Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: the thrilled confusion and honest hesitation around the Royals

By SAM MELLINGER The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Royals' Norichika Aoki (23) scores in the seventh inning in front of Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) on a single by Alcides Escobar during Monday's baseball game on August 11, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Norichika Aoki (23) scores in the seventh inning in front of Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) on a single by Alcides Escobar during Monday's baseball game on August 11, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

The announced crowd was 21,479 at Kauffman Stadium last night, and it might’ve been louder than any of the combined 90,000-plus who showed up for the three-game sweep of the Giants over the weekend.

These things are best when organic, and the people who came for the 3-2 win over the A’s on Monday saw a well-played, relatively clean, close game. Alcides Escobar had two big hits. Alex Gordon made a diving catch. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland did their collective thing in the last three innings to back up Yordano Ventura.

There was a lot to like, in other words, even before Jarrod Dyson caught the final out and then did a backflip on his way off the field.

"I did that for the boys," he said. "For the boys and the crowd. Don’t go expecting it all the time now."

The Royals, of course, are now in first place. They are 64-53, a half-game ahead of the scuffling Tigers, who lost another game and another pitcher (Justin Verlander this time) on Monday. Their bullpen has thrown 20 innings the last two days.

"We can’t get caught up in what the Tigers are doing," Dyson said. "Or whoever’s behind us."

That’s the kind of thing you’re going to hear, I guess, for as long as this crazy ride lasts. All things considered, the Royals are not playing over their heads. I had them for 85 wins before the season, and I have no way of measuring this, but I think there were as many people above that as below. Their current win percentage works out to 88.6 wins, well within the margin for error, but the way they’ve come to this point is basically impossible.

The Royals have been bad enough to fire the hitting coach, and good enough to win 10 games in a row — the longest win streak in baseball this year. They’ve been bad enough that a lot of people thought they should’ve been sellers at the trade deadline, and are now good enough to win 16 of their last 19 and eight in a row — the longest current streak in baseball.

This is a good team with a load of confidence right now, and that can be an effective combination. The trade for Josh Willingham addresses the team’s most glaring need, and shows a shot of confidence and commitment from ownership.

A friend who grew up in the area rooting for the Royals recently moved away. He texted the other day to ask how Royals fans were handling everything. I told him: "thrilled confusion."

I think it fits.

This week’s food is the Puerco Rojos from Taco Republic, and the read is my guy Sam Borden’s tribute to Landon Donovan.

As always, thanks for your help and for reading. You guys are good to me.

Waiting is ENTIRELY rational. Actually, the rational move would’ve been to stop following the Royals altogether at some point in the last 28 years, but short of that, yeah, waiting for the last two weeks of the season to make sure you’re not another innocent bystander in a Royals heartbreak is entirely rational.

But what it isn’t, is awesome.

There is absolutely a proportionate relationship between the agony you expose yourself to, and the joy you get back when the time comes.

You have to do what feels right, but I’ll tell you this: if you wait until Sept. 15, and the craziness continues into October, your friend is going to wear you out.

And you’re going to understand why.

Guys, I get it. I absolutely empathize with where you’re coming from, especially now, because a) EVERYTHING seems to be going so right, and b) 45 games is more than enough time for this to all just end up as the party at the beginning of the horror movie.

^ I mentioned a lot of this toward the bottom of the column off the Josh Willingham trade, but the Royals are on some kind of run right now even beyond the eight-game win streak. Most notably, the Tigers may be falling apart. On Friday, they lost Anibal Sanchez to the disabled list. On Saturday, they lost Joakim Soria and a game. On Sunday, they lost a 19-inning game in which the bullpen covered the last 13 innings and 213 pitches. On Monday, they lost Justin Verlander to an injury and lost a game in which the bullpen had to cover seven innings. That’s three pitchers and three games lost in the last four days, and 20 innings from the bullpen over the last two. Also, last weekend, the alarm at the Tigers’ hotel went off with the elevator not working and some guys had to rush 30-some flights of stairs out to the parking lot to start their day.

