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The night Glenn Sparkman dominated

Hop in the wayback machine to July, 2019.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Glenn Sparkman was officially released by the Royals on Monday, bringing to a close his second stint with the organization. It is kind of ironic he was removed from the Royals’ 40-man roster to make room for players the club intended to protect from next month’s Rule 5 draft. After all, Sparkman was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft in 2016 and was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays. His time north of the border wasn’t anything of note. After spending the first part of the season on the DL, he threw a pair of outings for the Jays. One of one of those appearances could be described as wobbly. The other was a total disaster. It was after that latter turn on the mound he was returned to the Royals.

His time with the Royals was similarly nondescript. Some starts. Some relief appearances. Too many hits. A lot of runs allowed. It wasn’t surprising that when the club needed space on the roster that Sparkman was jettisoned.

But there was one night in 2019 where everything came together for the right-hander. One night where he was legitimately awesome. One night where he threw one of the best starts we’ve seen from a Royals pitcher in the last few years.

Since the championship season, the Royals have received six starts with a Game Score of 80 or greater from five different starters. If I were to draw up a Sporcle of players who accomplished this, you’d be challenged to name all five. Glenn Sparkman is on that list.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Danny Duffy 2016-08-01 KCR TBR W 3-0 8.0 1 0 0 1 16 0 110 74 95
2 Brady Singer 2020-09-10 KCR CLE W 11-1 8.0 1 0 0 2 8 0 119 80 86
3 Ian Kennedy 2017-04-16 KCR LAA W 1-0 8.0 2 0 0 2 10 0 111 67 86
4 Glenn Sparkman 2019-07-16 KCR CHW W 11-0 9.0 5 0 0 1 8 0 116 76 84
5 Mike Montgomery 2019-08-10 KCR DET W 7-0 7.0 4 0 0 0 12 0 100 64 81
6 Ian Kennedy 2016-08-20 KCR MIN W 10-0 8.0 4 0 0 0 6 0 112 76 80
Provided by View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 11/24/2020.

I recall this game because I was there. It was an eventful one. The Royals tallied double-digits in the run column. Whit Merrifield hit an inside the park home run. Billy Hamilton hit one almost to the warning track. Adalberto Mondesi left the game in the fifth after laying out for a catch with a left shoulder subluxation...

And Sparkman threw a shutout.

In the early innings, it was kind of a typical Sparkman start. That is to say expectations were acceptably modest. He allowed three base runners through the first two frames. A double play ball and a couple of fly outs helped him out of any kind of danger.

In the third inning, he set the Sox down in order but the hitters were able to get deep into counts. Through those three frames, he required 46 pitches to record the first nine outs. There wasn’t really anything notable happening. You figured that once the Sox flipped the order and kept seeing pitches they’d eventually nick Sparkman for some runs. Maybe he could go five innings. Six if everything went just right.

But Sparkman flipped some sort of switch in the middle innings. After a leadoff single to José Abreu to start the fourth, Sparkman retired the next nine batters he faced, including three strikeouts. He allowed only one of those hitters to hit a ball to the outfield and needed just 33 pitches to get those outs.

In the seventh he ran into a bit of a two-out speed bump when back-to-back White Sox reached base via singles. He got a ground ball for the third out.

By this point, the Sox were down 6-0 and were basically just approaching each plate appearance with a “grip it and try to rip it” mentality. They were swinging early in the count. And with Sparkman around the zone, they were making contact. Almost everything put in play was hit directly to a fielder. In the eighth, when the batting order flipped over for a fourth time, Sparkman was in total control.

He retired the side in the eighth on 10 pitches. He recorded the first two outs in the ninth on five. The final batter of the game, former Royal Jon Jay, battled for nine pitches (the most any Sox hitter saw in a single plate appearance that evening) before hitting a soft groundout to second.

Ballgame. Shutout.

It’s too bad the clip doesn’t last a little longer. Just for the celebration. It was truly a special moment. The kind of thing that you hope to see when you buy a ticket for a random summer ballgame.

In the postgame media scrum, Sparkman allowed how he had never even thrown a complete game as a professional, let alone a shutout. He noted the first couple of innings were a grind; he was unable to command the fastball. By the middle innings, he found his groove.

It was truly an exceptional outing for Sparkman. He kept the slider down and the fastball out of the middle of the zone. He got 12 misses on 21 swings against the slider. His fastball kept its velocity even as he was uncorking a career-high 116th pitch to finish off the shutout. The pitch chart and heat map from that game is really something.

Baseball is difficult. It can be easy to lose sight of that fact. These guys may not experience a ton of success once they get to the major leagues, but every player who puts on that uniform has accomplished something. And sometimes, for one night, all the tumblers fall into place for a memorable outing. And that’s always worth celebrating.

Who knows if Sparkman will ever pitch in the big leagues again. Nothing is guaranteed. Odds are good he can hook on somewhere and give some decent innings out of the bullpen. But if we have seen the last of him, he can exit at least knowing that on a warm Kansas City midsummer night, he was exceptional.