Last year’s likeable Royals seem bent early on becoming this year’s unlikeable breed. They’ve lost one key relief pitcher and seen a key starter take a hit in the bank account over last weekend’s foolishness, and from the early comments it seems as though they’ve learned . . . nothing.
Never mind Kelvim Herrera getting a five-game drydocking for throwing one up behind the letter’s on Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie’s uniform back and close enough to the back of his head Sunday afternoon. Or Yordano Ventura getting an undisclosed dent in his disposable income for throwing at Lawrie Saturday afternoon.
The Royals were outraged over Lawrie’s seventh-inning takeout slide against their shortstop Alcides Escobar, trying to bust up a would-be double play, with Escobar suffering a knee sprain on the play. Fair enough. You can debate whether Lawrie dropped a little late into the slide or whether it was a dirty play. Hard-nosed, maybe hard headed, but dirty may be debatable.
But you can’t debate that the Royals went about things all wrong starting the day after. If Ventura wanted to send Lawrie a message Saturday afternoon, he should have done it when Lawrie batted the first time, in the third. Not when Lawrie batted for the second time, an inning later, with Lawrie coming up right after Josh Reddick smashed a three-run homer to launch a five-run Oakland inning.
Ventura was ejected rightly then and there. And that’s where it should have stopped. Whether they sent Lawrie the message at the right or the wrong moment Saturday, the message was sent. Cease fire.
Come Sunday, alas, Oakland starter Scott Kazmir caught Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain on the foot. Kazmir may or may not have been looking to sneak a message back to the Royals in return, considering his teammate got the Saturday message at the wrong time. (Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were ejected after arguing with plate ump Greg Gibson over that one.)
But why on earth did nobody think about returning the favour—just a nice high and tight pitch would have done the job—until Royals starter Danny Duffy was out of the game and, following two more Kansas City relievers, Herrera was in? And what the hell was Herrera not thinking when, with two out, nobody on, and the Royals down 2-1 in the Oakland eighth, he aimed for Lawrie’s head but had to settle for the letters on his back just under it—after starting Lawrie with a pitch inside and tight?
Damn lucky for Herrera that the Royals were finally able to chase Kazmir from the game on a leadoff walk and an advance to second, before Cain swatted an RBI double and stole third before Eric Hosmer walked and Kendrys Morales hit a two-run double to put the Royals up 4-2 to stay. Leaving Wade Davis to dispatch the A’s in order for the save and the game. But they made sure nobody would remember the Royals winning two out of three from the A’s while they were at it.
The day before the punishments were handed down, Royals manager Ned Yost translated Herrera’s now-notorious head point, delivered as he reached the dugout following his immediate objection, to mean: I can see what he was saying. We kind of talk about it all the time: ‘You better think about it. Because we’ve got guys that throw 100. You want to mess around?’ That’s all he was doing.
Athletics owner Lew Wolff called that comment “despicable.” And Wolff is right. Because that isn’t all Herrera was doing. The target should have been off Lawrie’s back after Saturday was done and in the books. The Royals can be excused for feeling a little peeved that they’ve been plunked fourteen ties in their first thirteen games, but the A’s are probably thinking the Royals were damn lucky they didn’t spend all Sunday long throwing at Lawrie.
And the Royals should consider themselves luckier that five games is all Herrera loses and a little money is all Ventura loses.
Last year, the Diamondbacks were bedeviled by a frontier attitude instilled by their then general manager, Kevin Towers, who swore his team would take no prisoners and any player demurring wouldn’t be a Diamondback very long. He flipped his roster liberally in search of grinders who acted tough, saw his team sink to the sewer of the National League West, and lost his job early last September. Manager Kirk Gibson, who had the same attitude and blinded himself to the talent sacrificed for “grit,” lost his toward the end of the month.
If the Royals are trying now to instill similar attitudes in their players, they should beware the cost. Especially in the standings. Real toughness doesn’t involve looking for beanball wars or trying to decapitate the other guys’ grinders in retaliatory excess. Yost and the Royals should knock it off with this you want a piece o’me? crap and get back to playing the roach-and-roll winning baseball they know best.