The Greatest Game in the History of Ever…for this 28-year-old Royals fan

MLB: AL Wild Card-Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

Scott Lavelock is a badass, hardcore Royals fan.

After the EPIC Royals 12-inning Wild Card game win over the A’s on Tuesday night, he wrote this, and it was phenomenal.

Before I give my customary props, in the greatest triumph I have ever witnessed in-the-moment as a baseball fan in my life, I’m first going to get all the negatives out of me that festered during the middle innings of this game – the 2014 American League Wild Card Game between Oakland and Kansas City – as I thought to myself how I was going to possibly sum up how the Royals blew the most glorious opportunity they’ve had in 29 years.

But now, there is a different way to sum it up. And the best way for that to happen is for Ned Yost, with the 40,502 paying fans all still loyally in their seats in the wee hours of the morning in a game that had once looked hopeless, to walk to the center of the diamond with one solitary microphone and address the multitude.

“Today,” Yost should say, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

I am genuinely hard-pressed to think of a man in baseball since Lou Gehrig bade farewell to the game in 1939 that is luckier than Yost is right now. Although, since Yost actually wears No. 3, maybe he should go ahead and press his luck, put himself in to hit, and point toward center field. In all seriousness, Ned Yost is crazy if he DOESN’T stop at QuikTrip on his way home and buy a lottery ticket, because today has GOT to be his damn day.

Friends, we are talking about a guy who has managed 1,734 regular season games in the Majors and managed more Royals games than ANYONE IN HISTORY, as bizarre as that seems for a franchise which once boasted Whitey Herzog and Dick Howser. And yet he still (STILL!) can’t figure out how to manage a bullpen consistently.

I know, I know. The Royals have had one of the best bullpens in baseball the last two years, and Yost deserves some credit for pushing the right buttons at the right times … sometimes (60 percent of the time it works every time!). But if you look at it the other way, and when you consider that he possesses three relievers who are having some of the greatest bullpen seasons in team history, it actually become inexcusable when he fails to piece it together so that they can hold a lead, especially in a do-or-die game like this, and especially when you consider that he had an ENTIRE ROSTER OF PITCHERS available at his disposal in tonight’s situation

It was baffling to ANYONE who knows ANYTHING about baseball why he replaced James Shields with Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning to pitch to Brandon Moss in a dangerous situation, all while having multiple options which were smarter. And, wouldn’t you know it, Moss teed off for his second homer of the game, leading to a five-run inning and almost single-handedly eliminating the Royals.

The list of better options than Ventura is long, and is exacerbated by the fact that he put Ventura in a situation where he was in a tough spot to succeed. Ventura is a rookie who has been put in a relief situation once (ONCE!) before in his Major League career. Not only that, but this rookie is right-handed and is coming in to face a batter who has hit 79 (SEVENTY-NINE!) homers in his career against righties but only 12 (TWELVE!) against lefties.

I realize Yost only had two lefties activated for this game. But if that’s what put him in a bind, maybe he should’ve chosen fewer than 16 (SIXTEEN!) position players to be active. Even so, using lefties Danny Duffy or Brandon Finnegan would’ve been much smarter than Ventura, who got shelled in his last start just two (TWO!) days ago. Duffy is more experienced both out of the bullpen and in general than Ventura, and lefties hit only .206/.283/.306 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) lifetime against Duffy. As for Finnegan, he may be greener overall than Ventura, but he is more used to relieving because he’s been doing it ever since he signed. Not only that, but he profiles to dominate lefties. That situation is precisely the reason he’s on the roster in the first place.

Even if Yost didn’t want to go with a lefty, he still would’ve been better off using Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, or even Greg Holland or Jason Frasor rather than Ventura. Each of those guys has more of a role to get out of jams in the mid-to-late innings than Ventura. Yost probably didn’t want to use any of them as early as the sixth because he wanted to save them for later, but later becomes less important if you blow the lead when there’s trouble. Yost can’t simply be married to only using Davis in the eighth, for example, when a much higher-leverage situation might exist in the sixth, as it did tonight. The Royals’ offense had to put forth an unlikely comeback just to make it relevant that Davis had even pitched in the eighth. Otherwise, the point would’ve been moot.

However, Yost is married to ideas like only using Davis in the eighth, regardless of the gravity of the situation. This is interesting, because he clearly wasn’t married to the idea of avoiding Ventura in a situation where he has little experience. Yost would’ve even been better off simply to leave in Shields, who had only thrown 88 pitches and was the only active Royal pitcher tonight with postseason experience.

