Dispatches from Kansas City: “It’s a sea of tents and smoke”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out Part One here.

“What’s the best barbecue joint in KC?” I asked my Aunt Mardi, foolishly, after getting in last night. “Our front porch when your uncle is home,” she replied in a tone that was matter-of-fact but deservedly so.

My Uncle Chuck can wow you with a simple grilled chicken thigh, prepared on a classic black Weber. Or knock your teeth out with a pork butt, smoked over low heat for nearly a full day in a cast-iron tank.

There are different kinds of people in every town — some who don’t necessarily involve themselves in local culture — but it seems like a good majority of the folks I’ve encountered in my 15-or-so visits to Kansas City have possessed a well-above-average knowledge base in the art of cooking meat. Having good ingredients is crucial — and the animals are indeed raised well around here — but it’s the technique that makes BBQ sing.

And that technique isn’t something that can be learned; you have to grow up doing it. In KC, it’s a hobby.

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Uncle Chuck is pulling lobsters along the tip of Massachusetts this summer, fulfilling a lifelong dream while waiting out a tough economy for sales people. He, along with my cousin Joe and Uncle Rick, hauled in 500 lbs. on Wednesday, a high-mark since they started dropping traps in May. I’m visiting them later this month.

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With no front-porch feast on the docket at the Silva house due to an absent pitmaster, I headed out on my own this afternoon. I wanted to hit up Oklahoma Joe’s — a favorite spot among the baseball beat writers I follow on Twitter — before the arrival of the rest of the Major League Baseball media horde later this weekend. Those lines are long enough on days when it’s just people from the neighborhood.

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“Okie Joe’s” has three locations, all on the Kansas side of town. I went to the one on 47th and Mission. It’s built into a gas station and it can be hard to find a good parking spot, but no one seems to notice or care.

Perhaps that’s because there’s a company-owned liquor store right next door. Convenience, after all, is king.

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I ordered a “Z-Man Sandwich, a side of fries and a side of beans,” while trying my best to sound and look like a frequent visitor. The Z-Man is a pile of sliced beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese and two hulking, flaky onion rings tucked into the center of a buttered kaiser roll. It’s the kind of concoction you’d slap together after a long night of drinking in college. Yet with meat that consistently medals in international barbecue competitions, including the American Royal which is held every October in an area of town called the West Bottoms. “It’s a sea of tents and smoke,” my cousin Jake says. He works on a team called Junkyard Barbecue, founded over 25 years ago by the Davis family — regional BBQ royalty.

The “Okie Joe’s” beans hit sweet and spicy notes simultaneously. They have the texture of chili and a finish like candy. The fries were as good as fries get, crispy but mushy. I washed it all down with a pink lemonade.

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Tonight, we drink. Jake has outlined a list of his favorite dive bars in the city — places where we might be laughed at for squeezing lemon slices into our glasses of Boulevard Wheat. Of course, we’ll do it anyway.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 10, Rangers 5: This one was a barnburner, featuring eight home runs combined from both teams. Gleyber Torres hit two, both off of Bartolo Colon, who is more than twice his age. Torres is the second-youngest Yankee to have a multi-homer game. Aaron Judge, Neil Walker, and Aaron Hicks also contributed dingers for the Yankees. Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, and Ronald Guzman went deep for the Rangers. Masahiro Tanaka‘s ERA goes up to 4.95 after serving up four runs in five innings. Despite that, the Yankees improve to 31-13, good for the best record in baseball.

Phillies 3, Braves 0: Nick Pivetta was brilliant, spinning seven shutout frames with seven strikeouts, limiting the Braves to four hits and a walk. Seranthony Dominguez pitched an impressive eighth and Hector Neris closed it out 1-2-3 in the ninth. Catcher Jorge Alfaro was the star of this game, throwing out Johan Camargo attempting to steal and making an absolute laser throw to first base for the final out of the game. He should’ve also had a caught-stealing on Freddie Freeman, but shortstop Scott Kingery didn’t handle the ball well. The Phillies got homers from Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. Odubel Herrera, by the way, somehow got a hit on this pitch:

Mets 2, Marlins 0: Jason Vargas finally put together a good start for the Mets, tossing five scoreless frames. The Marlins only scraped out a hit and two walks while striking out seven times against him. The Mets, who started this month off with a six-game losing streak, have now won four in a row. The Marlins have lost four in a row; Monday’s was on the heels of Sunday’s absolute mess of a loss.

Nationals 10, Padres 2: The Nationals powered out four home runs, including Juan Soto’s first major league dinger. Mark Reynolds went deep twice and Bryce Harper went deep for his 14th homer of the year. Gio Gonzalez limited the Padres to a pair of runs on two hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 2: The Brewers were powered by the long ball on Monday. Travis Shaw drilled a two-run shot while Domingo Santana and Lorenzo Cain hit solo shots. All three homers came against Zack Greinke, who struck out nine over six innings otherwise. Chase Anderson outdueled him, limiting the D-Backs to a pair of runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Orioles 3, White Sox 2: Manny Machado hit his 15th homer of the season, moving into a tie for the major league lead with 15. He’s tied with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox. Mark Trumbo and Adam Jones also homered. Obviously, all of the Orioles’ homers were of the solo variety. Jose Abreu contributed a pair of doubles for the Pale Hose. The O’s are now 15-32; the White Sox are 13-31. Yuck.

Twins 4, Tigers 2: Jose Berrios may be back on track. He struck out 10 and held the Cardinals to one run over 7 1/3 innings his last time out. On Monday night against the Tigers, he limited the opposition to two runs on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in eight innings. Fernando Rodney worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

Cardinals 6, Royals 0: The Cardinals continue to get dominant starting pitching. After Jack Flaherty struck out 13 Phillies on Sunday, Miles Mikolas followed up by tossing a shutout against the Royals. Though he only struck out eight while holding the Royals to four hits and a walk. Tyler O'Neill homered in his third consecutive game and Matt Carpenter also went yard in a 3-for-4 night. The Royals are on pace for 114 losses.

Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: Carlos Gonzalez broke a 1-1 tie with an infield RBI single in the eighth inning. The other two runs scored on solo home runs from Max Muncy and Gerardo Para. Both times combined for only six hits and committed a combined four errors — three by the Dodgers. German Marquez tossed seven solid innings for the Rockies, striking out five while allowing the one run. Walker Buehler matched him with seven one-run innings, fanning six.