The players aren’t in a position to need to understand this dynamic, and some within the organization are too slow to accept it. There is every reason to hold on to your skepticism, but also the nagging feeling that if this turns out the way you hope you will wish you got back on earlier.

This is a slightly more complex question with Willingham on board, but still pretty straightforward. There is no chance that Yost will do anything other than put Hosmer back at first base as soon as he is allowed by law.

I do believe that there is a correlation between Butler playing first base and him hitting better. There are a lot of other factors involved, too, but that’s a big one. Still, you can’t justify turning your Gold Glove first baseman into a DH because Butler seems to hit better when he plays the field. Get creative if you have to, but Butler is being paid $8 million this year to hit. He needs to hit.

With Willingham, he becomes a strong right-handed bat off the bench, which is something the Royals have been wanting for quite some time. This team has been desperate for offense all year, and they could be in position to have Josh Willingham come in off the bench. That’s not bad.

You just blew my mind.

/twiddles his thumbs awkwardly/

/avoids eye contact/

/thinks about the fact that part of being a man means being able to talk about things honestly/

OK, guys, we’re all friends here, so I can admit this. I want all the best things for my boy, a good education, wide range of experience, happiness, success, all that stuff. But there is way more of me than should be that will feel like I’ve somehow failed if he’s eight years old and decides to root for the Yankees, Cowboys or whatever the 2022 version of the 2011-14 Heat is.

They say you love your children unconditionally, and I’m all aboard, but that would be a heck of a condition.

That’s the Kansas City I’ve come to know.

The Royals won 10 in a row from June 7 to June 18, then lost four in a row, and six of seven.

Yes, we come by this honestly.

You guys aren’t going to like my answer here, but it’s supposed to hurt. Sports are supposed to let you down. That’s how this whole thing is set up. One team out of 30 (32 in the NFL) wins the championship. A small handful of other teams get to feel good about progress, but for the most part, everyone else goes home disappointed.

The pain is part of the experience, because at least it’s an emotion, and if things go right you’ve probably had some great moments, reasons to get together with friends, easy conversation starters and nights of clearing your mind along the way.

The rotten part is the apathy. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. You’re not supposed to check out of a baseball season by Independence Day. Your bond with your team is not supposed to feel like Stockholm Syndrome, is what I’m saying.

No matter how these last 45 games go, I’d say this is at worst one of the five best seasons to be a Royals fan since the strike, and jokes about low standards aside, that’s at least something.

So to answer your question, yeah, missing the playoffs this year would hurt more than last year and more than 2003 (because, really, THAT team?) and more than every year of the last generation.

Which would be a good thing, considering what we’ve become used to.

The easiest writing comes at either extreme. I will never write easier, or more popular columns than I wrote during the 2012 Chiefs season. Not that either of those things are how I judge my stuff, but Scott Pioli was a gift to the local sports columnist. On the other extreme, this column after Sunday’s game was very easy.

The thing you want is a connection, and those connections are easiest (and often best) made in extreme conditions.

I appreciate the kind words there, and you always want to be in position to make those connections when the time comes. Often that means being around for years through the muck which — and maybe this is like thinking back to that old clunker of a first car — is kind of fun to look back on, too.

Mine was a 1978 Buick LeSabre, by the way.

And it was effing awesome.

You’ve got some competition, is what I’m saying.

I’m fully prepared to admit it if I’m proven wrong about this team not being able to perform under pressure, and feel free to admit your own misses here. The Royals have been given up on, at one point or another this season, by roughly half the fan base. There is no fault on the fans there. This franchise lost the benefit of the doubt long before most of the guys on the roster swung their first wood bat.

But if the Royals take this thing into October, a big part of their story will be the fans (and columnists) proven wrong.

