|03-31-2003, 11:13 PM||Topic Starter|
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Posnanski: MacDougal ushers in new era
MacDougal ushers in new era
By JOE POSNANSKI
The MacEra began with a MacSlider. And it was some kind of slider. Mike MacDougal had already thrown a 99-mph fastball on the outside corner. He had just thrown a 98-mph fastball on the inside corner, and Chicago's Frank Thomas barely fouled it off, and you could tell it hurt. It was one of those foul balls you could feel quivering throughout your whole body.
Forty-thousand Royals fans stood at Kauffman Stadium.
And they pounded those ThunderStix together. They gave out ThunderStix for opening day, and it seemed to take the fans eight innings to figure out how to use them (what is the sound of one ThunderStix clapping?). But in the ninth inning, the Royals led by three, everybody stood, ThunderStix boomed, and Mike MacDougal threw that slider. It started at Frank Thomas' hip. It made a sudden left turn over the plate.
Frank Thomas stood frozen as Ted Williams.
And the MacEra began.
"Nasty," Royals special assistant Frank White said.
"Filthy," Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney said.
"Unfair," Royals manager Tony Pena said.
"I covered my face," Royals outfielder Dee Brown said. "I didn't want anybody to see me laughing."
How long has it been since someone this electric showed up on the scene in Kansas City? Monday was perfect. Utterly perfect. Sun was out. Parking lot smelled like barbecue. That awesome American Eagle named Challenger flew around the stadium. Rookie Ken Harvey introduced his corkscrew swing with two doubles. Another rookie, Angel Berroa, made two dazzling plays. Mike Sweeney, playing for the first time with the captain's "C" on his jersey, hit a double of his own, then took third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch.
The Royals threw their first opening-day shutout since, well, ever.
And MacDougal pitched the ninth. He's a tall kid, 6 feet 4, and he probably doesn't weigh the listed 195 pounds. All arms and legs. He throws harder than perhaps any Royals pitcher ever. And he has that slider. That ridiculous slider. It's not right. At some point during spring training this year, Dee Brown went over to MacDougal, and this is what he said:
"MacDougal, if I ever have to face you, and you blow me away with your 99-mph fastball, that's fine. But if you throw that slider and make me look stupid, embarrass me, I swear I will charge the mound right then and kick your (behind) from here to Florida."
And here's what MacDougal said: "Uh huh."
That's because Mike MacDougal is not exactly the great orator. After the game Monday -- MacDougal threw a perfect ninth inning for his first major-league save -- he found himself surrounded by a couple dozen reporters who wanted some words of wisdom from the phenom.
"It was awesome," MacDougal said.
When asked to elaborate, he did.
"It was really awesome," MacDougal said.
Well, nobody said a closer had to be Winston Churchill. Monday, he spoke with his fastball, which hit 99 twice but never quite pushed into triple digits, and with that slider that made Frank Thomas look as if he had been kicked in the teeth.
"I can't ever remember anybody making Frank Thomas look bad," Sweeney said. "And MacDougal did that."
MacDougal figures to take this team on some wild rides. There might not be a single pitcher in baseball who has his combination of stuff and movement. "I tell you, I've never seen anyone like him," Pena said.
But. There's always a but. Last season, MacDougal pitched 90 innings, and he walked 96 guys, and that's not too good. He would sometimes throw the ball 2 feet behind hitters. His control improved tremendously this off-season. Still, in the bullpen on Monday, he unleashed a couple of pitches that went flying frighteningly off course.
"I usually do that," he said with a smile.
But when he's right, he's very right.
"He throws 99 mph and has a great slider, and his hat flies off his head when he pitches," catcher Brent Mayne said. "I mean, what's not to like?"
There is a certain feeling about this team. Sure, it's just one game. One little game. But it was one great game. The Royals are 1-0 and young and in first place. Music played in the clubhouse. Runelvys Hernandez, who was spectacular for six shutout innings, talked while his sweet little baby slept on Grandpa's shoulder. Mike Sweeney looked into the cameras and said: "We believe. It doesn't matter to us what other people say."
And people kept asking Mike MacDougal how he felt.
"Awesome," he said. "Awesome."
Meanwhile, across the hall, in the White Sox clubhouse, Frank Thomas was asked about that slider. He shook his head and offered the most respectful words a baseball player can offer:
"Tip your cap," he said. "Sometimes, all you can do is tip your cap."