Start from the Beginning – Episode 1: The History of the First Base War
Previous Episode: Money Also Walks
After a disappointing 1-3 series against the New York Yankees, the Kansas City Royals were slated for a quick two game set against the Cleveland Indians. After flagging over the last week themselves, the Indians had a two game lead in the AL Central, so the Royals could pull even with them and take first place for the first time since near the beginning of the season. They were so close to first that they could almost taste it.
It was awful forward-thinking to believe that a two game series in the middle of June was critical to the pennant race, but Pat Burrell didn’t want to give up any ground to the Indians. Something had to change. Something had to motivate the Royals to move forward and rebound from their loss to the mediocre Yankees squad.
Burrell considered making another trade, but he realized that he could only rely upon transactional drama to carry the day so many times. He was willing to go back to the trading market, but he’d wait until the July deadline. After all, there are only so many parts of this story that can be about making trades, and certainly another one is to come. Today, change would have to come from within.
There was one clear way that the team could be improved without a trade: something had to be done about the manager. If only for a couple, critical games…
As soon as Ned Yost was in the Kauffman Stadium maintenance closet, Burrell closed and locked the door behind him. It wasn’t an act of cruelty–there was plenty of food and water inside. It was an act of desperation. While managers don’t make or break a game, Burrell knew that it would help to have Yost out of the team’s hair for a couple games. There would be no more mid-fifth inning defensive replacements for Eric Hosmer, or poor usage of closer Greg Holland, or whatever the fuck this was back in May:
Unfortunately, Strike-O-Matic had pitched the last game of the series against the New York Yankees so he was unavailable to face the Indians in either game. The Royals had to rely on two rookies–Kyle Zimmer and Carlos Martinez–to even up the AL Central. Burrell could have used his new position as acting manager and pushed Bartolo Colon on short rest, but he had faith in the hard-throwing tandem.
First up was Zimmer. A top-50 prospect coming into the season, Zimmer had been sidelined with a strained lat in 2014-prime. Armed with the knowledge of this coming injury, Strike-O-Matic told Pat Burrell and the KC staff to adjust Zimmer’s motion to avoid stress on the mid-back. This had led to the development of his new windup, which was straight out early baseball. Unfortunately, Zimmer was a Method Pitcher, meaning that he had to submerse himself in the early 20th century to be successful with this motion, and it had taken hold on every part of his life.
Zimmer started the season strong behind his distracting motion, but as opponents figured out how to time him, they also figured out how to hit him. Fortunately, this was the first time he’d faced the Cleveland Indians all year. He easily put them down and couple key hits by Colby Rasmus provided all the run support he needed. Zimmer finished with over seven innings of shutout baseball to help the Royals take the first game of the two game series.
In game two of the series, the Royals handed the ball to Carlos Martinez. Acquired as an inexplicable throw-in of the Matt Holliday/James Shields deal, Martinez was a raw pitching prospect who, even after an inconsistent performance in 2014-prime, still had plenty of luster as a future starting pitcher or ace reliever. In alt-2014, the Cardinals had been using him exclusively as a starting pitcher, with slightly better results. He still lacked consistency, even after his trade to the Royals. In one game, he would dominate the opposing hitters. In the next, he would get lit up like a Christmas tree doused in gasoline and used to start a fire at a halogen lamp factory.
Fortunately, Good Carlos Martinez showed up in the game against the Indians. While he didn’t quite match Kyle Zimmer from the day before, he only allowed one run to Cleveland in 6.2 innings, striking out nine batters (while walking two).
While the young Royals pitching was as good as could be hoped, the lineup was quiet. Even the addition of Matt Holliday hadn’t quite sparked the offense into exploding like Burrell hoped. They were still carrying a fair amount of light hitting, in the form of Omar Infante, Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, and Alcides Escobar.
In the fifth inning, a hero came to the plate in the form of interim-GM/fill-in manager/DH Pat Burrell. With two runners one, he managed to do what the rest of the team had failed to do from the start of the game–get an extra base hit. He stroked a two run double to left field, giving the Royals the lead and putting Carlos Martinez in line for the win.
The Royals would score another run on a seventh inning Alex Gordon HR, and the bullpen would falter in the eighth and allow a dinger of its own. But the lead held up at 3-2, giving the Royals the win and the tie for the division.
Once the series was over, there was still one thing left for Burrell to do. He had to let Ned Yost out of the closet. It pained him to allow the manager to return to the team, especially after they banded together without him to pull into a divisional tie. But Yost’s family had filed a missing person report and there was only so long Burrell and the rest of the team could keep his disappearance under wraps. The last thing the team needed was a serious criminal investigation. When Burrell went to the maintenance closet and unlocked the door, he opened it and made a horrible discovery.
Mere seconds after Burrell had closed the closet door, the lightbulb inside the closet flickered out, leaving Ned Yost in absolute darkness for approximately 48 hours. During that time, he had experienced madness, followed by peace, followed by greater madness, followed by enlightenment, followed by a type of madness only known only in a small corner of sub-Saharan Africa in which it is a right of passage to be locked in a dark closet for a weekend. Yost had emerged a changed man, but perhaps not for the better.