A few weeks ago I openly wished that, if the Royals win the World Series, Ned Yost does every press conference from then on without pants, staring at his big ring, and answering every question the same: “World Series champs, boom, Yosted.”

If the Royals win the World Series, I want Dayton to grab the mic in the postgame celebration and ask the crowd: “How’s my process taste?”

One of my earliest sports memories. I was seven years old. I remember Joaquin Andujar losing his mind and Jorge Orta being called safe and Darryl Motley catching the last out and Buddy Biancalana becoming something of a cult celebrity. I remember going through a yearbook or something from one of the teams around that time and seeing Onix Concepcion pictured in front of a beautiful sports car. At least I think it was Onix Concepcion. Google Images did not confirm my memory, so maybe I’m off there.

The saddest thing to me about these last 28 years is that an entire generation of kids have grown up without anything even remotely real to attach to with their local baseball team. I know there are many bigger problems in the world, obviously. This is just sports so root for the Tigers and be done with it.

But there’s a hole in the history of this franchise, connections that were never made, so if the franchise can at least get to the point where kids can wear their Sal Perez t-shirts to school that’s an improvement.

People who call the HOA because a lawn is 1/8 inch too high should be subject to one karate chop to the gut. I’m not letting the other neighbor off the hook. They still have to mow their lawn. But after the lawn is mowed, the complainer should have to wear one karate chop.

This is a great question. Dwyer is on pace for 21 goals, Perez and Moustakas are on pace for 19 home runs, and Charles scored 19 touchdowns last year.

I’m guessing Charles doesn’t match that, defenses do a better job forcing one of Dwyer’s teammates to beat them, and Moustakas gets hot and wins this with 21 home runs.

Well, I think I know what you mean here, but the "more important for KC?" question sounds like a segment on some local bootleg version of Around the Horn. I think what you mean is what would capture the city’s attention more, and if that’s the case, I think it’s the Royals and it’s not close.

The Chiefs’ drought (20 years) is shorter than the Royals (28), but more than that, the Chiefs have been close. With the notable exception of the last two years of Pioli, and I guess the last year or two of Herm, the Chiefs have been competitive. They’ve had chances in the playoffs, even been good enough to win divisions and earn first-round byes.

There are far more Chiefs fans than Royals fans, mostly because the NFL is our nation’s sports dictator, but I really think that if the Royals keep this going into the playoffs it’s going to shock people what this city is like. I mean, look around you today. Listen to people at your office. Go into a gas station for a Coke and listen to what they’re talking about and then, consider that there are FORTY-FIVE GAMES LEFT!

I say this here a lot, I think, but there is nothing more boring than a bad baseball team playing irrelevant games in September and there is nothing more thrilling than a good baseball team playing critical games in September and October.

There’s a very good case to be made here, especially if the Chiefs get to cutdown day and like what they’ve seen from Aaron Murray or (more likely) Tyler Bray enough.

Alex Smith is the guy here, contract extension or not, and if you’re picturing the best version of the Chiefs they’re better off with whatever the return would be in a trade than the peace of mind of having Chase Daniel with the clipboard.

But I wouldn’t do this. I think Chase Daniel should be the clear backup, in part because with Smith’s injury history I wouldn’t want to let go of a competent backup quarterback.

The money they’re paying Daniel isn’t the issue as much as the idea that he would be blocking a guy you think might have a higher ceiling. I’m just not high enough on either Bray or Murray to feel that way, not with what we’ve seen so far.

The most convincing argument for trading Daniel for a defensive back (or draft pick) would be that if Smith is out for any extended length of time, you’re probably screwed anyway, so if you lose a game or two more with Bray/Murray than you would’ve with Daniel, it just means you’re picking higher in the draft.

But that’s still a fairly weak argument, to me. I’d keep Daniel, and try to plug the holes in the secondary another way.

But, mostly, it’s weird how much more Royals stuff I’m getting here than Chiefs. First place, man. We live in strange times.

This week’s Knoda:




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