals used 136 different lineups in 2004. If you are curious they used 131 in '05, 123 in '06, 121 in '07 and 113 in '08.
- 19,471 people watched the game.