View Full Version : Posnanski: Rarely has victory felt so liberating

08-21-2005, 01:42 AM

Rarely has victory felt so liberating


The Kansas City Star

OAKLAND, Calif. — Notes from a columnist held hostage (final edition).

Free at last! Free at last! Lord Almighty. On a windy Saturday evening in Oakland, thanks to a bloop, a Mac and a split, the Kansas City Royals won a baseball game. They beat the Oakland A’s 2-1. The fans at the McAfee Coliseum booed.

Over the loudspeaker, Van Morrison sang, “Mama told me there’d be days like this.”

In the clubhouse, Royals pitcher Jose Lima uncorked six bottles of champagne.

And I’m going home.

Let’s get the history out of the way first. This victory snapped a 19-game losing streak, the longest in baseball since 1988. It also snapped a 12-game road losing streak, a Royals record. For fun, it also snapped a 28-game losing streak when the Royals got four hits or fewer. It also won some people some money. Ten bucks on the Royals would have won you 29 in most casinos.

The details? The bloop was Emil Brown’s double, dumped over the first baseman as if it fell out of the sky. That scored Terrence Long. Mike Sweeney scored on a groundout.

Mac, of course, was reliever Mike MacDougal, who on this night faced four batters and got all four of them out for the save.

And the split? Well, that was Ambiorix Burgos’ split-fingered fastball pitch. It’s worth a little bit longer discussion.

First, though, here, for the last time, are the streak totals: The Royals lost 19 games in a row, tied for the 12th longest streak in baseball history. You might recall that Saturday it was tied for seventh, but then the Elias Sports Bureau — the arbiter of such things — decided that the streaks before 1900 count, too. So, after throwing in streaks from the 1889 Louisville Colonels, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, among others, it’s now the 12th longest. … Terrence Long managed to avoid becoming the first man in baseball history to win 20 games in a row (as part of the Oakland A’s) and lose 20 games in a row (as part of the Royals). There was actually a strange Lincoln-had-a-secretary-named-Kennedy symmetry to it because the A’s won their 20th against the Royals, and the Royals were in position to lose their 20th against the A’s. Whatever. The streak’s over. … The Royals threw 72 pitchers, walked 86 batters, were outscored 148-64, were shut out three times and did not win for 24 days.

But now, the winning streak is one.

Buddy Bell quote of the day: “Master of the obvious, but we needed that win.”

OK, enough of that. Let’s talk about the split.

The Royals led 2-1 in the sixth when Oakland loaded the bases. There was only one out. That was when Buddy Bell called for Ambiorix Burgos.

And someone in the press box grumbled (as someone always does when Burgos gets the call): “Who is that?”

Burgos is a 21-year-old kid from the Dominican Republic who throws a 99-mph fastball and a devastating split-fingered fastball. Now, he does not always throw them for strikes. And he has, a bit too frequently, grooved a pitch and given up home runs. But he’s got some kind of stuff. Like so many of the Royals, he’s learning in the big leagues rather than in the minors. Results are mixed.

He came into face Oakland’s Nick Swisher, a hot-hitting rookie, who is part of an amazing statistic. The A’s are 63-35 when he’s in the lineup. They are 5-19 when he is not. Anyway, Swisher was up, Burgos got ahead one ball and two strikes, and then he threw two balls. The count was 3-2, the bases were loaded, the Royals had lost 19 games in a row. And then, Burgos looked in at the catcher. And he shook his head.

He wound up. Swisher readied himself for a fastball at about 100 mph.

Instead, this kid threw a splitter. An 88-mph split-fingered fastball. Swisher was so far ahead of it, he could have swung twice. But it only took one swing. He struck out.

“Unbelievable,” Jose Lima said.

“I just fell back and said, ‘Wow,’ ” Buddy Bell said.

“Take that,” Royals catcher Paul Phillips said.

“Do you know what kind of guts that takes?” Royals’ general manager Allard Baird asked.

Oh yeah. It takes unbelievable guts.

It’s very hard to throw a split-fingered fastball for a strike. A walk there, and the Royals probably lose. The streak goes on.

But it was no walk.

“He’ll never make that pitch again,” a bewildered Swisher said after the game. “I was sitting on a fastball. It was unbelievable.”

Royals fan Eric Moeller can rest easy now.

