There was nothing special about this day, July 23, 2013.
There lay Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost on the dugout steps, sprawled in a halcyon daze of euphoria, gazing up at the heavens as the sun gently punctured his face.
On the field, the Royals were ahead 2-1 in the eighth inning on the division-leading Detroit Tigers. No. 3 starter Felipe Paulino had pitched a gem through 7 2/3 innings, outdueling counterpart Justin Verlander.
However, Paulino allowed a single to the enigmatic Wilson Betemit. Sensing struggles, longtime pitching guru Bob McClure leaped from his place on the bench, spilling Cracker Jacks all over the neatly swept dugout, courtesy of the always tidy, always bored Mitchell William Maier. It was, after all, a part of his daily chores.
McClure shook Yost with all his feeble might, trying to wake the manager to make the visit to the mound. This attempt was futile, as Yost cannot be disturbed to waste time with true baseball decisions. McClure, knowing not a second more could be spared, darted for the mound, flailing his left arm toward Jeff Z., the bullpen coach, to signal the masterful Timothy Collins.
Meanwhile, back in the dugout, Maier began to vacuum up Cracker Jack crumbs. As he neared the end of the bench, he saw Michael Christopher Moustakas sitting in the corner, staring, nervously shaking back and forth. The situation was odd to Maier, as Moustakas had just wrapped up a 7-for-13 road trip that included 4 home runs and three doubles, as well as two walks.
"Hey Moose Caboose, what’s the matter?" Maier beckoned.
Moustakas stuttered through almost indiscernible words.
"Must … hit … single … Seitzer … Seitzer angry … Bad form … Seitzer so … angry …" he said.
"Being single is fun!" Maier responded. "Girls have cooties and mom said I can’t be around girls ‘cause I haven’t found the birds and the bees yet but I’m still lookin’ ‘cause one time coach said he’d give me the bird if I ever asked to play center field again ‘cause that’s Milky’s spot but I bet coach would give me a bird if I asked real nice – hey Moose Caboose, you want some bubble gum???"
Back on the field, Collins took the mound. McClure made quite certain to put Collins in every high leverage situation, despite his ever-climbing peripherals. After all, his ERA was still a respectable 4.39.
Almost on cue, Collins proceeded to walk six consecutive batters, charitably giving away the lead. With the game getting out of hand, McClure made the long walk back to the mound to put the ball in the hand of his mop-up man, Greg Holland.
"Sorry coach, I just didn’t have it today," Collins said.
"Oh no, you had it. Don’t you apologize," McClure demanded. "That ump just has no idea what the strike zone is. You don’t change a thing – we’re gonna need ya tomorrow."
First baseman Eric Hosmer rolled his eyes in disgust. He gazed upward, and a heavy rain descended on Kauffman Stadium for six straight hours, ending the game.
Later that day, Yost stumbled into the office of General Manager Dayton Moore.
"CALL ME UP ONE OF THEM PROSPECTS," Yost shouted.
"Shhh!!! You’ll wake up Mitch!" Moore begged, pointing toward a bed in the corner of the office covered with rocket ship bed sheets and a Transformers night light.
"Get me Myers or Cuthbert or that Odor-easy guy or that Montgomery guy – and NOT Jeff," Yost said.
"C’mon, Neddy, you know we traded all those guys so we could get Jair Jurrgens. Look how that turned out! I’ve got a process, you just need to trust it." Moore said.
"Ahh, to hell with it," Yost said, moving toward the door.
"You just wait, Neddy, I have just the thing for you," Moore replied.
Assistant GM Scott McKinney, knowing the impending move, opined "Please don’t."
"I must," exclaimed Moore, pointing an index finger boldly in the air. "There is only one that can save this season."
"But look at his FIP, his BABIP, his SIERA … it won’t work out – even he knows it," McKinney pleaded.
"TOOLS FOR FOOLS," Moore brashly stated as he walked away to his mission.
Moore knew there was, of course, only one way to find the one who could save the season. He hopped into his Toyota Scion and raced toward the nearest Panda Express, while being mindful of the speed limit – always three MPH under, of course.
