Television cameras zoomed in on Jeremy Guthrie after he was mercifully lifted from the fiasco on Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium.
In the endless span of one-inning plus he was smashed for 11 runs and nine hits, including four home runs. By numerous metrics, it was among the harshest drubbings inflicted on any pitcher in Major League history.
If you had it in you to keep watching, you then witnessed Guthrie sitting in the dugout exuding an eerie calmness.
It was one of those looks that could just as easily be seen as one of shock as one of serenity, especially at what might have been considered yet another crossroads of his career: age 36 and lugging a 6.70 ERA.
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Turns out Guthrie was thinking of something else entirely — about all the times he’d been watching other pitchers get crushed and thought, “Oh, it can’t get that bad for me.”
Then he realized.
“At this point, now I know that I can pitch worse than anybody else ever,” he said with a laugh after the Royals’ 3-2, 10-inning win over Minnesota on Friday at Kauffman Stadium.
He was only joking when he said he just hoped he would get another start after that.
Then again, he wouldn’t have had much leverage in an argument and added, “I don’t take anything for granted, ever.”
But being in the crucible seems to have revitalized him like it has so many times before.
So many times that his knack for recovery from past misadventures surely is part of what now sustains him through ensuing ones.
“Those were real crossroads,” he said, referring specifically to his struggles coming up in the minor leagues and in Colorado. “When I’m in Colorado (in 2012), and I don’t get people out for the better part of three months, you wonder if you’ll ever get a chance to pitch again, and if you do get that chance, if you’ll ever be successful.”
Recovering from the Yankees game wasn’t quite that.
It was something he could break down rationally, instead of emotionally, something he could attribute to pitch selection and a day gone bad, not an abrupt loss of his skills.
So he turned back to preparation and belief in the process, and what’s happened since is testimony to what that means.
Against Minnesota on Friday, Guthrie allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings, meaning that for the sixth time in seven starts since the Memorial Day meltdown, he’d given up three runs or fewer.
If you toss out the six runs he gave up at Oakland, in fact, Guthrie has given up 12 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings since the 11-run binge he surrendered in New York.
More to the point, he’s given the Royals an ample chance to win those games.
Just as he’s done remarkably often, surprisingly so, since arriving in Kansas City three years ago in what seemed to be a last chance to get his fickle career settled.
Hold your breath as you might at trap doors that seem to lurk around Guthrie, entering the game Friday the Royals were 57-37 in games he’s started for them.
And at a time of troublesome flux in a rotation beset by injuries and inconsistencies, Guthrie suddenly stands as a buoy of stability.
As improbable as that might have seemed only a few weeks ago, the turnaround is part of the DNA of a man who had a 6.35 ERA with Colorado in the summer of 2012.
When the Royals traded sputtering Jonathan Sanchez for him on July 20, it was more a matter of “why not?” then a matter of deep conviction.
As manager Ned Yost remembered it last fall, the trade began when a Colorado executive sent Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore a text message that sounded more like jest than a genuine offer:
“Hey, would you be interested in swapping struggling starters?”
Heck, Yost thought, let’s give it a shot.
Mostly, it was on the hunch that Guthrie was a victim of the altitude in Denver and on the premise that since he “commanded the ball down” he’d have a chance to flourish in the vast expanse of Kauffman Stadium.
What Yost didn’t know, couldn’t know, really, was that Guthrie long before had found the resilience to stare down pivotal moments of his career and redefine himself.
During his freshman year at Brigham Young, for instance, he became disenchanted with the game and didn’t throw a baseball for two years when he went on a Mormon mission to Spain.
After he returned and transferred to Stanford, Guthrie became Cleveland’s first-round draft pick in 2003 but had arrived at another crucial turn after three years in their organization.
“I was not good, and I did not have confidence,” he said in October. “And my pitches were not crisp, and they were not executed.
“And I didn’t have anything going for me as a professional pitcher.”
Other than that …
What he did have was a sense of understanding that everything that was happening to him was happening for a reason, an outlook informed by his religious faith after his mission.
It’s an outlook that has sustained him many times since, one that says he knows he has to grind and overcome, one that says it’s all ultimately more about the effort and the attitude and the journey than the result.
Something that’s easier said than done, of course, but something he keeps demonstrating, too — even after learning he can pitch worse than anybody else ever.