Craig Calcaterra

This is a very simple game. And the Royals are proving most difficult.

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KANSAS CITY — This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.

I suppose we in the sporting press go to the “Bull Durham” well far too often — Google certainly thinks I do — but like any sacred document it contains certain truths that are immutable. Truths like a pitcher with great gas going to his fastball even if it’s not advisable like Jacob deGrom did on his first pitch of the game to Alcides Escobar despite the fact that the scouting report says you NEVER do that and despite his inside-the-park home run on such an offering last night. Maybe deGrom was just trying to announce his presence with authority. As it was, Escobar jumped on it and, luckily for deGrom, only flied out.

The Royals likewise forgot some of the lessons taught us by baseball’s most venerable scripture when they failed, momentarily, to remember that this is a simple game and simply hit the ball. When they did remember that this game is very simple, they broke it wide open in the bottom of the fifth.

Alex Gordon walked. Alex Rios singled. And when he singled it was on solid contact. Jacob deGrom hadn’t allowed any runs before that inning, but he wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him before. He escaped a jam in the fourth, barely, and his slider wasn’t sliding. Spinning, really. Hanging. And the Royals were feasting on it. Which is why it was so weird that Alcides Escobar was bunting. Why are you bunting?! He’s on the ropes!

Good thing Escobar couldn’t get one down, because with two strikes he was swinging away. This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Escobar solidly served the ball into center field, Gordon came around to score and the rally was on.

It was like so many of the other rallies the Royals have mounted. A walk and five singles leading to four runs before the Mets fans I follow on Twitter could fully articulate their extreme annoyance at this Royals team, just as Astros and Blue Jays fans articulated their annoyance more thoroughly before them. They’ll have time, it seems, as the Royals show no signs of stopping this business. Getting clobbered with the long ball isn’t any fun, but at least you feel definitively beaten. Watching a royal blue conga line go around the bases is death by a thousand cuts. And it’s so predictable from this team by now that the scoreboard operator had a graphic of the Gashouse Gorillas’ conga line from “Baseball Bugs” queued up and ready to go and played it on the Jumbotron after the inning ended. He played it again after the Royals added three more in the bottom of the eighth.

Of course it wasn’t all the Royals’ annoying bats. Johnny Cueto was fantastic, going the distance, allowing only one run on two hits and retired 16 of the last 17 Mets he faced. The run he allowed was mostly the result of a throw that pulled Eric Hosmer off the bag back in the fourth, turning a would-be double play into a fielder’s choice. Outside of that inning he cruised. Cueto has now allowed only one earned run in his past 15 innings at Kauffman Stadium. Who knows what happened to him up in Toronto, but the Royals definitely got the gun for hire they expected on this night. And making sure his two starts — if they even need two starts from him — come at home now seems like a pretty darn good move.

As for the Mets, maybe they are taking the teachings of “Bull Durham” too literally. Specifically that bit about strikeouts being boring and fascist. Every good book has some verses in it that we really can’t take at face value if we want to live in a civil society, and this is Bull Durham’s version of some of those more disturbing parts of Leviticus. The Mets could use a lot more strikeouts, actually. In their two starts Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom combined for four strikeouts in 11 innings. That’s not going to get it done against a team that thrives on contact. That’s way too democratic.

For now the Mets — down 0-2 as the series moves to New York — gotta play ’em one day at a time. They need to give it their best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.

Maybe they can figure out how to do that at the Church of Baseball on the off-day on Thursday.

Terry Collins has an interesting take on low-experience managers

Terry Collins
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KANSAS CITY — We’ve talked a lot lately about the trend of clubs hiring no or low-experience guys as managers. About how they no longer tend to hire managerial lifers or guys with a ton of minor league managing or coaching experience. About how the real road to a manager’s job is by being close with the front office, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever made an actual pitching change in your life.