But instead the Royals found themselves down 7-3 in the eighth against John Lester, who has owned them like a slumlord his entire career. According the baseball stat website Fangraphs, the Royals’ statistical probably of winning the game while starting the eighth inning down 7-3 was only 2.9% (TWO-POINT-NINE PERCENT!). And realistically, their chances were probably even lower than that because I don’t think that probability takes into account the specific ability of Lester.

So, to sum up the bad, the Royals pulled off a comeback so unlikely that I had a better chance to score a date with Taylor Swift, and you can put the majority of that blame on Ned Yost, who – unfortunately – will almost certainly continue to be the Royals manager for the rest of the postseason. So, in other words, look for more double steals involving an early break by Billy Butler in the first inning (BRILLIANT!).

Before I sum up the good, I have to include the way TBS analyst and pitching legend Pedro Martinez put it on the post game show. This was awesome:

“You have to sometimes question and second-guess some of the moves managers make,” Martinez said candidly. “And today I think is one of those moments where you have to second-guess. What was Ned Yost thinking at the time he brought Ventura in? Because there’s no business for Ventura to be out there. … Come on. It made no sense.”

Martinez continued to berate Yost for his postgame explanation, which included the defense that he wanted to use the “gas” that Ventura throws, even though Herrera, Finnegan, Davis, etc. throw virtually just as hard and – in Herrera’s case – even harder:

“Basically anything you say that wasn’t, ‘I screwed up, and I almost blew the game away,’ would sound bad. That was horrible. What he’s saying right there is horrible,” Martinez said. “You’re gonna tell me you wanted gas? … How much gas do you want? Why don’t you get a gas station?”

I freaking love Pedro Martinez right now, just for that. And also, here are the props to those other guys I love right now, who allow me, as we speak, to write all this scathing rhetoric with a smile instead of despair on my face.

  • Brandon Finnegan, you have some serious, serious cojones. Before tonight, you had only pitched in seven Major League games and 13 Minor League ones. Hell, you were pitching in front of a couple hundred people per game in obscure college games just this spring. But you owned that stage tonight like a seasoned vet and prolonged the game until the offense could win it. Mad love, bro.
  • Salvador Perez, my gosh, you aren’t even fazed by the possibility of wearing the goat horns. You looked terrible swinging at those bad pitches and striking out with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second in the eighth, and then you stranded the winning run on third in the 10th. No matter. Salvy don’t care. He’ll just smoke the game-winning hit in the 12th. Short memories can be awesome.
  • James Shields, you really settled down after the home run ball in the first. I hope you absolutely nailed Yost in the face with a champagne hose-down after the way he took you out in the sixth. And I hope you hold on tightly to the memory of this night when you think about where you want to play next year (wishful thinking, but hey, a guy can dream).
  • Josh Willingham, it’s easy to forget, but it was your leadoff hit in the ninth that led to the tying run. The Royals might have a spot for you next year if you decide not to retire. Wait, what? A guy who draws walks? On the Royals? Naw…
  • Mike Moustakas, thank you for beginning to fulfill my dream of you getting an opposite field single. Keep taking what they give you for the rest of the postseason!
  • Billy Butler, damn, it’s been a tough season, but I think you’ll always hold a place in many of the fans’ hearts. Your two clutch RBI singles will not be forgotten.

And, my goodness, how in the world did seven (SEVEN!) different Royals steal a base in the same game? Props to Nori Aoki, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Terrance Gore, Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, and Christian Colon. THAT… is what speed do.

As much blame as you can give the Royals’ management for constructing a roster with no power and little plate discipline, at least they’ve effectively used their speed in their only real success at exploiting a market inefficiency on offense. It’s cheaper to build a fast team than a powerful team, and the Royals have figured out how to do it effectively enough to make it this far. In fact, they’re the first team in the 112-year-old history of the World Series era to make it to the playoffs while finishing last in their league in both homers and walks.

I suppose I’ll give Yost some credit for unleashing the running game late in tonight’s contest. Although he’s still very fortunate that his team was able to make up a four-run deficit with two innings to go by bunting, stealing, and hitting sacrifice flies. At least 97 times out of 100, statistically, he would’ve been back on the farm down South by tomorrow, dressed head-to-toe in his camo and soaking his boots in deer urine before a hunting trip on Jeff Foxworthy’s ranch.

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