Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Head Scratcher

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized." - Sun Tzu

Somehow, I have the sinking feeling that Buddy Bell never read The Art of War. If he had, perhaps he would have wandered across the above quote, and taking note of its inherent wisdom, applied it to his chosen profession. In that case, we could have avoided such debacles as the one that occurred in New York today.

There stood the lowly Royals, despite a wretched performance by their starting pitcher, poised to defeat the vaunted Yankees in their home opener, before a full house of 55,000 that included dignitaries, legends, celebrities and Billy Crystal. They did it in a manner so un-Royal-like as to induce doubletakes, slack-jawed amazement, and a chorus of what the hells. Their best player didn't even play. Their best hitter never reached base. They hit two home runs, including one by a rookie who had only sixteen in his entire minor league career. They had clutch hits, including a game-tying double by John Buck, a career .240 hitter who had played all of two career games in hallowed Yankee Stadium. Hell, they even got a walk from....Angel Berroa, a.k.a. The Man Who Swung Too Much. It was as if the Earth had cracked open, allowing a group of Bizarro Royals to take the field.

After our hideous starting pitcher, Joe Mays, departed for good in the fifth inning, the bullpen shut the Yankees down. Mike Wood, who should have Mays' rotation spot by this weekend, held the Yankees scoreless through the sixth, thanks in large part to a savvy defensive play by that same Angel Berroa, another minor miracle. Having thrown 38 pitches in over two innings, Wood was pulled in favor of Elmer Dessens. This move was okay with me, though it could be argued that Wood, a wannabe starter, easily could have gone another inning without taxing his arm, and since the pen would be asked to throw over six total innings today, getting an extra one from Wood might have been critical to keeping the rest of the arms fresh for the remainder of the series.

No matter, as it happens, because the man brought in from the bullpen was Elmer Dessens, and he was electric. The Yankees simply couldn't touch him, as he allowed no hits, no walks and struck out two, including a called strike three against Alex Rodriguez that was so beautiful that A-Rod simply dropped his helmet and walked to his position without complaint, the first time in recent memory that any Yankee has failed to complain about a called third strike. In his two innings, Dessens threw just 19 total pitches, 16 of them for strikes. It was a masterful performance.

And then, the hand of Buddy Bell befell them, and returned us all to our accustomed state of Royal heartburn as he snatched defeat from victory.

Despite his brilliance and low pitch count, despite his rubber arm that allows him to be available on back-to-back days, despite being well-rested having not pitched since Saturday, despite his ERA of 0.00 for the season, despite his career mark against the Yankees, which was also 0.00, despite his seven strikeouts in just six innings this season, and his microscopic 0.50 WHIP, despite being a 35-year old veteran who was not intimidated by Yankee Stadium's masses, Dessens was pulled before the eighth inning by Buddy Bell in favor of Andy Sisco. The Andy Sisco who had never pitched on an Opening Day in Yankee Stadium before. The Andy Sisco who just turned 23 this January. The Andy Sisco with the 10.13 ERA this season. That Andy Sisco.

To recap, the Royals had an eighth inning lead against the New York Yankees on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. I'm thinking maybe this is one of those opportunities that should be seized. What would build a young team's confidence more that a victory such as this? Claiming a win of this magnitude would reap exactly the kind of multiplied opportunities in the future that Sun Tzu referenced. Knowing that they could beat the Yankees under the most difficult circumstances possible would have been an enormous boost to the team's ego, and surely would have paid future dividends. This was one of those games that Bell simply couldn't let get away.

In response, Bell pulled a successful veteran with an ERA of 0.00 who had only thrown 19 pitches in two innings in favor of a shaky rookie with an ERA over 10.00. He did it because he's not the most nimble thinker in the world, and he's locked into the thought that Andy Sisco is his eighth inning guy and, by God, he's gonna use him in the eighth inning. Prior performance of Sisco or those who pitched before him be damned.

All of which makes me think of another quote from that book.

"If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

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