The greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled …

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So, you’ve seen “Defending Your Life,” right? Love that movie. Quick plot synopsis: Albert Brooks dies and finds himself in “Judgment City,” where he has to defend his life in front of judges. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but that’s all you need to know for this World Series reference.

In the middle of the trial, Brooks’ regular lawyer gets pulled away and Brooks finds himself being defended by a guy named Dick Stanley (played by the incomparable Buck Henry).

“Without tooting my own horn,” Stanley tells Brooks, “I’m very good at this.”

Then, every time a moment comes up for for Stanley to make an argument for Brooks’ life, he instead says, “I’m fine.” And that’s it. He does not say anything else. Just: “I’m fine.”

“I hear you had Dick Stanley today,” one of the other lawyers says to Brooks. “He’s excellent. Quiet. But excellent.”

“Very quiet,” Brooks said.

Here, after that overly long setup, we come to our point which is the awesome power of the Kansas City Royals bullpen. I’ve started trying to get people to enter their Chuck Norris like Royals Bullpen Facts on Twitter, to only moderate success. So far we have:

When the Royals bullpen cuts onions, the onions cry.

When the Royals bullpen stares into space, space blinks.

Before the bogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for the Royals bullpen.

Thunderstorms can’t sleep because of the Royals bullpen.

The bartender says: “Why the long face?” “The Royals bullpen,” says the horse.

Star Wars wears Royals bullpen pajamas.

But the greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled was, yes, making  Ned Yost look like the man of the hour. Look: Ever since Game 2 of the series ended, smart people have been considering the somewhat mind-boggling possibility that Yost out managed Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy.

Did he? Well, as I suggested to San Francisco Magazine, even a longtime Yost yammerer like myself doesn’t really believe that manager strategy will make that much of a difference. Seven games is such a short series. Small samples rule the airwaves. The variance between optimal and non-optimal strategies is minuscule (unless you bizarrely decide to send Michael Wacha into the game in the ninth inning after not pitching him for three weeks). And most moves, for one reason or another, don’t matter anyway.

Quick example: In the sixth inning of Game 2, with runners on first and second, Billy Butler hit a run-scoring single that broke the tie and gave the Royals a one-run lead. Yost then decided to pinch-run Terrance Gore for Butler.

I racked my brain to come up with a single reason why he did it. By pulling Butler in the sixth inning, he removed one of his two most-potent right-handed hitters from the lineup. And for what? Gore’s one skill is that he’s fast. But with a runner on second, Gore could not steal. With a runner on second, Gore’s run wasn’t especially important in the grand scheme of things.

But … what difference did it make? A wild pitch moved up both runners (even Butler advances on that pitch) and then Salvy Perez’s double scored both runners (even Butler scores from second on a double) and then Omar Infante’s homer would have scored anybody including me. It’s not quite right to say the move worked. It is more right to say the move didn’t matter — and a lot of moves don’t matter.

So, no, I don’t put much stock into the idea that Yost actually out-managed Bochy or that Bochy could have somehow changed the outcome by managing better.

But I will say this: Yost has learned the Dick Stanley art of zen and baseball management. In the sixth inning, Bochy was doing some full contact managing, pacing back and forth between the mound and the dugout like one of those 1950s expectant fathers, leaving his starter in one batter longer than seemed prudent, matching lefties against lefties, righties against righties, going to his homer-prone and hotheaded rookie for reasons nobody could quite fathom. Bochy was working it, hitting all the buttons, pulling all the levers, twisting all the knobs, switching all the switches.

And Ned Yost said: “I’m fine.”

“After the sixth inning, my thinking’s done,” Yost said, and it drew a little bit of a laugh, but he’s exactly right. The Firm of Herrera, Davis and Holland is so good, so bleeping good, that there are no decisions to be made, no match-ups to be matched, no maneuvers to maneuver.

“Hey Ned, there’s a lefty coming up against Kelvin Herrera.”

“I’m fine.”

“Ned, this guy coming up against Wade Davis has got some power and kills righties.”

“I’m fine.”

“Um Ned, there’s a giant spaceship over the stadium, and aliens are rushing in from the Planet TaterBopper, and Greg Holland is out there alone.”

“I’m fine.”

This has been the impervious bullpen. Going into every series so far, the talk has been that the Royals might have a SLIGHTLY better bullpen than Anaheim or Baltimore or San Francisco, but those other teams have really good bullpens too. The Giants do. But the Giants like those other teams have an IKEA bullpen which requires Bochy to guess which of those screws is the right one, which wood piece is D and which one is E, what direction these things are supposed to face.

