The other night in Boston, Lorenzo Cain scored the funniest run of his life.
You probably saw it. The Royals outfielder was on first when Eric Hosmer crashed a line drive into the Green Monster. Cain is one of baseball’s fastest players, and was running on contact, but the outfielder caught it clean off the wall and had a cutoff man with a good arm and perfect position for a throw home, so third-base coach Mike Jirschele threw up a stop sign.
Cain ran through it, and got lucky when the outfielder either missed his cutoff man or threw to the wrong one. The longer throw was bounced, double-clutched by the relay man, and still Cain was barely safe. It was a terrible slide — that’s his word — made way too early, his body nearly stopping before the plate, and when it was all over he just sort of rolled onto his back and laughed like a man at a picnic who fell down chasing his toddler.
“That’s all I could do,” Cain says. “I knew I ran through the sign, and I don’t know why I slid like that.”
When the inning was over, and Jirschele jogged back into the dugout, he heard the unmistakable howl of Jarrod Dyson. Jirschele is a good-natured Wisconsinite, kind and hard-working and good at what he does. Exactly the kind of guy who will always get teased in a moment like this.
“Jirsch, you know black people don’t stop at stop signs,” Dyson yelled, punctuating the end with laughter.
“No he don’t,” Cain yelled back, “because ain’t no black people in Wisconsin.”
This is all funny, because the Royals are winning. A lot. Even with a rough 5-4 loss to the Yankees in 10 innings on Tuesday, a win on Wednesday would give the Royals their best month since 1989. A lot of things are very funny when you're going like this.
“When it works out,” Jirschele says, “it’s always funny.”
There is no good way to explain this. You can try, and reporters will continue to ask questions, and the players will continue to give answers about feeling good or being able to keep a level head no matter what happened yesterday, but really, none of that explains this.
In July, the Royals played their worst month by win percentage since August 2008, a stretch so bad that general manager Dayton Moore made a rare appearances in the clubhouse for an even rarer criticism of the players, telling them that if they didn’t start playing better a lot would be out of jobs.
So, of course, naturally, the Royals are following that with what could end up as their best month in a generation.
The Braves — a terrible team with baseball’s worst record — are the only club with a worse month than the Royals’ July this season. Depending on Wednesday’s result, the Cubs and Indians could be the only teams with a better month than the Royals’ August this season.
At least when viewed this way, the Royals are the streakiest team in baseball this year and — last year’s relentless lapping of the AL Central aside — this fits their recent history.
They were so bad in May 2013 that Moore said the team needed “to be rescued mentally” by new co-hitting coach George Brett, but good enough the rest of the season to not be eliminated from the playoff race until the final week.
They were bad enough in 2014 that many fans and media wanted the manager fired and players traded at the deadline, but were one of baseball’s best teams over the last two months, pushing into the playoffs and all the way to the World Series.
So if it can be said the Royals know how to create a winning streak as well as any group in baseball, it could also be said they struggle more than most to end a losing streak.
Either way, they are baseball’s most qualified team to speak about both sides of a streak.
“I’m a big believer that you create your own luck,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
That’s true. In baseball, as in life, your success or failure is ultimately judged by results, not process.
But dang if it doesn’t always feel that way. Cheslor Cuthbert hit a line drive in Miami that seemed to bounce on or just to the fair side of the left field line. If the Royals had been going bad, maybe that ball goes foul. But the Royals are winning, so it’s fair, and he ends up scoring the first run of another win.
The other night, Starlin Castro hit a Dillon Gee pitch as hard as a baseball can be hit, but it bounced off the top of the wall. The inning ended on the next batter.
Or, back to that night in Boston, the big rally got going with a, um, walk from Sal Perez and the first run scored on a ball that did not get past the pitchers mound.
“Actually, the other thing about that play, we were fortunate to have speed (Hosmer) on third base there,” Jirschele said. “You have speed, you can go there. I think about that all the time when I’m over at third. When we were going bad, every time we had a runner in scoring position, it’s (Kendrys) Morales or Salvy. Then you need a ball in the gap or not right at the outfielder to have a chance to score.”
The game can be so cruel, so rewarding, so random. Part of what makes it so fun.
Especially in Kansas City.
And especially now.