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Old 04-25-2003, 01:15 AM  
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Posnanski: Go ahead and believe the Royals are not a fluke

Go ahead and believe the Royals are not a fluke

By JOE POSNANSKI
Columnist
Posted on Fri, Apr. 25, 2003

A few years ago, we were watching Buster Douglas pound the life out of Mike Tyson, watching it in complete disbelief, when a friend offered up one of the truest lines I have ever heard.

"You know, the longer this goes on," he said around the fourth or fifth round, "the less likely it's a fluke."

That's how I feel about the Royals now. This is no fluke anymore. Everybody keeps asking, "When is it OK to believe this is for real?" It's for real. Believe it right now. The Royals did something remarkable on Thursday. Well, actually they did two remarkable things.

One, they won when Minnesota's Torii Hunter decided to try to become the first man in baseball history to score from second on a routine fly ball to left field. What is it about playing the Royals this year that turns opposing base runners into Rob from the old "Dick Van Dyke Show?" They're falling over ottomans, smashing into walls, getting doubled up on loopers to second.

Two, the Royals became just the eighth team since World War II to start a season 16-3 (the New York Yankees have already done it this year -- and it only cost them $3.2 billion per win! What a bargain!)

The Royals keep pulling off so many statistical wonders -- first team in 15 years to win first 10 home games, first team in Royals history to win 16 games before Al Pacino's birthday (that would be today, offer up a big hoo-haw for Al), first team ever to win more games in April than people predicted for the entire season -- that you can just get lost by it all. What does it mean anyway?

Well, let me tell you what starting 16-3 means.

Only good teams start 16-3. There has never been a team in the long history of baseball -- going back to the dead-ball era, going back to the astounding 1902 Pirates, going back even to the days when Chris Berman's nicknames were funny -- that has collapsed after starting 16-3.

Look: Between 1940 and 2002, there have been six teams that started 16-3 or better, but that includes the 1981 Oakland A's, who started 17-2 during that bizarre strike year, so they don't really count.

So it's down to five teams. And just look at them. The 1946 Boston Red Sox, with Ted Williams playing the starring role, won 104 games and went to the World Series. The key was a 24-year-old pitcher named Boo Ferriss, who won 25 games and never won half as many again.

The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, after years of heartache, took control early, bashed more home runs than any other team in baseball, rolled to a pennant and finally won their first World Series. It was Jackie Robinson's only world championship.

The 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers, in the first full year under a positive-talkin' guy named Tommy Lasorda, ran away early and reached the World Series, ending the dominance of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.

The 1984 Detroit Tigers blew everybody away with their fast start, led wire-to-wire, swept the poor Royals and won the World Series.

And finally, there's the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, who lost 12 games in a row at the beginning of May and completely wasted their great start. That Brewers team still won 91 games, though. If the Royals win 91 games this year, it will be one of the great miracles in modern times (along with those scan-your-food self-serve stations they have in some grocery stores now).

Point is, bad teams don't start 16-3. It doesn't happen. Bad teams never win 16 out of 19 games at any point. Shoot, the Royals haven't won 16 out of 19 since before the last strike.

Oh yeah, this means something.

This Royals team is for real. I don't mean they're going to run away with the division (although in this base-running-blunder division, they just might). I mean they will be there all season. I mean they will be contenders in August and September. This team won the Cactus League. This team won nine in a row to start the year. This team has already overcome injuries and slumps.

There is just an astounding feeling in that Royals clubhouse right now. The veterans like Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa and Michael Tucker believe in the kids. And the kids like Angel Berroa and Runelvys Hernandez and Mike MacDougal look up to the veterans.

And everybody has talent. Real talent.

And there's more talent on the way, especially pitching.

And the manager is the happiest, luckiest, believingest man you have ever met in your entire life.

"We're going to keep surprising people for a long time," he says.

Just think what they'll do when Carlos Beltran gets a hit.

Not everybody agrees with me about the Royals being for real, of course. I already have bets with a few baseball experts who are pretty well convinced that this start means pretty much zippo -- it's only April -- and that the Royals will soon fall back to earth, and probably fall back quite hard.

If they're right, I'm buying Stroud's for a lot of people.

If I'm right, though, it's free Arthur Bryant's for most of the winter.

I can taste those burnt ends already.

"People say you are still a fluke," you say to Tony Pena. "What do you say to them."

"Well," he says after thinking for a moment, "it's a good fluke."
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