The Royals bullpen is out of the next century, You can’t use them wrong.  You don’t have to read the instructions. You don’t have to install any anti-virus protection. No assembly required.

Of course, things change quickly in a short series. The Firm has been so absurdly dominant this postseason that you can’t help but think at some point they will lose a game. But that’s looking more and more like a bad bet. The Giants pathway to victory in this series seems clear: Do what you did in Game 1. Score early, get a solid performance out of your starter, maintain that lead. If they do that, Bochy will look great. If they don’t, he might not look great.

The Royals pathway to victory seems even clearer: Take a lead or tie game into seventh inning. Then Ned Yost will happily turn off his brain. Joke about it all you want. With this bullpen, he’s fine.

This Day in Transaction History: Phillies acquire John Kruk from Padres

John Kruk
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John Kruk is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history. Kruk, who is currently a broadcaster for the Phillies, had a 10-year career during which he hit exactly 100 homers, batted exactly .300, and posted an excellent .397 on-base percentage. In baseball history, there are only 32 members of the admittedly arbitrary 100/.300/.395+ club. Kruk is one of only 10 members of the club that played after 1963. The others: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramírez, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Wade Boggs. Of them, five are Hall of Famers. Trout and Votto will be, and Helton and Ramírez should be.

On this day in 1989, the Phillies made a franchise-altering trade, acquiring Kruk along with infielder Randy Ready from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Chris James. The Padres had just swept the Phillies at home and were hoping to jump into the playoff race. They immediately went into a losing skid, but caught fire at the end of the season, finishing 89-73. However, that wasn’t good enough as the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record. James was solid for the Padres, posting a .743 OPS with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 87 games.

Kruk had an interesting but brief major league career with the Padres. His roommate, Roy Plummer, was an armed robber. Kruk was completely unaware of this. In spring training of 1988, the FBI informed Kruk of his roommates’ activities. Kruk feared retribution from Plummer and said that the anxiety affected his baseball performance. In 1988, Kruk batted what was for him a poor .241/.369/.362 with nine homers and 44 RBI over 466 plate appearances.

The Phillies didn’t enjoy immediate success upon Kruk’s arrival in 1989. The club finished the season with a losing record and would do the same in the ensuing three seasons. None of it was Kruk’s fault, though: in aggregate, from 1990-92, he hit .303/.393/.459, earning two All-Star nominations. In this span of time, the only other first basemen to hit above .300 were Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Hal Morris, and Rafael Palmeiro. The Padres had used Kruk both in the corner outfield and at first base, but the Phillies made him a full-time first baseman, which turned out to be a good move.

In 1993, everything came together for the Phillies and Kruk had what was arguably the greatest season of his career. He hit .316, which was actually seven points below his average the previous year, but he drew 111 walks to push his on-base percentage up to .430. Kruk hit third in the lineup, creating plenty of RBI opportunities for Dave Hollins in the clean-up spot, Darren Daulton at No. 5, and the trio of Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Wes Chamberlain in the No. 6 spot. The Phillies shocked the world in ’93, winning the NL East by three games over the Expos with a 97-65 record. They then dispatched the Braves in six games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series against the Blue Jays.

Kruk was productive in the NLCS, contributing six hits including a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, four walks, five RBI, and four runs scored. But he turned things up a notch in the World Series, registering multi-hit performances in the first three games. He would finish the World Series with eight hits in 23 at-bats along with seven walks, four RBI, and four runs scored. The World Series was winnable for the Phillies as they lost a barnburner Game 4 15-14, and of course, dropped the deciding Game 6 on a World Series-clinching walk-off three-run home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

1994 was tough on Kruk in many ways. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in spring training. Knee issues continued to bother him, and then Major League Baseball had a work stoppage. In an abbreviated season, Kruk hit a still-productive .823 OPS. He became a free agent and, when baseball came back, he signed with the White Sox. In the first inning of a July 30 game against the Orioles in ’95, Kruk singled to left field off of Scott Erickson. He reached first base, bowed to the fans, and walked off the field into retirement. Kruk told the media, “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”

Kruk has spent his post-playing days working in sports media as both a broadcaster (Phillies, ESPN nationally) and as a commentator (The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Baseball Tonight). The Phillies inducted him into their Wall of Fame in August 2011. One wonders if Kruk hadn’t been bit by the injury bug, and if there hadn’t been a work stoppage, if he might have been able to accrue some more numbers to have a borderline Hall of Fame case. Regardless, he’ll go down as one of the games’ quietly great hitters.