Sam Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: The second-greatest Royals win in 54 weeks, and the Chiefs stink

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer was welcomed into the dugout after hitting a two-run homer in the ninth inning during Monday's ALDS baseball game on October 12, 2015 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Tex.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer was welcomed into the dugout after hitting a two-run homer in the ninth inning during Monday's ALDS baseball game on October 12, 2015 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Tex. jsleezer@kcstar.com

For me, it was Eric Hosmer's single. That's when I felt like the Royals would complete another ridiculous comeback in another playoff game.

To that point, the Royals were dead, mostly. Two hits in the first seven innings while the Astros partied with four home runs. The Royals started the inning down four, with six outs left. Those are not good odds. Some people in the Royals' organization had begun thinking about their offseason. Their playoffs were about to be over. I started writing some words about the Royals losing.

Alex Rios hit a leadoff single. Whatever. Alcides Escobar singled to center. Adorable. When Ben Zobrist loaded the bases with another single, well, OK, fine. You have my attention. Lorenzo Cain drove in the first run of the inning with a single, and now things are interesting. Bases loaded, no outs, the lead down to three.

The Astros brought on Tony Sipp, the overly wired lefty, to face Hosmer, who to this point had been terrible in the series. One hit in 15 at bats, and that one was less than pure. Hosmer immediately fell behind in the count, fouling off two fastballs. Then he spit on two sliders in the dirt, impressive considering the context. That forced Sipp to come back with a fastball. The pitch was around the knees, but over the plate, and Hosmer had a smooth and confident swing through the ball:

The Astros were still up two, but at least for me, something changed in that moment. You can believe in that type of thing or not, and as much as I love numbers I'm not sure I can produce anything to prove the point. But something changed. The Royals changed.

Maybe the Astros changed, too, because the next batter was Kendrys Morales, who hit a grounder back up the middle, the ball bouncing off the mound — looked like it even hit the rubber — and taking a quick hop over Carlos Correa's glove. If Correa fields the ball cleanly, he probably turns a double play. That would've made it a one-run game, with a runner on third and two outs for Mike Moustakas.

Instead, it's tied, no outs, runners at the corners, and Jarrod Dyson came in to pinch run and steal second. Moustakas struck out, but then Drew Butera put together what many of his teammates called the plate appearance of the day, a 10-pitch walk that loaded the bases for Alex Gordon, who hit what he called the happiest groundout of his life.

The Royals had the lead. Wade Davis was on the way. Holy crap that all happened fast.

The computers turned on Morales' grounder. That's when the win expectancy shifted toward the Royals. But for me, something changed with Hosmer's at bat. Something you could see. Hosmer came up again in the ninth inning. He smashed a home run into the Astros' bullpen. Maybe something more than Game 4 changed in that moment.

This week's eating recommendation is the french dip at the Phoenix, and the reading recommendation is Matthew Shaer on the Sneaker Wars.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help.

Right. So this is the question now. In real baseball terms, I would make the argument for Monday, but that's largely because the A's were a fading team without energy for most of the second half, and because we now know about Jon Lester's inability to throw to first.

If the Royals win on Wednesday — and, let's all be honest here, Monday doesn't mean much without a win on Wednesday — maybe we'll find out some answers in Andy's 9,000 word story next fall.

But this Astros team is, at least in my opinion, better than that A's team — even as both have the common denominator of a shaky bullpen. It's hard not to think the Astros are going to be a power for a few years going forward.

Your question is different than which was more fun, though. Which was more of a thrill. We all have to answer that question for ourselves, but for me, the Wild Card game may never be topped. That game carried the baggage of 29 years and came with the soundtrack of noise so loud it literally shook the ground. Like an earthquake.

That game was wild, frenetic, with enormous peaks. Remember Hosmer's triple? Monday was crazy in how it happened, all at once, but it was methodical. Single, single, single, on and on. Also, you can only breakthrough once. The context of last year is nearly impossible to duplicate.

And this was on the road. Athletes love to talk about the feeling of silencing a crowd, some call that a bigger thrill than hearing the home crowd roar. But for those of us not in uniform, there is no comparison. The crowd reaching that I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands fervor is one of the best things about sports.

Then again, the comeback of last year was nearly impossible to duplicate, and damned if the Royals didn't duplicate.

The rally that changed — again, at least for a few days — the Royals' season is really amazing: single, single, single, single, single, reached on error, strikeout, walk, groundout, walk, strikeout.

No homers, no extra base hits. Nothing flashy. Just, I believe, the better team being the better team. I guess the Royals have never really been conventional. That's been one of their defining characteristics. They put the ball in play, don't hit many homers, don't take many walks, leadoff a guy with a .293 OBP and hit a guy who's going to sign an $80 million or so contract this winter eighth.

Perez killed a rally in the second, with what was only his third home run all season that went right of center field. And Eric Hosmer killed another rally in the ninth, with a monstrous blast that so symbolically landed in the Astros' bullpen. But, yeah. In between, just a bunch of paper cuts. And a dash of luck, with Carlos Correa* missing that grounder off the mound. That could've been a double play. Instead, Game 5.

