Who would have guessed that a trade to the Royals would provide a veteran player with the opportunity to play postseason baseball?
But for outfielder Josh Willingham and pitcher Jason Frasor, two long-tenured major leaguers, being members of the Royals has given them their first taste of playoff baseball.
For Willingham, reports of his career demise have been greatly exaggerated. A blog post from reporter in Minnesota said Willingham would retire at season’s end. That meant Willingham would play only as long as the Royals were still alive, right?
“There wasn’t a quote with that story, right?” Willingham said.
“I haven’t made a decision. At the end of the season, we’ll talk about it as a family and do what’s best for our family.”
So maybe this isn’t the end of the road. But Willingham is enjoying himself.
“It feels great, man. What a fun ride,” Willingham said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Willingham has just two at-bats in the postseason, one in the Wild Card Game and one in the Division Series.
The first was huge. The Royals trailed Oakland 7-6 in the ninth inning when manager Ned Yost called on Willingham to pinch-hit for Mike Moustakas.
“My focus was to get on base anyway, if that meant get hit by a pitch, walk, hit, double, home run. I didn’t really care,” Willingham said. “Obviously, it being my first (career) at-bat in the postseason, it was a pretty wild and crazy moment, but it was a lot of fun.”
Willingham delivered a single over the first baseman’s head. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran and eventually scored the tying run. The Royals won 9-8 in 12 innings.
“I’ve had similar games, obviously, but with the stakes being that high, pretty much with our backs against the wall and down four runs to that guy (Oakland’s Jon Lester) was definitely hard,” Willingham said. “We thought we would come back, and we knew it would be really hard. To be able to get four runs ... and come back and win that game, I think that was a big momentum shift for us going into that next series.”
The Royals’ spirited playoff run has ended one drought for Frasor.
Yet one remains.
Among active pitchers this season, Frasor had made the most appearances without getting into a playoff game. That ended when he pitched in the Wild Card Game.
Still, there’s one other footnote to which Frasor’s name is attached.
“Yeah, I think I’m the longest tenured pitcher without an at-bat,” Frasor said. “But I’m kind of proud of that one. I think that’s kind of cool. One day, I want to step in that box before it’s all said and done, but this one, the playoff string, I’m certainly glad that has come to an end. This is great; this is fabulous.”
It’s also a complete turn of events from when Frasor was acquired on July 16.
First, Frasor didn’t know why the Royals had traded for him. (“I thought the bullpen was off the charts.”) Then they lost four straight and dropped to third place in the AL Central, eight games back of the Tigers.
Obviously things worked out for the Royals and Frasor, whose 1.53 ERA is the best he’s had for any of the four teams he’s played with. He has 16 strikeouts and just four walks in 23 games.
“I still can’t believe we won that Wild Card Game like we did,” Frasor said. “Then Anaheim. Now we’re 2-0 against Baltimore. I’m playing baseball (in mid-October). It’s been a long time since I’ve played this late in a season.”
Frasor, 37, thought his season would be extended a year ago when he was with the Rangers. Texas led the AL West in early September, but stumbled down the stretch, losing 11 of 13 games at one point.
The Rangers tied for the second wild card spot, but lost to the Rays in a play-in game.
“We had a great team last year,” Frasor said. “We really did. We fell short somehow. I’m still not sure how. Oakland ran away with it and we lost a game 163. Man, you look around that locker room and the names. … But that was a great team, man. That was the best team I’d been on. Up until now, that was the most fun I’d ever had in baseball.”
However, this season trumps it.
“I think we all just want to be a part of something special and contribute to a winning team,” he said. “It’s so gratifying and so much fun to contribute to a team that’s winning.”
That he had to wait so long?
“I am not complaining,” Frasor said.
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to email@example.com.