If ever there was a laboratory to probe the theory of “momentum” in baseball, it was Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium … where the theory was shredded by a 7-5 Royals’ loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Twenty-four hours before, the Royals had concocted an unforgettable triumph just as they were on the verge of a fatal fade.
That winning rally was so improbable as to seem unique even in the memory of longtime baseball men.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it: tie and win on two balls that didn’t leave the infield,” said manager Ned Yost, 60.
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Raul Ibanez, a 42-year-old designated hitter and first baseman, said: “None of us (has) ever really seen that twice in one inning. That same type of play.
“That just shows the will and determination of this team.”
That’s hard to dispute, whatever you might think of this team and where it’s headed.
Stir in the context of that moment, the Royals’ bid for their first playoff berth since 1985, and it all made for a giddy display of joy as players scurried all over the field chasing each other down.
It was intoxicating and contagious stuff, surging not only among players but also coursing through mesmerized fans at the stadium and riveted ones watching on television or listening on radio.
So, of course that energy would factor in and generate some bounce for the Royals a day later against what had to be a demoralized Chicago team languishing in last place in the American League Central.
“Maybe a little bit,” Yost said Tuesday afternoon, before immediately cautioning, “You make your own momentum every night.”
This might have come off as hum-drum manager-speak or just trying to keep things low-key.
But Yost wasn’t so much understating matters as he was speaking a simple truth underscored by the deflating loss later that night.
As much as we want to see connections from game to game and think we can divine defining moments and identify pivot points to this season, the game just doesn’t lend itself to that.
Every game is its own entity in baseball, its own compartmentalized picture within a picture.
And it’s all the more so with a Royals team that has had radical swings in fortune all season and has contrived a formula for winning that is thick on lots of little things and thin on margin for error.
Simply put, how the Royals will fare is a completely day-to-day proposition of never-ending turns.
Their fate in this race is utterly uncertain, seemingly all the more so just when you think it’s safe to assume anything — like, say, that somehow Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis would allow no more runs this season.
Consider the latest false barometer, the notion that the magic of Monday would automatically carry over to Tuesday.
Nothing of the sort happened.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to see so much as a strand connecting the Monday game to the Tuesday game beyond Nori Aoki, who had four hits each night.
Any resemblance to the teams that left the field the night before and took the field Tuesday was purely coincidental.
Instead, the Royals almost instantly fell behind 1-0 after the game began with second baseman Omar Infante failing to handle Jarrod Dyson’s fine throw from center field.
That allowed Adam Eaton to extend a single into a double and thus later score on a fielder’s choice.
If that was an unfair knock against starter Liam Hendriks, starting in place of the injured Danny Duffy, Hendriks made plenty of his own trouble by the time he left in the fourth inning.
In the process, he affirmed another Yost pregame point about any potential impact from one game to another.
“Your momentum,” he said, “is as good as your starting pitching.”
In this curious case of a game, a marathon that lasted more than four hours, it turned out also to hinge on seemingly bulletproof bullpen men Herrera and Davis.
They entered the game bearing the two longest unscored-upon streaks in baseball, and each had it come to an end on one Davis pitch.
Two runners Davis inherited from Herrera and a man Davis walked, Jose Abreu, scored on Connor Gillaspie’s seventh-inning triple.
Yep, Davis was working in the seventh, and Herrera had come on in the sixth.
Other than during Greg Holland’s recent absence, that was a departure from the rigid ways Yost has come to use them this season.
And it backfired in a game that served as a painful reminder that one thing seldom inherently sprouts from another in baseball.
There is no continuum, no linear inevitability, no logical trajectory.
Instead, it’s just a semirelated series of independent daily events that will only provide a telling narrative … in hindsight.
And in this particular case, the still-forming, unpredictable story figures to leave Royals fans grappling with senses of both wonder and torment until the very end.