* His talent is palpable. My goodness. What a stud. Two homers on Monday, plus that double down the right field line. He is, basically, Alex Rodriguez in 1996. I really like this Astros team. So much talent.

Some days are better than others. Writing about sports is the only thing I've ever wanted to do. Other than mowing lawns in high schools and one miserable summer working at a Walgreen's in college, it's the only thing I've ever done. So I'm not sure I can really speak to comparisons, or what it'd be like to have a real job.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't understand I'm lucky to have my job. I hope that comes through. There are bad parts of every job, and mine is no exception, but I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

The best part of the job is being able to see moments like Monday. You're not involved, not part of it like you would be if you were in the stands or obviously a player or even a team employee. But you're there. You're there for the surprise, for the joy, for the emotion, and you're there so you can live it with everyone else. And, let's be honest, that's pretty sweet.

All that said, and I know this is corny, but the best part of my weekend was not Monday afternoon. It was Monday morning, when I FaceTimed with my wife, and my little boy hugged the phone.

I mean, c'mon.

The Chiefs are in an awkward spot. But I don't think it's cruel to start planning for the post-Charles era ... I think it's necessary. The Chiefs are a big enough mess right now that they have even bigger problems than their best offensive player and possibly their most beloved teammate* going down for the year.

* Eric Berry is probably the exception.

I need to think this through a little bit, so I don't want to say too much in the moment, but the Chiefs might be facing a crossroads this year. They have a real chance to be awful this year, like 3-13 awful. I need to put some thought into whether it might be best to embrace the suck. By rule, I am fundamentally against that type of thing, particularly in football, but I don't know. It's hard to see how the Chiefs can get anything positive out of this season.

Sure. Absolutely. Andy Reid likes to take full blame for losses, and some of that is what a good leader should do, but a lot of it is the fair truth. Reid is one of the highest paid coaches in the NFL. This is his team. This is the third year that this has been his team, and, barring a remarkable turnaround, the Chiefs will have regressed two years in a row.

I have to admit I'm having a hard time with this. I believe Andy Reid is a very, very good coach. After Belichick, and a few others like Tom Coughlin and probably Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll and Sean Payton, I think he's as good a coach as there is. You are probably making a clock management joke when I write that, which is fine, but I see it a little different.

I think all coaches have blind spots, with the possible exception of Belichick, but he has Tom Brady, so I don't know exactly what to think, but either way Andy Reid has been around a long time and won a lot of games. He took over a 2-14 tire fire and put it into the playoffs. That's pretty strong.

But, and Reid knows this, the third year is always critical. He has his quarterback, a hand-picked guy he's long admired and this year called "perfect" for his offense. The defense has a ton of talent. They've spent resources on the offensive line, and he's an old line coach, so that should be better. They absolutely blew the Broncos game in embarrassing fashion, were blown out by the Packers, beat down by the Bengals, and then blew a 14-point lead at home against a bad team on Sunday. That's impossible to defend.

Barring a fairly remarkable turnaround, someone will probably lose their job. Heck would make a convenient fall guy. Sutton, too. Getting up to Reid or Dorsey on the chain of command would require a true meltdown, but at this point, nothing's impossible.

In the big picture: coaches, players, front office.

In the more micro:

1. Andy Reid

2. Alex Smith

3. Bob Sutton

4. Andy Heck

5. John Dorsey

You can quibble with the order here, obviously, though I think No. 1 is hard to argue. I know some people will want Clark Hunt on this list, and I can't argue against that with any real passion, but I do think Hunt has generally done a very good job of hiring the best football people he can find and then staying out of their way. If you want to make the argument that everything that happens with the Chiefs falls on Hunt, that's fine, but I find it very difficult to blame him for Alex Smith regressing or the defense being unable to perform.

This group will and should have the opportunity to play their way out of this. The playoffs are an enormous stretch, obviously, but they can still finish the season strong. There are jobs on the line.

I just can't imagine you're alone on this, or even in a small minority, unless by "alone" or "small minority" we're talking about the people who admit it. Like the Wild Card game, or any other amazing sports event, the number of people who will say they were there or watched the whole thing will grow and grow and grow.

This isn't the same thing, at all, but when we had the story about Satchel Paige's last game, nearly everyone I talked to remembered the stands being full that day.

There is a very nice man who emailed me a few times about it. First, he wanted us to run a correction. No way only 9,289 people showed up that day, he said. He was there. It was packed. I showed him the box score. The box score is wrong, he said. Find the next day's newspaper. I had done that, and the newspaper had the same figure. He was very sure that number was wrong, too. That's how the mind works. We build things up. That's how everyone I talked to remembered it. Everyone except Eddie Bressoud, who played for the Red Sox that day.

"I don't remember much about the crowd," he said. "You have to understand, unless it was packed, we didn't pay much attention."