He was taking the blame for the losing streak. Eric is a pilot, both for American Airlines and the Air Force Reserve. He says that on Oct. 27, 1985 — he was a junior in high school — he was mowing the lawn. He made a plea to God.

He said: “God, if you can just let the Royals win game seven of the World Series tonight, I don’t care if they ever win again.”

Hey, a deal’s a deal. Eric says he has the same offer for a Chiefs Super Bowl.

OK, there’s a lot of anger out there. A lot of anger. Before the game, I held an unscientific little poll based on this question: Do you want the Royals to end the embarrassment and win a game or do you want them to keep losing and break the record for longest losing streak? In a few hours, 163 people wrote and called in.

After negotiating through the swear words, here was the final count: People who wanted the losing-streak record: 137.

People who wanted the Royals to win: 26.

That seemed to me a fairly shocking gap. There were people — people who claimed, by the way, to be lifetime Royals fans — saying things like, “I hope the Royals never win another game;” “I wish they would just be contracted already” and “I would love to see them move to another city and leave us alone.”

Oh, the losing-streak hopers had their reasons. Most said they hoped a long losing streak would force the Royals to fire Allard Baird or encourage David Glass to sell the team. Some said they wanted all of America to know the Royals are a joke. Some said they kind of liked the attention the Royals were getting.

Funny thing about sports, though. I’ll bet in the ninth inning, with Mike MacDougal on the mound, with the Royals up one run, with the game on the line, every one of those fans was rooting for the Royals to win the game. It’s just like that.

Finally, we end with Allard Baird. Numerous people have written in to say something along these lines: “Why doesn’t anyone there at the paper have the guts to demand that Allard Baird be fired?”

Well, first of all, you should know it doesn’t take any guts at all to call for Baird’s job in the middle of a 19-game losing streak. No guts. That is the easiest column in the book, and it is a guaranteed ratings winner. If there’s one thing you learn quick about sports writing, it’s this: If a team is losing, it’s always popular to demand someone be fired. You will get 95 percent approval ratings on those columns.

But I think you should think pretty hard before demanding a man’s head in print.

There are good reasons to end the Baird era. You know all those. But here are two other things to think about:

1. This is Baird’s fifth full year as general manager. That seems like a long time, but look at the two teams everyone points to as model small-market franchises — Minnesota and Oakland. Minnesota had a losing record for eight straight years. The Twins were the worst team in the American League from 1993-2000.

Oakland had a losing record for six straight seasons, 1993-1998.

It’s true the Royals have sunk lower. But the point is this: It takes time for a small-market team with limited resources to turn things around.

2. You should never make a long-term decision based on today’s emotion. Everybody knew this was going to be a rebuilding year. Nobody thought the Royals were going to be quite this bad or lose that many in a row, but that’s not the point.

No, the point is this: Is the plan working?

I don’t think we know the answer to that question yet. Ask the hard questions: Is Mark Teahen a player? How about John Buck? David DeJesus? Will Zack Greinke be an ace? How about Denny Bautista? Runelvys Hernandez? Will Billy Butler become a star? Will Justin Huber and Alex Gordon (assuming the Royals sign him) be good major leaguers? Will Ambiorix Burgos become a dominant closer? On and on.

Now, maybe you’ve made up your mind on these guys already — maybe you are sure that they can’t play — and you are ready to fire everybody, hire a new group, start all over again. OK. Just know it’s a dangerous thing for a team to change course all the time.

Being general manager of the Kansas City Royals is one of the hardest jobs in professional sports. There are no easy answers. There is no easy path. It’s easy to say “Fire Allard Baird,” and when it comes down to it, maybe he should be fired.

But guts has nothing to do with it.

It takes real guts to say that Baird deserves another year to see if this plan will work.

08-21-2005, 05:26 AM
The whole youth movement thing would have been great if we kept and retained our youth talent, like:
Perez (better than servicable.)
and maybe actually signed Gordon.

Bob Dole
08-21-2005, 08:18 AM
I don’t think we know the answer to that question yet. Ask the hard questions: Is Mark Teahen a player? How about John Buck? David DeJesus? Will Zack Greinke be an ace? How about Denny Bautista? Runelvys Hernandez? Will Billy Butler become a star? Will Justin Huber and Alex Gordon (assuming the Royals sign him) be good major leaguers? Will Ambiorix Burgos become a dominant closer? On and on.

The hard question is: If those things happen, on whose roster will they be?