For the first five innings, this was a reasonably entertaining baseball game. Cole Ragans and José Berríos were engaged in a pitchers’ duel. Berríos was attempting to recover from a disastrous August while the Blue Jays chase a Wild Card spot. Ragans was attempting to continue his dominance while preventing the Royals from reaching 100 losses for one more day.
In the top of the sixth, the Royals finally got to Berríos; Kyle Isbel hit a triple into the right field corner - aided by MLB’s apparent disdain for errors this season - before Bobby Witt Jr. doubled him home. Bobby stole third on a pickoff attempt and scored himself on a soft roller by Salvador Perez.
Prior to the sixth inning, Ragans had well held the Blue Jays in check despite a... shall we say, inconsistent strike zone from home plate umpire Chris Segal. Ragans had walked three but allowed only a single hit and struck out five. Everything started fine for Ragans in the sixth, too, as he got routine flyball and his sixth strikeout. Then things started to go awry.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walked for the second time. Then Davis Schneider walked for the second time. And then absolute disaster struck.
I don't think I've ever seen anything like Cole Ragans airmailing three straight pitches to tie a game.— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) September 10, 2023
Bonkers, and I hope he's okay. pic.twitter.com/sw6cWVjouk
Cole Ragans slipped and threw the wildest pitch I’ve witnessed in my 25 years of baseball fandom; Guerrero and Schneider dutifully advanced a base, each. The training staff came out to check on him as he repeatedly insisted he was OK. Ryan LeFebvre noted on the broadcast that managers love that sort of thing. Manager Matt Quatraro took the straining staff and retreated to the dugout, Ragans didn’t even throw a warmup pitch to test himself. His next pitch didn’t result in any slipping, but it was a pitch almost as wild as the first; this time Guerrero scored and Schneider advanced to third. Ragans fired a third incredibly wild pitch, slipping again, and didn’t cover home plate so Schneider scored.
Quatraro and the training staff returned to the mound, Ragans gestured that he believed there was a problem with the mound, kicking at it multiple times. No one could seem to find anything wrong with the mound, but he threw one warmup pitch - high above Salvy’s target - and play resumed again. Ragans fired one more high pitch - at least Salvy caught that one - and Quatraro finally, mercifully pulled him from the game.
Maybe managers like it when their pitchers tell them they aren’t hurt and that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t, but I can’t say I’m a fan of it. After Ragans threw the second wild pitch Quatraro should have pulled him then. It was practically malpractice to let him keep going after the third one. I’ve repeatedly defended Matt Quatraro throughout the entire season because I don’t think there’s any real way to evaluate how good he’s been as a manager when the players have been the focus of evaluation and have rated very poorly indeed. But leaving one of the best hopes for the future of the team on the mound at the tail end of a lost season when he’s clearly having incredible difficulty - whether through injury or a poorly maintained field - is inexcusable.
After Ragans was removed the Royals bullpen was called upon and did Royals bullpen things, giving up three more runs to allow the Blue Jays to complete their sweep, having scored five runs in every game.
So, yes, the Royals have now lost 100 games and are still well on their way to the worst record in MLB as well as a franchise record for losses in a season. They were swept again. But as the team prepares to face the White Sox in Chicago, tomorrow night, the question every fan’s mind following today’s game won’t be answered for at least five more days: Is Cole Ragans alright?