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.

Mets pitchers strike out 26 Braves batters in 14 innings

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New York Mets pitchers struck out 26 Braves batters last night. That ties a major league record for strikeouts in a game. Four other teams have performed the feat. The Mets joined the the then-Anaheim Angels, however, as the only two teams to strike out 26 batters and lose. Those Angels fell to the Brewers 1-0 in 17 innings in 2004. The Mets fell to the Braves last night, 2-1.

Jacob deGrom led the charge with 13 Ks in seven innings of work, with his only blemish being an RBI single surrendered to Freddie Freeman in the sixth inning. deGrom atoned for that himself, however, hitting a home run off of Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz in the bottom of the sixth to tie things up at one. That’s how things would remain when both starters left the game and it moved on to extra innings.

The first arm out of the pen for the Mets was Seth Lugo, who struck out four batters in two frames. Then came Edwin Díaz, who fanned two, followed by four relievers who each punched out one batter. The Mets final reliever of the night, Jeurys Familia, worked the fourteenth inning and recorded three outs, all via strikeout.

Unfortunately, he also gave up two hits and walked two batters. One of the hits was a ground rule double off the bat of Adeiny Hechavarría. Hechavarría, of course, was designated for assignment by the Mets earlier this month, one day before he was to earn a $1 million bonus for days on the active roster. Take that, old boss. He was then singled in by another recent Braves pickup, Billy Hamilton to make it 2-1, which would prove to be the final score.

In all, 26 strikeouts and a loss. I’m guessing the Mets would’ve taken fewer Ks and a win.