Nobody should get up from a kick to the groin with a smile on their face, so this column is not what you might be expecting, but it is the truth all the same:
That was fun.
The Royals took a surprise boot in the man-region, an octave-changer in the form of one of the worst hitters in baseball line-driving the go-ahead home run off one of the game’s best closers. After that, the fireworks felt like a party for a kid who just flunked his drivers test.
The Royals lost to the Mariners 7-5 on Friday night, and this being Kansas City, we should point out they are now 0-2 after that wild 10-game winning streak and, officially, the second-place Royals. This is a franchise that has regularly collapsed on the rare occasions it has shown promise in the last 20 years, so every bit of here-we-go-again that you are hearing or feeling comes from a very honest place.
But one of the sad by-products of a generation of bad baseball is that it robbed a proud baseball town of perspective. When the team reaches first place after Memorial Day once every decade or so, you begin to lose track of what’s a big game and what’s a baseball game.
The Royals lost a baseball game on Friday night.
They lost a thrilling baseball game on a muggy summer night against a decent team and a terrific pitcher. But, all the same, they lost a baseball game.
They are now a half-game behind the Tigers in the division. Saturday afternoon, the Royals will play again. Then, they will play 88 more games after that.
In the 74 games they’ve played so far, they have lost four in extra innings, 10 by five runs or more, three in a row to the last-place Astros, and one when Wade Davis made an elementary throwing error and then a worse mental error in Minnesota. They have demoted another hitting coach and been at the point where fans and some media called for the manager to be fired and the best players traded. And through all of that, they won enough games to be in the middle of a playoff race with other flawed American League teams.
So there is no reason other than the boogeyman and ghosts of Trey Hillman and nosotros creemos to believe that this is the backbreaker.
The Shake-N’-Bake combination of Wade Davis in the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth has been as close to perfect this year as baseball allows. They were bound to blow one.
This crowd deserved better, of course. This is the first sellout crowd since the home opener, and that 10-game win streak did more than just put the Royals into first place. It put them back in the national baseball conversation, and sweet dreams back in their fans’ heads. Ill-advised but fun billboards popped up around town vaguely taunting the Tigers, and the Royals rewrote their commercials to use the words “first” and “place.”
Finally, the baseball talk in this town was about what the Royals were doing instead of what they were not doing.
So of course it would’ve been nice for everyone if Mike Moustakas came through in the eighth, or Alex Gordon in the ninth. But this is not the end.
This is June.
Baseball success is an endangered species in Kansas City, so fans are trained to believe that the first bit of bad news is the beginning of a burial. But if you believed earlier this week that this Royals team was at least decent, then you also must know that even good teams lose games.
Sometimes, they lose two in a row. Even after dragging themselves into first place, and even in front of sellout crowds.
Failures in the past do not necessarily mean failures in the future, no matter how ingrained the pattern has become here.
Look at this a different way, even just for a few more paragraphs. This was a baseball celebration more than anything, a fan base that’s been far too patient finally able to show ownership and the rest of the baseball world what is capable here with just a crumb of hope.
Other than doing the wave in the late innings of a tight ballgame, this was close to a perfect atmosphere. Or, at least, as close to a perfect atmosphere as we’ve seen in quite some time.
Oh, sure. The fireworks and concession specials helped, but this was more than a sellout. This was a sellout crowd where nearly everyone was in their seat the whole game. They were into it, they were chanting, they were hoping through Sal Perez’s home run off an 0-2 splitter, Moustakas’ homer into the seats behind the right-field bullpen, and the ultimate letdown of the eighth and ninth innings.
But they were here, and they were loud, a reminder of what this fan base is both capable of and ready to do for a team worth their attention.
In the end, obviously, it went flat. The Royals lost. Some fans left immediately after the last out, others stayed for a few fireworks and then tried to beat traffic. Many of them cussed, probably.
But they probably had fun, at a Royals game, because of baseball. Been a long time since you could say that.
On Saturday, the team will have another chance to give this city reason to care.