Monday, May 13, 2013

A Royal Sweep, Now a Strange Doubleheader

Remember when the Kansas City Royals were a great team? Or even a serious contender? You do? Then you're, at the very least, closer to 40 years old than to 30.

I remember it well, those years from 1975 to 1985 when they were a real pain in the ass club: 11 seasons, at least in the American League Western Division race in all but 1 (1983), averaging 89 wins and half a game behind the Division leader, making the Playoffs 6 times, winning the Division 5, winning the 1980 Pennant and the 1985 World Series.

Included in that was 4 AL Championship Series matchups with the Yankees, each one a nasty fight, as the Royals were a bunch of bastards.  It went the distance of 5 games in '76 and '77, and to 4 games in '78, with the Yankees winning each time.  The Royals finally got their revenge in '80, sweeping the Yanks.  There were no more postseason matchups, although there were some interesting regular-season games, including the Pine Tar Game in 1983.

There could have been one more rematch in 1985, but the Yankees finished 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, beginning the era in which they would take over from the Royals as the AL's peskiest team.  The Jays then jumped out to a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Royals, but, since that was the first year the LCS was a best-4-of-7 instead of a best-3-of-5, they hadn't yet won the Pennant, and the Royals took the next 3, before beating their cross-State opponents the St. Louis Cardinals in a controversial World Series.

The Royals haven't reached the postseason since -- indeed,only once since then (1989) have they even won more than 85 games, and since 1993 haven't even won more than 84.  Whitey Herzog had been their manager in those '76-'78 LCS, but they fired him in 1980, and only then did they win their Pennants.  And Herzog managed the Cards in '85, when Don Denkinger's goof at 1st base cost the Cards Game 6 and allowed the Royals to win it in 7.  Curse of the White Rat, anyone?

*

Suffice it to say, the Royals are not that good these days.  They'd made a couple of interesting trades, and came into this weekend's series with the Yankees at 18-13, a pretty good record.

They're now 18-16.

On Friday night, Phil Hughes toughed it out through some tough innings, but Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan (yeah, I was shocked, too) pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.  Ichiro Suzuki (his 2nd of the season) and Lyle Overbay (his 6th) hit home runs.

Yankees 11, Royals 6.  WP: Hughes (2-2).  No save.  LP: Wade Davis (2-3 -- apparently, wearing the Number 22 of Brooklyn native turned 1976-80 Yankee-Killer Dennis Leonard did help much).

On Saturday night, for the 70th time, Mariano Rivera (14) saved a regular-season victory by Andy Pettitte (4-2).  That's a major league record.  James Shields (2-3), whom the Royals got from the Tampa Bay Rays, pitched reasonably well, but Andy was better: 7 innings, 2 runs, 5 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts.  And he's about to turn 41.  Vernon Wells hit his 8th home run of the season, and that was the difference.  Yankees 3, Royals 2.

Yesterday, Hiroki Kuroda gave up a run in the 1st and another in the 8th, and in between was sparkling.  Robinson Cano (his 10th) and Wells (his 9th) hit home runs off Ervin Santana (3-2 -- now the best, or at least the healthiest, pitcher with that last name).  David Robertson got the last out in the 8th, and Mariano got through the 9th for his 15th save.  Yankees 4, Royals 2.

*

So here's where we stand, with 6 of the season's 26 weeks (23 percent) gone:

The Yankees lead the American League Eastern Division, by 1 game over the Baltimore Orioles, 2 in the loss column.  They lead the Boston Red Sox by 2 games (3), the Rays by 4 1/2 (5), and the highly-touted Blue Jays by 9 1/5 (11).

The American League Central is a tie between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers, with the Royals a game and a half back (1 in the loss column), the Minnesota Twins trail by 2 1/2 (2), and the chicago White Sox by 5.

The American League West is led by the Texas Rangers.  The Oakland Athletics are 6 back (7), the Seattle Mariners 6 1/2 (7), the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 10, and the Houston Astros 14 1/5 (15).

The National League East is led by the Atlanta Braves.  The Washington Nationals trail by 1 game, the Philadelphia Phillies by 4 (5 in the loss column), the Mets by 5 1/2 (but only 4 in the loss column), and the Miami Marlins by 10 1/2 (11).

The National League Central is led by the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cincinnati Reds trail by 2 (3), the Pittsburgh Pirates by 2 1/2 (3), the Milwaukee Brewers by 7 1/5 (7), and the Chicago Cubs by 8 1/5 (9).

The National League West is led by the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.  The Arizona Diamondbacks trail by 2, the Colorado Rockies by 2 1/2 (2 in the loss column), the San Diego Padres by 6 1/2 (6), and the Los Angeles Dodgers, for all their payroll, by 7 (6).  Already there is talk that Don Mattingly's job as manager is in danger -- as if he had been the one making the high-priced acquisitions.

If the current standings hold until the end of the season, the AL's Wild Card entries will be the Orioles and the Indians-Tigers loser.  The NL's will be the Reds and the Pirates.

*

Today, the Yankees have their strangest matchup of the season -- and hopefully, it will stay that way.  Because of the 2 snowouts in Cleveland last month, they are spending one day in Cleveland, but playing 2 games against the Indians.

Game 1 is scheduled to begin at 12:05 this afternoon.  David Phelps will pitch for the Yankees, Justin Masterson for the Tribe.  Game 2 will follow at a time to be determined, with rookies Vidal Nuno and Trevor Bauer facing each other.  In Nuno's case, it will be his first major league start, after his debut on April 29, at home against the Astros, 3 nice scoreless innings of relief.

After this strange day, the Yankees return home, for a 3-game series against Seattle, followed by 3 against those pesky but overrated Blue Jays.

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