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.