I and many others have been critical of this trend. One thing that strikes me is that no matter who wins the World Series this year, the team’s manager will be an old salt who has been around a long time. As has the manager of every World Series winner going back, well, forever. The greenest manager in recent years to win a Series was probably Joe Girardi, and he was at least a bench coach and a big league manager with another team before winning it all with the 2009 Yankees. It makes me wonder if, maybe, teams would be better off with someone who has been down on the farm and worked their way up through the ranks rather than the next yes-man who comes along.

Terry Collins met the media here before Game 2 today, and someone asked him about the managerial hiring trend. I found his answer to be pretty interesting in that it specifically refuted the idea that, in this day and age, the minor league experience matters that much. Why? Because minor league managers aren’t really managing anymore:

As we’ve all talked, the game of baseball is different today. And that’s just the way it is. Guys are going into the front office. They are assistants to general managers, where the conversations are about the team every day, and general managers are hearing these guys are sharp. They have a great feel for perhaps talent or perhaps how the game should be run, so they’re getting jobs. Where years ago you had to go through the Minor Leagues.

I was a Minor League director. And I tried to run it the way I was brought up, and that was let the guys manage in the Minor Leagues, and that’s not really done today. Lineups are being written for them. This guy has to pitch today at this amount and you can’t pinch-hit. These guys got to hit the whole game. They don’t manage anymore. They’re kind of dictated what goes on.

Collins’ tone wasn’t a “back in my day we did it better” thing. It was matter-of-fact. To be sure, he clearly thinks there is value to minor league experience generally speaking, referencing later how long bus rides and stuff make a man more thankful about making the bigs, but he sounds pretty realistic about where the game is today.

The notion that minor league managers aren’t really managing anymore and that, rather, the front office dictates this stuff, isn’t one I think about too much when I think about this issue. But it certainly bears on the idea of what makes an experienced manager.

Sal Perez had pine tar on his shin guard last night. No one cares.

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KANSAS CITY — The above photo was tweeted around by many during last night’s game. It’s Salvador Perez and his shinguard and what appears to be pine tar. I guess given that it’s Perez we’re talking about it could be some sort of fluid from a severely injured internal organ he’s nonetheless playing though, but it’s probably pine tar.

Other than the retweets and some not-to0-serious chatter, no one really cares. Maybe it’d be a bigger thing if last night’s game didn’t have so many other things going on with it, but this is about as far from a controversy any putative foreign substance incident has been in recent memory. It’s no Bullfrog Sunscreen-gate and far from L’affaire Kenny Rogers. Ned Yost dismissed it after last night’s game. More significantly the Mets — who would be the ones to make an issue out of it if an issue was to be made — laughed the matter off. Indeed, just now, before Game 2, Collins was asked about the pine tar, whether he cared and whether his players do it. Collins said “I don’t know if Travis [d’Arnaud] does it. He probably does. Throughout baseball, everyone does.” He went on to talk about how it’s a benefit to the hitters, ultimately, in that they don’t have to stand in against a pitcher with a bad grip.

This all falls under the same general ethical umbrella that the sunscreen-on-pitchers-arms stuff does. As we learned back when Clay Buchholz was making headlines about this two years ago, almost all pitchers use something to get a better grip and, really, no one cares. Either for the stated reason — what Collins said about better grip — or for the more plausible reason: the pine tar or whatever it is does give the pitcher an advantage but their pitchers are doing it too, so there’s no percentage in getting into accusations over it during a game. Heck, Yogi Berra was doing this for Whitey Ford before your mom was born. If Yogi did it, who are you to throw stones?

People like bright red lines when it comes to matters of cheating, but it doesn’t really work like that in practice. It’s dangerous to have situational ethics, but in some situations ethics are practically and somewhat understandably malleable. If the Mets are willing to look the other way — and they were, either because they simply don’t care or because their catchers have gunk on their shinguards too — I’m not sure where the mandate to start inspecting shinguards comes from, even if pine tar on shinguards is not, strictly speaking, kosher.

All I know for sure is that if there are closeups of Sal Perez’s shinguards tonight they’ll be as clean as a whistle. I mean, even if no one cares, why be obvious about it?