If tonight’s game was any sign of what Vladimir Putin has in store for America’s pastime, it is in serious trouble. Employing underhanded tactics like having a reliever start a game, the St. Petersburg Devil Rays thwarted the Kansas City Royals with relative ease. The Royals’ tactic of playing such terrible baseball as to render any victory over them meaningless seemed like it might just be crazy enough to work, but as the Royals walked off the field losers once again, it didn’t feel like this maneuvering was besting the Russian club.
With the Royals’ first trip behind the Iron Curtain since the departure of so many of their former stars, the question as to whether or not these players lacking the battle-testing that squads of a more hallowed yesteryear possessed could cope with the serious business of facing down Putin’s well-trained army. The early answers to this crucial question do not leave lovers of freedom brimming with hope.
Jorge López’s night might not have looked disastrous at first glance, and if someone was so inclined, they could argue a defense of his night by pointing to the relatively manageable run total that the odious Devil Rays amassed while he was in the game. Regardless of what the box score might tell the casual fan, perusing the scores and wondering how those lowly Royals did, his night was not a good one. When your pitch count is 75 at the end of the third inning, you’ve been pitching poorly.
Putin’s army struck first in the second inning, following a relatively uneventful opening frame in which the St. Petersburg Devil Rays twice went down via the strikeout, emboldening the Royals’ rookie hurler to think perhaps this was a means by which he could send down more of the enemy. This would not prove to be an outcome that could be realistic expected to happen. In his five frames of work, López managed just three strikeouts, meaning he got just one over the last four innings he pitched.
The Devil Rays put a man aboard with one out in the second by way of a Ji-Man Choi bunt single, but he was erased via a Joey Wendle fielder’s choice. Kevin Kiermaier singled Wendle to third with a liner to right, and then rookie Willy Adames beat a close play at first on a grounder to the bag at third, pushing Wendle home on what was eventually proven to be a hit upon replay review.
Presumably intimidated by the stone-faced Russkies calling that lifeless concrete box known as Tropicana Field home, Jorge López ran up a 33-pitch third inning in which he walked three, including leadoff man Mallex Smith in an 11-pitch battle that at many points had the Royals wondering if they might never leave St. Petersburg and this soul-crushing stadium, doomed to a new, unending existence in which their pitcher hurled ball after ball only to watch it get poked into every seat in the stadium on the wrong side of the foul poles, cycling through each seat at random in perpetuity until the Sun swallows the Earth and finally releases us from this living hell. Mercifully López finally missed and walked Smith.
He didn’t allow any further damage in the inning, and he eventually finished five innings, striking out three to go with his three total walks (all in that messy third) and five hits allowed. He left the game trailing 1-0, though that run total could easily have been worse.
The Royals suffered the ignominy of The Opener, the dastardly Russian ploy meant to undermine the win, the ultimate measure of pitching greatness in the eyes of America. Tonight it was Hunter Wood, a nondescript name clearly created by Russian bots to look American and slapped on the jersey of one of Vladimir Putin’s trusted comrades. Wood finished 1.2 innings, and then turned things over to Ryan Yarbrough, who went 5.1 innings, working twice through the order before facing Brett Phillips a third time to get through the seventh.
Jake Newberry finally made his major-league debut, though taking that opening bow in Russia surely wears some of the shine off an effective 1.2 innings of work.
Ryne Stanek, a turncoat from Blue Valley High, came out in the eighth and worked around back-to-back one-out singles from Whit Merrifield and Alex Gordon by inducing a double play ball from the bat of likely DP victim Salvador Pérez. The Devil Rays then turned to José Alvarado to finish the Royals off, and finish them off he did.
The loss is one that cuts at the sport itself, and further emboldens the Devil Rays and Mother Russia in the neverending quest to kill America’s national pastime. Baseball, there’s trouble a-brewing. Hold onto yer butts.