“This is the end; all good things come here.”
17-0 is an epitaph of a Royals season that was, at once, so painful and so joyous, exuberant and maddening, with hope and despair but perhaps too much of the latter.
Onelki García, the mortician of fate and providence, lay the pennies over the eyes of 2017. The body was interred in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The bearers of the pall were Andres Machado, Eric Skoglund, Kevin McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Peter Moylan, and Ned Yost.
The season’s early life was a tumult. It stumbled rather clumsily into a hole that itself had dug over the winter. “We’ll have to dig our way out,” it said, tossing the dirt aside with its hands. After a few weeks, it stared down at the fresh-turned earth, the sky now all but disappearing beyond the distant opening and said to itself, “No, you fool. Dig up!”
And somehow that worked.
By taking a night class on practical magicks taught at the extended learning annex of the Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City - Penn Valley, Kansas City had learned how to get by just well enough.
After bottoming out at 10-20, the Royals went 43-27 over the next 70 games. They were the second best American League team over that stretch. Mike Moustakas began in earnest his run at the franchise home run record. Eric Hosmer stopped grounding out to second (as much). Salvador Pérez was putting together his best complete season. Lorenzo Cain was doing Lorenzo Cain things. Whitley D. Merrifield became an actual, factual major league quality second baseman, the first to play for the Royals since Mark Grudzielanek a decade ago.
And then the quicksand.
It was small things at first. A 9-8 loss. A bullpen issue or two. Then an injury, an offensive slump, regression, ineffectiveness, another injury, and then...
If you haven’t seen The Replacements (2000), you are missing out. For one, Keanu Reeves. For another, Keanu. Reeves. It centers around Shane Falco, a washout quarterback in charge of leading a bunch of scabs to victory and love and everything in between.
But like all great comedies, there is the moment of truth. Head coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is holding a team meeting, and asks them what they are afraid of. Eventually, Falco speaks up:
“You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move...you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand.”
In the film, McGinty sermonizes over the nature of fear, and together the team goes out and wins the big game.
But like Okkervil River has told us, our life is not a movie. It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax.
Salvador Pérez, whose second half decline comes with the regularity of a balanced diet, declined. His .850 OPS prior to the All-Star Break plummeted to .575, also known as the Alex Gordon Zone. Mike Moustakas slowed down. Lorenzo Cain went up and down. The Cahill/Maurer/Buchter trade, the last inhalation of a season of hope, seemed to choke the life out of it, leaving it gasping on the ground. Since the trade, Kansas City is 15-21, and that does not even begin to describe the trial it has been.
Along the way, Joakim Soria was hurt, and apparently had been hurt for a while, but was still pitching in the latter innings of meaningful games. Kelvin Herrera was hurt, and pitched, and hurt again, and pitched. Trevor Cahill was bad and hurt. Danny Duffy was hurt, and then arrested for a DUI. Salvador Pérez was – and by all visual accounts still is – hurt.
Mike Moustakas did tie the franchise home run record, but only after a 12-game homerless streak, his longest of the season. During that stretch, the Royals set an American League record for consecutive scoreless innings. In the true fashion of meaningless futility, however, they abruptly ended their streak before setting the major league record, falling an inning short.
In the last nine games, the Royals have lost 3-2, 4-0, 4-0, 12-0, 12-0, 5-3, and 17-0, yet it feels like the most surprising thing about that stretch is that they somehow managed to win two games.
And that is how it ends, not with a bang, but with a series of cacophonous bangs, blows to the head and the heart of the collective unconscious.
Life is a slow, quick death. The pace of it can bore you at times, with endless meanders. You want and you wait and then it ends. Snatched up in an instant, gone before you had really known it, with questions posed and left suspended in the emptiness of a concert hall, the faint imagined echoes of a symphony now felt more than heard.
By all accounts, this is the end of this particular era of Royals baseball. The future is not set, but the likelihood of any of these players being around for the next era of perennial playoff baseball is lower than we care to collectively admit. It was not the end Kansas City hoped for, but it is the life that it was given nonetheless, and with it they did their best.
In the near future, a new life awaits. Let us see what it brings.