I will admit this. I had about 500 words written after the seventh inning. After the eighth, not a single one of them made any sense. Control-A. Delete. Start over. Sports, man. I am thankful that was a noon first pitch.

The NFL is the worst. Just the absolute worst.

Football is a thrill to watch, and there is so much around the game that can build memories for families and for friends and for communities. But the NFL is the worst. They'll defend stuff like this saying they have to draw the line somewhere, and they can't let every player who asks use the platform to make personal statements, but it all adds up to some bogus protect-the-shield nonsense that makes the NFL a bumbling bureaucracy in so many instances.

There is an old saying around baseball. You would especially hear this a lot in the early 2000s, when they were dealing with steroids: baseball is such a great game that even the idiots in charge can't ruin it.

The same can be said for football, although, with their response to head injuries sometimes you wonder if they'll prove that saying wrong.

I don't know. You don't know. Cueto doesn't know. Dave Eiland doesn't know. Sal Perez doesn't know. Cueto is an excellent pitcher. His track record is fabulous, and as late as August he pitched three consecutive starts with a total of 24 innings and three runs given up.

One thing that's interesting about this whole thing is that the longer you've seen Cueto, the more confident you are. For people in Kansas City, who never paid attention when he was in Cincinnati, the five-start nightmare at the end of August and beginning of September represents a big chunk of their experience. For scouts or front office folks, they know about the 19 starts for the Reds with a 2.62 ERA before that. They have scouting reports and video logs of a man who pitched 243 2/3 innings with a 2.25 ERA last year. That's an ace, one of baseball's rarest species.

But that stance is beginning to soften a bit. Cueto has been, on the whole, pretty bad with the Royals. He has been deferential, blamed Perez's glove placement on his own struggles, and would not pitch on short rest here in the playoffs. Yordano Ventura was good enough, and then the eighth inning happened, but there is a lot riding on this start for both the Royals and Cueto.

I don't believe that he turned any corner in pitching three scoreless innings after giving up four runs in the first three. That doesn't mean I believe he'll be terrible on Wednesday, or even that I would be surprised if he pitched seven scoreless.

But I am done expecting that kind of thing, and I think a lot of people around baseball are the same way.

No. You are not the only one.

I am not with you on this, just to be clear, but I do think Yost and the coaching staff need to be aggressive tomorrow with Cueto, and how they use their bullpen. Chris Young was terrific in Game 1, coming in after the rain delay with seven straight strikeouts.

Andy made a good point the other day that we might overrate Young just because of how smart he is, and how articulate he is talking about pitching. But the results are there, too, and he is a terrific fit for Kauffman Stadium and the Royals' outfield defense. He is also a terrific fit to backup Cueto in case of trouble.

Wade Davis is amazing. It shouldn't go without notice that the Astros used three relievers who threw 53 pitches in a 41-minute top of the eight inning. Davis threw seven, getting all three outs himself. He also shut down the ninth. This is an incredible weapon.

Working backward, the Royals can get six more outs from Davis if they push him again on Wednesday. Even being conservative, they feel like they can get six to nine more between Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson. That's four or five innings from a group of relievers who've been terrific this year, and yes, Madson got hit hard on Monday, but the point is the Royals don't need a hero's night from Cueto. They would absolutely sign up for four innings and one run surrendered.

That would get them to the fifth, where they could mix and match with Franklin Morales, Luke Hochever, or Danny Duffy. Kris Medlen still has not pitched in this series.

The Royals will not live or die with Cueto on Wednesday, is what I'm saying. Or, at least, they shouldn't.

That dying duck of a field goal is a nearly perfect symbol of this Chiefs season so far. It was a bad decision, putting a player in an impossible spot, and made after a long series of failures put the Chiefs in a situation they are too talented to be in.

Andy Reid justified it by saying Cairo Santos had made kicks from that distance in practice, but Santos said those practice kicks were with the wind. This was against the wind. Reid either didn't know this, or didn't process it, but either way it's a bizarre decision and a bad look for a guy who's constantly criticized for how he handles the last two minutes.

That the ball barely reached the end zone, and even then was wide right, is just perfect for this season. If the last 11 games go like the first five, we're going to remember that the way we remember Dwayne Bowe preserving the no-touchdowns-for-a-receiver thing last year by fumbling six inches from the end zone.

The Chiefs are 0-2 in home games in which they hold 14-point leads this season.

I don't think you tank, if that's what you're asking. I don't like the precedent that sets, or the culture it would create. I don't think that's the way you go.

But I would change some things. I would use every day from here until the end of the season to evaluate. To figure out who should be around next year — players and coaches — and what we should do next year. Demand more downfield passing. Take the freedom to move offensive linemen around a bit, or try new things.

If some of this meant losing a few more games, awesome, sign me up. Because I'm also looking hard and long for a quarterback in the draft, even if it means trading up. I don't love any of the quarterbacks coming out, but I'm also very aware that I know nothing.

See that, guys? Someone at least CONSIDERS the possibility that I have a plan for this!

I am honored. Truly. Gonna be hard to stay humble now.

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