A new rivalry brews in pretty much the most eventful & exciting April series one can ask for

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This weekend’s series vs. the Oakland A’s was something, eh? What was supposed to be the bittersweet return of Billy Butler to Kansas City, became an ugly, hate fueled series in the top of the seventh inning of the opening game Friday night. With the score tied at 4 after a Stephen Vogt’s second home run off of starter Jeremy Guthrie (the third solo shot of the night against J-Guts), Kelvin Herrera enters the game to face A’s third baseman, Brett Lawrie. Lawrie hits the first pitch he sees, singling to right field. The next batter, Josh Reddick then hits a 3-1 pitch off of Herrera’s ankle, which deflects to Mike Moustakas coming in from third. Moustakas throws to Alcides Escobar covering second base for the force out on Lawrie. In this odd 1-5-6 putout attempt, there is simply no way on Earth Escobar is going to, or even attempt to, turn a double play. Coming into second base, Lawrie has zero focus on the bag and slides spikes high directly into Escobar’s left leg. Lawrie has to fully extend his left arm just to find second base after the “slide”. Lawrie was called out on the play, and after a review, the umpiring crew did not see enough evidence to overturn their call.

See for yourself:

A lot of people have defended the slide saying “that’s baseball”. All of those people are wrong. Even Royals long time broadcaster, Denny Mathews said that he “didn’t really have a problem with the slide” in Sunday’s broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest. Denny, I love you and what you mean to Kansas City, but that was an unnecessary hard slide. Lawrie may not have fully intended to injure Escobar, but he sure as hell didn’t try to avoid hurting him. In fact, had he slid into second base normally, he would have easily been safe.

Then things got really weird with Lawrie defending his actions and an ensuing he said/she said Apologate, saying things like “that’s baseball” and “Hope everyone knows I am playing this game hard. I am never trying to hurt anyone in any type of situation, I’m playing for my teammates.”

A player truly “playing for his teammates” knows he needs to be safe at second base, in scoring position, in the late innings of a tied game. But, the best part is his supposed “hearrfelt” text apology to Alcides Escobar, reported by A’s beat reporter Susan Slusser (more on her later), that Escobar didn’t receive. So, who’s lying?

It really came as a surprise to no one that the Royals starter the following day, Yordano Ventura would be looking for an opportunity to display the Royals’ dislike of Lawrie’s slide. After a rough start to the game and 3-run homer to Josh Reddick in the fourth inning that put the Royals in a 5-0 hole, Ventura drills Lawrie on a 1-0 pitch with a 99 mph fastball. Ventura is ejected from the game, and to his credit, Lawrie took his “un-written rule” punishment as well as could be expected and ventured slowly down to first base, escorted by Salvador Perez and then Eric Hosmer. After this, I think most fans felt that everything was done then and there.

Well…it wasn’t. After the Royals had ended it, the A’s started it, again as Lorenzo Cain is hit in the foot on the first pitch he sees from A’s starter, Scott Kazmir, with a 92 mph fastball. Kazmir didn’t appear to be intentionally throwing at Cain, however a veteran with Kazmir’s experience, accuracy (73 of 103 pitches were strikes) and track record of not hitting batters (4 HPB in 2014, 3 HBP in 2013) it’s hard to really say for sure, but he’s also a veteran and knows hitting someone low won’t seem intentional and it won’t hurt anyone.

Clearly Royals manager Ned Yost felt like this was no accident. He was furious, as was pitching coach, Dave Eiland. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson ejected Yost and Eiland and Gibson issued warning to both teams. In the eighth inning, Herrera (don’t forget that he was the one pitching when this whole thing started Friday night) enters with the Royals down 2-1 and faces Lawrie, sending a 100 MPH heater about a foot behind Lawrie’s back and into the screen. Herrera is ejected from the game immediately, and acting manager, Don Wakamatsu is ejected, as the teams had been warned in the first. After warnings are issued in MLB, the manager (or acting manager) is removed from the game with the pitcher. Herrera said: “I don’t mean to hurt anybody. ”I was just trying to throw inside, but just a bad grip on that fastball. It started raining pretty good. And they just tossed me out of the game.” Maybe that’s all it was? I want to believe him. He is one of my favorite Royals. But, it’s really hard to believe. If he was re-opening the Lawrie thing, he was in the wrong. But, Kazmir initially re-opened it, at least according to the Royals. The A’s, however, thought there was nothing wrong with Lawrie’s slide, so they were retaliating when hitting Cain, but really, they had opened the wound back up.

During the mess in the eighth inning, third base umpire, Jim Joyce approaches the Royals dugout and begins to shout and point fingers and ejects Wakamatsu from the game again (WTF) as well as shortstop Alcides Escobar who isn’t playing due to the injury sustained from Lawrie’s slide Friday night. Joyce was in the wrong here. He is considered one of the best in the game, but there is no good reason for Joyce to be over on the first base side of the field when he is umpiring third base and further escalating the situation and the tempers in the Royals dugout. He also shouldn’t eject people from the game that had already been removed. His crew did a poor job controlling the series. Warning should have been issued before the game. Then, Kazmir doesn’t hit Cain, and it really would have ended on Saturday.

In all, the Royals had five ejected – Wakamatsu, Yost, Eiland, Escobar and Herrera – and six for the series (Ventura) as opposed to the A’s losing nobody, but still won the game 4-2 behind a 3-run eighth (Paulo Olando walk, Cain double (steals third), Hosmer walk, Kendrys Morales double off 410 sign in dead center) and took the series 2-1.

If Lawrie makes a clean, normal slide on Friday night, I believe there are no ejections or players hit with pitches in this series. And, perhaps the A’s win Friday night and win the series. Thanks, Lawrie…you fired these guys back up. This is going to be another exciting season in Kansas City.

I think the Kansas City Royals have a new rival. So…who is looking forward to the series in Oakland in late June?

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Follow Conrad on Twitter: @ConradMcGorkin

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