Don't act like you didn't see it coming. Let's not pretend for one minute that what I, along with 40,000 overly-faithful Royals fans saw on opening day at Kauffman Stadium Monday wasn't in the back of our minds the whole time. Yet still, we just couldn't believe our eyes.
After six strong innings from Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, the Royals took a 4-2 lead over the Detroit Tigers into the bottom of the seventh inning, needing two decent innings from their middle relievers to get the game to their lights-out closer Joakim Soria.
Hold your breath, everybody!
Roman Colon, Robinson Tejeda, and Juan Cruz combined to give up six runs on six hits in the inning. By the time three outs were recorded, the cheers at the K had turned to boos - loud boos - and the Tigers had blown open an 8-4 advantage. Game over.
Though it wasn't game over, right? There was still two innings to play. No, we just know these Royals all too well. Everyone at the ballpark yesterday knew the game was over because these are OUR Royals. In the eighth, with two on and one out, and the Royals' best hitter Billy Butler on deck, third base coach Dave Owen sent CATCHER Jason Kendall home from second on a single up the middle off the bat of Scott Podsednik. Kendall, naturally, was thrown out. Had he stayed at third, the bases would have been loaded for Butler and clean-up hitter Rick Ankiel, where one swing of the bat could tie the game.
Being down four runs late in a ball game, that's a dream scenerio for a team to find itself in. Yet the Royals took themselves right back out of the opportunity without the obstacle of oppositional skill.
It's classic Royals baseball folks. I'd expect nothing less.
What's amazing is the Royals tried to give us a sign of things to come early on. The Tigers scored the first run of the game in the top of the first because of a dropped pop-up by third baseman Willie Bloomquist. That's right, third baseman Willie Bloomquist. That in itself deserves a chuckle. But after a winter of defensive-minded free agent signings and a spring of 'pressing the fundamentals' and 'going back to the basics', the Royals found a way to drop a pop-up in the top half of the first inning of the first game of the season. Wow.
I've heard the argument that it's just one game, there are 161 more to go, and so on. Actually, I've made that argument a time or two. And the argument surely holds water. I was on hand for the miracle ninth inning comeback on opening day in 2004, just six months removed from the near postseason run the 2003 squad made. Driving home that April day in 2004, I absolutely was convinced those Royals were finally ready to bring playoff baseball back to Kansas City. Obviously, that didn't happen. Those Royals lost 100 or so games and most-to-all of that roster has never been heard from again.
So, we know one loss doesn't mean the end the world. Both the Yankees and Phillies, last year's World Series teams, lost on opening day.
But opening day means something more. It's the unofficial start of summer. The Royals are undefeated. Hope is alive and well. I've attended a handful of opening day games at the K in the last couple decades, and one thing about them remains constant every year: For one day, the city gathers and parties and gets to watch a ball game for the first time in months. It's a celebration that's bigger than the Royals or any other team. It's really something special.
Yet it is an opportunity, with more eyes watching than normal, for the Royals to show something to the non-believers. Yesterday was a chance for the Royals to start a new, as we fans have been begging to happen for nearly two full decades. Yesterday was a chance for the Royals to start winning.
With 40,000 fans along side myself in attendance, loyal to the unloyal and hearts on our sleeves, we watched as the Royals walked out on us once again, testing our patience and our faith. But we knew this would happen. These are OUR Royals, and they may just never change.