Moore drove his car straight into the restaurant, shattering glass and severely injuring a customer. Moore climbed out of his car and asked the man "Are you OK?"
"Day … ton … I’m hurt … Why do … Why do you hate me so?" the man asked, gasping for breaths.
"Do I know you?" Moore inquired.
"It’s … me. Loren … zo … C-C-Cain," the man, presumably Lorenzo, responded.
"Hmm … not ringing a bell," Moore answered, confused. "Listen, I’m in a rush. Here’s a $25 gift card to Walmart, compliments of the Glass family, and an autographed baseball by Jeff Francouer. Sorry about all this. Gotta run."
Moore sprinted to the counter, grabbed a young, 16 year old Royals fan named Jack by his ruffled work shirt and demanded, "Where is he …"
Jack, long trusted by Moore for his unique trade ideas, knew exactly who Moore wanted. Even Jack wanted to withhold the information, but he knew he had taken an oath to guide Moore in his process. Jack scribbled down the information Moore would need on a napkin. Soon after, Moore was on a jet to Japan.
Moore arrived at the address and examined the surroundings. The small apartment was well hidden and quite filthy. Undiscouraged, he knew what had to be done.
"Charlie," he said before knocking on the door, whispering the nickname he had bestowed on a former ally. "I need you."
Knocks fell on deaf ears, as no one answered the rickety wooden door. Moore would not be denied after such a lengthy journey. He burst through the door, just as he had at Panda Express.
To his dismay, he saw his fallen comrade coated in blankets and grime. Much had changed in only a few years, but Moore was ready to beg for the man’s return. The conversation was caught on tape, and can be seen here:
On the jet back to Kansas City, Moore gave simple instructions to the man he had convinced to save the team, the franchise, the fans of the Royals.
"When we get back, I need you to go straight to the field. I can’t go … I’ve got a plaza to decorate," Moore said, snapping on his dark black Walmart sunglasses, casting a smirk of satisfaction, knowing he had found the final piece to the championship puzzle.
On this day, now July 24, the Royals were clinging to a 10-8 lead at 2 p.m., powered by two singles from everyday shortstop Christopher Ryan Getz and two grand slams from Hosmer. Kyle Davies, after pitching four innings and allowing eight runs in his continued attempt to remake his career, had reached his limit at 164 pitches, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning with nobody out.
McClure looked toward Yost, who was enthralled in a competitive game of Battleship with Maier. Knowing he must make the decision, McClure popped out of the dugout, spilling nacho cheese everywhere and sprinting for the mound, again flailing his left arm for Collins to save the day, as he had on so many other occasions.
Only this time, a dark figure stepped out of the pen, sporting a spiky haircut and large bifocals with a skull in the middle, right between the eyes.
"Is that Rick Vaughn?" asked Francouer, struggling to see out of his gigantic eye sockets.
"No," said McClure, grinning from ear-to-ear in joy.
"You’ve got to be joking, right?" questioned the no-talent vagabond known as Alex Jonathan Gordon, he who ranked dead last on the team in the critical Polk Points statistic. "Not this again."
Brian Bannister, champion of the sun, took the mound, three years removed since his last appearance as the ace of the Royals staff. His eyesight was not what it used to be, so he wore glasses to correct the problem. As he hid from the Yomuiri Giants, he had given himself a radical haircut as a disguise.
He glared down Austin Jackson in the batter’s box. Bannister knew everything there was to know about Jackson. He had studied the roster the entire plane trip, studying his own tendencies and those of his opponents. He readied his pitch.
Bannister hurled a fastball toward the plate, topping out at a cool 84 MPH. Jackson smoked the ball to the right field fence, clearing the bases with a triple.
Loud rumblings of disgust filled the air in and around Kaufman Stadium. The noise briskly traveled in and around the city.
Elsewhere, in the plaza, Moore began to hang another "Congratulations Kansas City Royals" banner from a storefront window. As he climbed the ladder to hammer in another nail, the clamors heard from the stadium reached the plaza, piercing his ears.
Unable to perceive the difference between boos and cheers, Moore smiled. He knew – or at least he believed – the Royals had just claimed another victory on the road to the World Series title.
"Process VINDICATED," he said.