All loses are not created equal.
Believe me, as a Royals fan I know a thing or two about that. There’s the mail-it-in loss that we became all too familiar with in the Tony Muser, Buddy Bell and Trey Hillman death march to 100 losses. There’s the tough loss which we saw when the Royals would run their best starter to the mound and would drop a 2-1 decision. Recently, there’s been the Yosted loss where poor bullpen management or the failure to anticipate match-ups squandered an opportunity for victory.
There’s also the gut-punch loss. We’ve seen a few of those already this year. Those are the games ripe for the taking where the Royals fail to capitalize.
Entering the top of the seventh on Sunday with a 3-0 lead while in the midst of a 2-9 stretch, the Royals were set for a loss seldom seen and often fatal: The Ultimate Gut-Punch.
This one had all the ingredients:
First, a really strong start from an unsuspecting candidate. Jeremy Guthrie has been one of the worst starters if not the worst in the early portion of the season. He owns a 3.3 SO/9 and is coughing up 11 hits per nine. His 1.67 HR/9 is a career high and his 35 percent ground ball rate is a career low. His 6.17 ERA is so bloated, you immediately go to his FIP to see if he’s been on the end of some rotten luck. Then you see he has a 5.95 FIP. Yeah… that ERA is real. And frightening.
Guthrie’s starts aren’t so much rollercoasters, as they’re just the part of the ride where you plunge 100 feet straight down in four seconds. Of his last three starts, he’s turned in two that were decent and one that was so horrible, it may have been the worst start by a Royals pitcher in the last 10 years. That’s saying something.
When he opened the afternoon needing 23 pitches to navigate the first, while allowing just a single baserunner, you would be forgiven if you reached for a seat belt. It looked like another rocky outing was on the horizon.
Then something happpened. After Guthrie walked Joey Gallo to open the second, Elvis Andrus swung at the first pitch and grounded into a double play. From that moment until the the end of the sixth inning, Guthrie allowed just a single, solitary baserunner. It was a Mitch Moreland double with two outs in the fourth. I’m kind of glad we’re not going to be seeing Moreland for the rest of the summer. He’s borderline Brandon Moss status based on how well he’s hit against the Royals this year.
Guthrie threw 82 pitches through six and returned for the seventh. He was pulled after allowing one-out, back to back singles to Moreland (him again) and Gallo. Guthrie handed the ball to the bullpen with a 3-0 lead after he posted a Game Score of 70. It was his finest start of the season at a time the Royals desperately needed to keep the opposition off the board.
Second, it has an offense that showed a pulse. If this were a medical drama, there would still be interns hovering over the body with looks of grave concern. Someone would call out something about a “thready pulse.” But the pulse was there. However faint. Two runs in each of teh first two innings. For the April Royals, not even noticeable. For the late-May, early-June edition? It’s a reason for celebration.
Never mind the first two runs were scored in a 2014 Royals vintage sort of way. Sacrifice flies by Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar staked the Royals to their early lead. Who cares how they scored? For a team in an offensive quagmire like the Royals, you take what you can get. Besides, two run leads aren’t happening too often these days.
#Royals up 2-0. Only second time in last 15 days they have held a multi-run lead in a game.
— Joel Goldberg (@goldbergkc) June 7, 2015
To make things even more exciting, they tacked on a third run thanks to a Kendrys Morales double. Three runs? For a team that had averaged 2.1 runs in their last 10 games (and that included an eight-run outburst on the North Side of Chicago) three runs is Haley’s Comet amazing.
Third, this was about a team that has found it difficult to win of late. You know they’ve won two of their last 11. You know the offense has been putrid and the starting pitching inconsistent. You know apart from that little barrage in Chicago when the wind was blowing out on a warm day, this offense hasn’t done a damn thing.
It all teetered on the brink in the seventh inning. Guthrie returned to the mound after throwing 82 pitches through six innings of yeoman work. Herrera is normally the seventh inning guy. Sure, we can second guess, but Guthrie had been working through the Rangers lineup. Not necessarily with ease, because that’s not how Guthrie operates. Yost has to know the type of pitcher Guthrie has become at this stage of his career. If you get five or six good innings, it’s time to cut bait and get it to the bullpen. Don’t wait around on Guthrie.
Then Herrera turned in a performance of Guthrie-esque quality. He was brining the heat as usual, topping out at 101 mph, but the Rangers didn’t give a damn. Andrus fouled off five pitches before he singled to load the bases. Leonys Martin fouled off two before he hit the single to bring in both of the runners belonging to Guthrie. (By the way, I enjoy Game Score, but those two runs knocked Guthrie’s Score down eight points. He finished with a 62. Rough.) Then Robinson Chirinos fouled off three more before he grounded out to shortstop, driving in the game-tying run.
At that moment, I found myself thinking that Yost needed to manage this game like it was October. All wins are important and over the course of a 162 game schedule, it seems foolish to point to one particular win as more important than any other. Yet, this felt like it was the most important game of the year thus far for the reasons stated above. To give this away… Ultimate Gut-Punch.
This is the win expectancy graph from Fangraphs. When Fielder grounded out for the first out of the seventh inning, the Royals win expectancy stood at 95 percent. Again… Ultimate Gut-Punch.
Thankfully, there’s a catcher named Salvador Perez. Two outs. Eighth inning. Boom.
You don’t think Sal wasn’t aware of how huge that home run was?
— John Sleezer (@jsleezer) June 7, 2015
I tweeted a little after the game that the Perez home run was the biggest hit of the year for the Royals. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I suspect you feel the same.
I’m not a big believer in momentum in baseball, so I’m not going to go there and predict this as some sort of launching point for big things. Instead, I’ll just appreciate it for what it was – a magnificent home run at a crucial spot that may have saved this team from a tailspin they could ill-afford. If the Royals scrape and claw their way back to October, this could be one of the games we point to.
Thanks to Sal The Savior.