It was a return to the heady days of yore for both the Royals bats and their marketing team. As Kauffman Stadium filled up on Retro Night, the Royals and Racists did their best impressions of mid-70's baseball clubs by scattering hits, not scoring runs, and wearing stirrup socks.
The game itself was an exercise in testing fan's patience. The Royals loaded the bases in the first, but struck out three straight times to end the threat. They led off the fourth with a pair of walks, and did nothing. At one point, they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Meanwhile, James Shields did good things, despite a lack of efficiency. He lasted seven innings on 112 pitches, gave up just five hits, one run, a walk, and recorded four strikeouts. Though it wouldn't be a recall to the Royals vaunted heritage if he hadn't left trailing.
In the sixth, Mike Moustakas hit with runners on second and third. There were two outs. Cleveland manager and live-action Mr. Peanut Terry Francona brought in LOOGY Kyle Crockett to pitch to Moustakas. Ned Yost wanted to call for Josh Willingham to pinch-hit, but somewhere between his brain and his mouth, the message was tumbled into a viscous slurry of GRIT and pWAZ, and thus the message was never sent. It is really the only explanation that I can think of that makes any sense. Moustakas hit a ground ball to second, inning over.
In the seventh inning, the Royals went down in order on five pitches. Alcides Escobar, Norichika Aoki, and Omar Infante combined to see 1.67 pitches per at-bat.
Wade Davis came out in the eighth inning and actually brought a smile to my face. For a team of limited funds, it is going to be hard to keep him around for the $6.8 million it will cost next year. Davis struck out the side on thirteen pitches. Spicy.
Things got interesting again in the eighth. Alex Gordon led off with a walk. Billy Butler reached on a throwing error by Scott Atchison. Dyson pinch-ran for Butler and stole second. Salvador Perez, who had one of the worst games I have ever seen him have at the plate, went 0-for-4 with three absolutely ugly-looking strikeouts and a foul out to first. His batting line on the year is now .262/.296/.407.
Erik Kratz pinch hit for Raul Ibandez, because why not? He was walked semi-intentionally; after Nick Hagadone got behind 3-0, they put a fourth one wide to put Kratz on first and set up the double play.
Which almost worked.
Lorenzo Cain came up, and hit a chopping ground ball to short. The throw to second was to the left field side of second and low, and Kipnis couldn't pivot fast enough to catch the speedy center fielder and snuff out yet another Royals attempt at handing the game over to the Racists. Alas, it was not to be, and the Royals tied the game 1-1, politely getting James Shields off the hook for the loss.
With runners on first and third and two out, Mike Moustakas came up again, and for the second time, Mr. Franconut went to a left-hander, this time Marc Rzepczynski, as Willingham stared longingly from the dugout, perched on the pine, gazing, wondering. Moustakas hit another ground ball to second, and the inning was ended.
In the ninth, Dyson shifted to center, and Cain moved to right field as the Royals swapped Aoki and mercifully put Josh Willingham at first base. What's that? Oh. They put Jayson Nix in the game at first.
Greg Holland came in to pitch, and cut through the heart of Cleveland's lineup, getting Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Yan Gomes out in order, striking out Gomes looking on a fastball at the knees.
The bottom of the ninth was a regulation inning that began with regulation disappointment. Alcides Escobar fouled out to first. Jayson Nix, oddly enough, struck out looking. Then, Omar Infante singled, bringing American League MVP and all-around macho uno Alex Gordon to the plate. In an eight-pitch at-bat, during which Infante stole second, Gordon drew a walk to bring up Jarrod Dyson. Dyson struck out looking on a 2-2 fastball, ending yet another threat to the hallowed pillars of racism and bigotry.
That's the old game recap. This is the new one. The one that talks about Jayson Nix seeing important at bats in a pennant chase. The one that tells you about Scott Downs being brought into a tie game, Josh Willingham being left on the bench despite multiple opportunities to get him in the game. This is the recap where I tell you that Ned Yost is a problem, and the warts that were covered by the foundation of a surprising hot streak have come back to bite the Royals in the ass for two straight games.
It's the game recap where you are reminded why Dayton Moore still isn't trusted with personnel decisions, why acquiring a player like Willingham is the exception more than the rule, where Raul Ibanez is allowed to bat against left-handed pitchers and everything is cloudy and murky and dark.
The Indians won 3-2 in eleven innings. The Royals left sixteen men on base tonight. Sixteen. Kansas City loaded the bases in the tenth, leaving their division lead in the hands of Jayson Nix and Erik Kratz. They rallied in the eleventh with two outs, again leaving their fate to Kratz. After trying to take a free base on a phantom hit by pitch, he struck out looking on a fastball at the knees. It was definitely a strike, and it was definitely the most frustrating loss of the recent five.
But this was more than offensive inefficiency. This is more than a fray in an otherwise well-hewn tapestry.
This is regression. Cold, bitter regression.
I had been asked several times by my friends why I wasn't getting excited for this season. After writing about this team for the better part of four years, you realize that things like this happen all the time, particularly to flawed clubs led by supremely flawed individuals.
Yost has no excuses for this, save for the fact that it wasn't his decision to send Christian Colon, who was hitting .302/.348/.442, down to the minors in favor of a journeyman corner infielder whose career batting line and defensive statistics makes Mike Moustakas look like a quality, every day player.
The Royals are now tied with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central lead, which by tome implies that they are just as good. If you've been watching lately, you kind of know that isn't true. We were all hoping that the Royals could luck their way into a better record than Detroit, take the Central and guarantee a playoff series.
That's still a possibility. But when you ask me why I'm not excited at the prospect, I'll remind you of August 30th, of sixteen stranded runners, of a combined 0-for-5 and four strikeouts from Kratz and Nix, of a wasted gem, three innings of dominant relief pitching, and a manager and a GM who are exactly who we thought they were last winter.
UPDATE: According to Vernier, Willingham was unavailable due to a stiff back.
Josh Willingham was unavailable because of a stiff back. #Royals— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) August 31, 2014