Following the Royals’ simmering 4-2 win over Oakland on Sunday, I tweeted the Royals seem to play rather well when angry (omitting, for the sake of argument, the peaceful slumber offensively Saturday). I also said KC will have to get used to playing mad a lot this season.
Oakland may have lost two of three games to the Royals this past weekend, but it definitely shed light on the psyche of the Boys in Blue. It also established a pattern for every other team in Major League Baseball to deal with KC this season (and possibly beyond):
1. Get under the team’s collective skin. Hit batters, hard slides on the bases and the like definitely qualify.
2. Watch Royals fall all over themselves to retaliate.
3. Whine when retaliation eventually happens.
4. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Last year, the Royals charged to their first playoff berth in 29 years and rapidly became playoff darlings — and not just because of the backstory. The Royals were a young team that played the game the way it should be played — hard but joyous and also respectful of both the other team and the litany of unwritten rules that dictates play as much as the penned rulebook.
The Royals still play hard, and in fact they could well be playing more effectively at the start of this season than they did at the end of last year. All that good feeling about KC, though, is changing this year.
Face it. The Royals are taking a beating at the plate and no longer reacting well to that. Fifteen hundred hit batters (sorry, it just feels like that many) in two weeks tends to get a team a tad grumpy.
Unfortunately, this coincides with the team’s good injury fortunes from last year coming to a screeching halt — and it all started when new Royal Alex Rios was injured (HBP, wouldn’t you know). In rapid succession, the Royals also lost super closer Greg Holland (pectoral strain, pitching) and their starting middle infield in Alcides Escobar (ankle sprain, questionable slide tactics) and Omar Infante (groin pull, running bases).
If the Rios injury turned up the heat for the stove, Brett Lawrie’s ill-advised (intent to be determined but it looked suspicious) slide into Escobar and the sight of KC’s star shortstop being carried off threw a lot of well-marbled meat right into the pan. Once that happened, everybody who remotely follows the sport knew what was coming. Retribution was obvious, albeit late in coming when pitcher Yordano Ventura waited until Lawrie’s second at-bat (and a home run by Josh Reddick immediately beforehand) to plunk Lawrie.
Sounds like everything has policed itself under baseball’s unwritten rules policy? Uh, no. Read the not-so-fine print again.
The A’s were torqued Ventura went after Lawrie a second time. Yes, ICYMI, Ventura zinged a fastball up and in during Lawrie’s first crack at things Saturday. The anger, I think, was justified. Short of drilling somebody in the ribs, little else sends a message to an opposing batter quite like a 100 mph fastball in the selfie zone of that batter’s brain.
Regardless, though, it appeared things would be tense but settled Sunday. Until Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot. In the first inning.
There has been a lot of talk about whether the Kazmir pitch was intentional, especially given Kazmir’s near-pinpoint control the rest of the game, but I think the Royals’ renewed anger that spilled over for the rest of the game essentially boiled down to three words: We’ve had it.
Enough of us being your pitching pincushion.
If you’re going to keep doing that, hitting our guys, it won’t matter if it’s intentional. Consequences are coming.
And they did Sunday at an inexplicable time. In a 2-1 game, A’s leading, in the eighth inning, Kelvin Herrera jackknifed Lawrie with a fastball and followed it with harder stuff behind Lawrie’s shoulders. Herrera’s rationale of a wet baseball rings hollow, even for this Royals fan, and…well…at least KC won. And at least KC doesn’t play Oakland again for a couple months.
Sometimes, baseball resembles the Wild West — and in this case, there is every possibility we are headed to the baseball equivalent of the Gunfight at the OK Corral when these teams meet up again June 26-28.
This weekend’s doings reminded me of just that — the story of the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone, Ariz., “back in the day.” The Earps had just cleaned the Cowboys’ clocks at the gunfight, only to have Virgil wounded and Morgan Earp killed in subsequent ambushes. Which sets up this scene:
Stretching the analogy, we aren’t at the point of Earp’s Vendetta Ride yet. Not yet.
Not stretching the analogy (that far, anyway): The Royals are perilously close to choosing the black hat and wearing it for years, not just this season. Look at how long the Detroit Pistons carried the Bad Boys title in the NBA well after Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Vinnie Johnson went their separate ways. I digress.
I never thought I’d ever consider Kansas City as the bad boys of baseball, but that’s what is coming if things don’t settle down. Cooler heads on this team need to prevail, to turn the heat down, to really talk some baseball common sense in the clubhouse. How many of the HBPs were intentional? Two, maybe three. Those deserve retaliation — once, mind you, not repeatedly. The rest? Hey — you get a free baserunner. Get your revenge by cashing that in. Put some pressure on your opponent, celebrate when you win and continue maddening other teams with that joy for the game you thrived upon last season.
Everybody needs to grit their teeth, take the high road, whatever cliche you want to insert. And I mean everybody has to be on board with this approach. Exact your revenge with the scoreboard, not with beanbrawls.
Having said that, though, remember that aforementioned A’s model for handling the Royals? You know everyone else is going to try to rile the Royals, easily the most expressive and emotional team in the sport. But those teams had better think good and hard about whether they want to follow suit. Because now you know, good, bad or ugly (and quite possibly some boiling mixture of the three), that hell is coming with KC at some point if this continues.
Borrowing from another part of the Tombstone script, I really don’t think you want the 2015 Kansas City Royals as your huckleberry.