Bad decisions and indecision cost the Royals Game 3

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NEW YORK — With one out, one in and runners on the corners in the bottom of the sixth, Royals reliever Franklin Morales fielded a comebacker off the bat of Curtis Granderson. Morales looked to second, looked home, looked to third and then, having thoroughly and excruciatingly assessed his many options, turned back to second and threw the damn ball away. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. A fielder’s choice in this case and now there were two runs in and the rout was on.

By that point it didn’t really matter. Morales was already wobbling like Michael Spinks in the Tyson fight, having given up an RBI single to a man who hadn’t swung a bat in a real game in over a month in Juan Uribe. Morales’ panicked indecision is the visual we’ll always remember from that inning, but the decision to have Morales in the game in the first place was probably more significant.

Morales is about as low on the Royals’ depth chart as an active guy can be and he had no business pitching in a 5-3 game. Not with Luke Hochevar having just pitched a nice fifth inning, striking out two and needing only 15 pitches to do it. Not with a Royals team behind him which has treated two-run deficits as tie games and one-run deficits as leads since October began. There were any number of things Ned Yost could have done in that situation, but the thing he chose to do — bringing in Morales — was about as far from a threatening move he had at his disposal.

Maybe Yost knew this game was different, though, and that the script of the movie we’ve been watching for the first two games [“Relentless” starring The Kansas City Royals!] had been torn up. Or at least replaced with new one for a night. One which featured the Mets hitting home runs again. Remember that from a couple of weeks ago? David Wright hit a two-run dinger in the first and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run shot in the third. There were dinks and doinks that fell in for the Mets and not the Royals this time. There were defensive miscues that befell the Royals and not the Mets. It was a very different night than the previous three we’ve seen: two with Royals wins, one off-night with lots of existential angst for Mets fans.

Also different here: the starting pitching. On Tuesday night Matt Harvey gave up 3 runs in 6 innings. Tonight Noah Syndergaard gave up 3 runs in 6 innings.  But Harvey only struck out two and got eight swings-and-misses. Syndergaard, in contrast, struck out six and got 16 swings-and-misses. Even before Syndergaard settled down from his shaky start and retired 12 batters at one point, he felt more in control of the game than either Harvey or Jacob deGrom ever did in the first two games. He gave the Royals fewer chances to exploit the Mets defense and, in turn, the anxieties of the 44,781 fans in Citi Field.

After six innings Addison Reed took over for Syndergaard and breezed. Then Tyler Clippard did the same. By that time we had seen the Franklin Morales show, followed by some gratuitous Kelvin Herrera. Why was he pitching and not putative mopup man Kris Medlen? Maybe because Medlen could be needed to back up Chris Young tomorrow or provide an emergency start on Sunday in case Yordano Ventura doesn’t make it back? That’s plausible. Oh, wait, then Yost used Medlen anyway in the eighth. I have no idea. I’m not sure that Yost did either.

And I don’t know who’s going to win this World Series. It could be either team now. All I know is that if the Mets win it the sixth inning of Game 3 will be one Mets fans long remember and one that Royals fans are already trying to forget. I also know that if the Royals win it, their hitters and starting pitchers had best give Ned Yost as few chances to make decisions as possible.

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.