Nine Innings with Me

          It is an otherwise non-descript Thursday afternoon in a long baseball season, especially long right now for the Kansas City Royals. They are playing their sixty second game today against the Boston Red Sox, and have yet to win twenty. They have currently lost five games in a row, and have not won on consecutive days in over six weeks. As the Red Sox bid for a sweep, a modest crowd has gathered under cloudy skies. Among those who have showed up, it would appear that more are Red Sox fans, at least judging by shirt color.

     But whatever the circumstance for the home team, they are playing a major league baseball game, an individual contest that will have a winner and a loser at its conclusion. The Red Sox need to gather momentum after a slow start, the Royals are pretty much already in playing for pride mode. Perhaps surprisingly, today’s game will break a tie in the all-time series between the two franchises.

      Let’s go nine innings.

     Danny Duffy is the Royals starter and he inauspiciously throws three straight balls to open the game on his way to walking Mookie Betts. But he bounces back to fan Andrew Benintendi after a good battle. Betts is drawing some attention and a few throws over at first, but doesn’t look inclined to steal. Xander Boegarts hits an 0-2 rocket, but right into the glove of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, Betts reads it well and does not get trapped off. Duffy has started to pound strikes after his shaky start, and maybe has some fortune today. Another loud noise is produced by J.D. Martinez, but Kauffman Stadium holds the long line drive to right center.

     Red Sox opener Ryan Weber is likely glad for today’s assignment. The Royals have averaged two runs a game in their losing streak, and their top-heavy lineup has been pretty quiet for a while now. A different side of baseball 2019 is shown after Mondesi strikes out for the second out. The switch-hitter batting left has a major shift employed against him and when he whiffs, catcher Christian Vasquez has to throw the ball over one hundred feet to third baseman Rafael Devers positioned to the left of where a regular shortstop would be to start the around the horn. Devers is even further over as Alex Gordon comes up, and Gordon could crawl to first if he dropped a bunt down. Instead he singles over the shift to right field. But Jorge Soler meekly grounds out and that’s it for the first.

     The strike throwing has deserted Duffy as he throws five straight balls to open the second. A one-out grounder to third should have been a double play but third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert is too casual at the start, and Michael Chavis beats the rap at first. This hurts literally but not on the scoreboard, as Duffy has to face Eduardo Nunez, who rockets one off Duffy’s knee. Duffy goes down but the ball goes right to first baseman Ryan O’Hearn for the third out. Duffy eventually walks off.

     Weber is trying to get the Royals with a variety of slow stuff, but he tries to sneak a 1-1 fastball by Cuthbert. 426 feet later to center, it’s 1-0 Royals. Nicky Lopez then gets just his fifth hit in his last 43 at bats, and Cam Gallagher follows with a perfect hit and run single to right. Rare production from the bottom of the lineup continues as Billy Hamilton doubles in a run. Weber’s “opener” afternoon is over….2-0 Royals.

     Bad teams have a knack for doing things like not capitalizing on chances, like this one for a big inning. Whit Merrifield fans, and Mondesi flies out lazily, and it stays 2-0. Instantly, it hurts. Duffy hits the number nine hitter Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts parks one and the lead is gone as fast as it came. Whether it’s the after effects of being hit or not, Duffy is scuffling. Three more hits cascade off the Sox bats, and Duffy’s day is done. He has a word or two with the home plate ump as he slowly slinks off…..4-2 Red Sox. Brian Flynn saves any further damage to Duffy’s E.R.A. by getting a double play to end the top of the third.

     Xander Boegarts at shortstop for the Sox provides two nifty little highlights to a 1-2-3 Royals third. For the second out, he fumbles Jorge Soler’s grounder, but instantly snatches it back up, glove hand only, and makes the play. Then, playing in the second base spot on a shift on Ryan O’Hearn, he spears a slow roller going to his right and fires cross-body and virtually underhand for the third out. He continues to make a difference with his glove in the fourth, snuffing out a hit and run. With Billy Hamilton running, Boegarts has the cover, but he scrambles back when Nicky Lopez tries to poke one where Boegarts was, and gets an out at first.

      It matters more since Gallagher walks and Billy Hamilton squibs what acts like a perfect bunt down the third base line, although he took a full swing. I don’t know if I have ever seen softer contact on a full cut, but it fills the bases with one out. Whit Merrifield’s fly appears deep enough to score Cuthbert, but third base coach Mike Jirschele defers to Mookie Bett’s throwing arm and doesn’t send him.

     The strategy made me think of something I learned playing Strat-O-Matic baseball. Even if you thought it was fifty-fifty at best that Cuthbert would score, you must send him. The last I checked the next hitter Adalberto Mondesi doesn’t hit .500. He struck out, and the Royals had wasted another glorious chance, the Red Sox dodging a bullet. Bad team, good team.

     The Royals had left six on in the first four innings, which became more ironic and painful in the fifth when Jorge Soler launched yet another solo homer. Twelve of his sixteen have been good for one run, but at least it was one, and the Red Sox lead was down to one, 4-3. It stayed that way when Scott Barlow stranded two runners by getting Betts to fly out, picking up Brian Flynn, who ended up with a more than solid three and a third scoreless innings.

     The day has turned out to be okay, with the skies brightening and the crowd filling in a bit. There are quite a few Red Sox fans, but red shirts pop more than blue, and the Royals fans were stirring with another two- out opportunity in the sixth off of the fourth Sox pitcher Ryan Brasier. Runners at second and third after Brasier throws a wild pitch, and Mondesi up for the third straight time with two out and multiple runners aboard. Third time no charm, Mondesi fans for the 72nd time in 247 at bats.

     The failure to strike stung the Royals again as they then proceed to gift-wrap three pad runs to the Sox in the seventh. Two walks, one intentional, by Barlow have two on with two out. Vasquez lines one to right center field that HAS TO BE CAUGHT by someone. But Hamilton got a terrible read, and Merrifield couldn’t arrive either. Hamilton doubles down by diving for the ball, which lands ten feet from him and rolls to the wall for a two-run triple. Barlow then uncorks a wild pitch to score Vasquez. Merry Christmas on a muggy June afternoon….7-3 Red Sox.

     Gordon hits the Royals third solo shot in the bottom of the inning, obviously good for three runs. Their other eight hits have netted just one run, and thus they were in a familiar hole as they headed to the finish. In the eighth for the third time in the game they can’t get a runner in from third with less than two out, this time with no one out, and it remains 7-4.
The Royals stir in the 9th, which only makes the previous eight hurt all the more, and actually bring the tying run to the plate. against the SEVENTH Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes. But with most of the fans left wearing red and standing and chanting, Barnes fans the last two Royals and the Red Sox prevail 7-5.
The game was in many ways a microcosm of a season of any losing team. The Red Sox certainly weren’t great on the day, they had showed that act on Wednesday night. But mistakes big and small kept the Royals from taking advantage. Opportunities squandered, a fly ball misplayed, a badly located pitch. The box score had its oddities. It’s hard to score just five runs when you get fourteen hits and hit three homers. It’s unusual to have two players go oh-for-five in a fourteen hit game. Seven pitchers is usually reserved for the loser.
Not on this game day, just another one of 162, where without even knowing, you would be able to tell who was good, and who was not.