...and I ain't never gonna be the same again.
(from "Never Gonna Be The Same Again," Empire Burlesque)
It was a beautiful night at the old ballyard. Pleasant temps, low humidity, nice breeze to keep the air moving. A decent crowd despite the lack of a name opponent or a giveaway of any kind. The Royals were getting some hits, scoring some runs and getting a good pitching effort from the 11 Million Dollar Man, Gil Meche.
And then the wheels fell off.
Ron "Mayday" Mahay, attempting to finish off his second good inning of relief, coaxed a grounder out of The Amazing Josh Hamilton. Shortstop Mike Aviles scooped and threw for the third out. Except. Mark Teahen dropped it. Simply dropped it.
What followed was a whirlwind of bad managing, bad pitching and bad luck. Rany Jazayerli has aptly described what happened, but I would like to add my thoughts. And hey, it's my blog!
First, when Billy Butler was playing 1B earlier this year, Trey Hillman never failed to bring in a defensive replacement for him in the late innings. The Royals know that Butler is not yet a good major league first baseman. So where was the defensive replacement for Teahen, who only recently started playing first?
Career games at 1B: Billy Butler 34, Mark Teahen 21.
This was Hillman's first mistake. To be fair, I did not think at the beginning of the inning that it would matter. But I'm not paid to think about these things. And it was hardly the most egregious error.
With runners now at 1st and 2nd, with switch-hitter Milton Bradley up and a lefty on deck, Hillman called on righty Brett Tomko, who was moved to the bullpen just two weeks ago. Sure, Bradley hits lefties better than righties. But David Murphy, the next hitter, kills righties this year (.314/.541/.899). Why not save Tomko for the start of an inning and keep Mahay in or bring in Jimmy Gobble?
So, on an 0-2 pitch, Bradley doubles to right. Now it's 5-3 Royals. But hey, still two out, no need to panic. However, you might want to warm up closer Joakim Soria, who has been nigh unhittable this year. Murphy, who never should have faced Tomko, singled to drive in Bradley.
Now Hillman makes a move. In comes Yasuhiko Yabuta. To face righty Gerald Laird. Yabuta has been Ya-brutal against righties this year. Laird promptly breaks his bat but singles to center. Pinch-hitter Chris Shelton singles in the tying run before Yabuta gets the last out.
For reasons known only to Hillman, Yabuta was allowed to start the 9th against the top of the Ranger order. Hillman got what he deserved—Ian Kinsler doubled to start things. Ya-Brutal managed to get an out, a grounder to second, but that put Kinsler at third. In comes Ramon Ramirez, who has been the Royals' second- or third-best reliever this year (Leo Nunez, on the DL, is the other effective guy). He strikes out Hamilton (who had a bad night). Then, after Bradley is intentionally walked, Ramirez uncorks a pitch that catcher John Buck whiffs on. The Rangers take the lead on the passed ball, the Royals can't score in the 9th, and defeat is once again snatched from the jaws of victory.
So where was Soria? According to this morning's KC Star, he had a slight tightness in his back. Plus, he had pitched in three of the past four games (the horror!) and Hillman didn't want to work him further.
Soria threw 18 pitches Monday against the Yankees. He did not pitch Sunday.
You want to give him the night off, or rest him as much as possible? Fine. Let him get the last out of the 8th and make Ramirez your closer for one night. Better yet, leave Mahay (who has been dependable) in to finish the 8th. The odds were still good that he would have gotten one out before giving up four runs.
This loss was eerily similar to the disaster that befell the Royals two weeks ago, when they blew an 8-3 lead with two outs and no one on in the 8th against the Twins. The scary thing for Royals fans is that it appears Trey Hillman learned nothing from his mistakes that night.
The primary mistakes that night? Putting Ross Gload, normally a first baseman (and a good fielder) in right field and leaving Teahen (who played right field last year and some this year) at first. Bringing in homer-prone Joel Peralta to pitch to the tying run, then leaving him in to face slugger Justin Morneau in the 10th. Not using Soria even for one hitter to stop the Twins' rally, because he had pitched two days in a row.
About the only good thing to say regarding last night's run of mistakes is, unlike that Twins game, they did not extend a long losing streak. But now the Royals have two more losses than they should. No one is arguing they would contend this year. But there is no excuse for losing that game last night, there is no excuse for losing that Twins game. And there is no excuse for repeating these kind of mistakes again.
At least the Gates BBQ was tasty.