It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

Happy Labor Day weekend.

It’s Sunday night, and the Royals are breaking my hopes for the third night in a row. They're still in first place though – for now.

Last night, we were there to watch it in person. From a family perspective, we had a blast. From a Royals fan perspective, the Royals' offense was horrifying.

From The Kansas City Star's game cap ...
The solitary stay at the summit lasted 19 days, long enough to spur a Sports Illustrated cover, elevate expectations and dare a long-suffering group of fans to dream. The Royals ascended into first place of the American League Central on Aug. 11, and spoke as if they never would abdicate the throne.

With a 3-2 loss in 11 innings to the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, their fifth defeat in seven games, no longer can the Royals claim sole ownership of the lead. They now share the real estate with the Detroit Tigers, their overlords for so long, setting up for the most thrilling September in nearly three decades of Kansas City baseball.
To give you a little background, I purchased a Blue Crew membership for Phoebe as a Christmas present. As part of the package she got a coupon book that included some discounts on Royals gear, two vouchers for free game tickets and a punch card for free admission to some of the activities in the Outfield Experience at Kauffman Stadium. We had been eyeing up the schedule all season and had a couple misses when it didn’t quite work out for us to go.

Then the Royals started getting really hot, and I didn’t want to waste our chance to get to a game. Finally, we settled on last night’s game – good thing, too, because we would have been drenched had we decided to go Friday night.

I secured our tickets a couple weeks ago when I swung through Kansas City to see Nickel Creek. The catch on the free ticket voucher was that they had to be redeemed at the box office. Don’t get me started on how family-unfriendly that little ploy is …Although, on the bright side, with Phoebe's voucher and a 2-for-1 coupon I picked up at Subway, the tickets cost us a total of just $19.

The girls were excited to go. Everyone was well-rested and in a good mood as we woke up yesterday morning. Which bode well for all of us.

After a lunch at home, we hit the road and made our pit stop in St. Joe to redeem Phoebe’s coupon for discounted Royals gear. We stopped at three store before finding T-shirts that fit our tastes and were available in our sizes. And at every stop we encountered handfuls of families either looking for Royals gear or dressed in it and obviously on their way to the game.

We timed our arrival at Kauffman perfectly, around 4:30 in the afternoon, just as the gates were opening. Phoebe and I, ever the excited ones of our bunch, walked as briskly as we could toward the gates, having to pause every couple minutes to let Kates and Faye catch up. … At the gates, the usher scanned our tickets, we pushed through the turnstiles and memorabilia collector in me breathed a little sigh of relief as I looked ahead.

Because Phoebe and I each got a Mr. Royal bobblehead. Or as Phoebe calls it, wobblehead. … Only the first 10,000 fans through the gate received one, and we’ve missed out on the stadium giveaways since Kates and I started bringing kids with us to baseball games. We had been seeing the promotions for this game during Royals broadcasts for weeks. Phoebe had been looking forward to getting one, too, and I’m not sure who would have been more disappointed if we weren’t among those first 10,000 fans.

Yes, a Mr. Royal bobblehead. I have no idea who Mr. Royal is and can’t seem to find any reference to him in my brief internet research of Royals history, but it was Retro Night at The K nonetheless. The Royals and their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, wore 1974 jerseys. The music for the night was supplied by a classic organ rather than the sound system blaring hip hop tunes. The high-definition, full-color scoreboard was turned back to gold dots on a black screen to resemble the old scoreboard of the Royals Stadium days. George Toma, the Royals’ legendary, now-retired groundskeeper, was an honorary grounds crew member.

And there was even and appearance by our old friend, “Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams. During a trivia contest between innings, a woman was picked out of the crowd to guess the mystery 70s from a set of clues. When she correctly guessed Barry Williams, the announcer informed the woman that the Royals were going to “sweeten the deal” for her. She was then instructed to turn around, and there was Barry Williams himself standing behind her. Later, Barry led the stadium crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

Here he is in the Royals broadcast booth with Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler

After we passed through the gates, we stuck with our plan to take the kids straight to the Outfield Experience to let them play and burn off some energy before the game – and so we wouldn’t have to come back to it during the game. Phoebe immediately wanted to ride the carousel, so I accompanied her and Faye for that. Then we moved on to the playground and eventually to the fountains before grabbing a couple lunch boxes for the girls’ supper. Phoebe had a hot dog. Faye had nachos.

Soon, we were settling into our seats on the third base side of the upper deck. The Royals were batting in the bottom of the first and it was looking as though it was going to be a good night for the home team.

And then pfffffffft
Yep, the Royals loaded the bases against Indians starter Trevor Bauer -- Nori Aoki and Omar Infante singled and Alex Gordon walked -- with nobody out. But Billy Butler, Perez and Raul Ibanez all struck out. Nothing.
Right through the heart of the order. I couldn’t believe it.

They put runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth inning. Nothing.

Runners on second and third in the sixth inning. Nothing.

They loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning and finally mustered a tying run. But only the tying run.

They put two runners on in the ninth inning. But Jerrod Dyson struck out to send it to extras.
They loaded the bases again in the 10th against Tomlin. Perez doubled and, with one out, Cain singled and Mike Moustakas was intentionally walked. But Alcides Escobar bounced into a force out at the plate and newcomer Jayson Nix fanned. Nothing.
The Royals left 16 runners on base last night – 16 runners! They wasted strong pitching performances from James Shields. Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera before Scott Downs blew it in the 11th inning.

After Jose Ramirez led off the top of the 11th inning with a triple and scored for Cleveland we decided we had seen enough, packed our things and headed for the gate. The stadium had started emptying steadily around the eighth inning.

The Indians would go on to score another one by the time we entered the concourse.

There was some drama still to be had, though, and we stayed for the whole game after all. Between packing our belongings and using the restrooms before heading out of the stadium, I started watching one of the monitors in the concourse. Jarrod Dyson singled with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning. Then Salvador Perez doubled, scoring Dyson and making the score 3-2. … But Erik Kratz struck out and that was it. We began walking down the ramp, toward the gates in earnest.


* * *

After such a brilliant run, it’s been an ugly week for our Royals.

Wednesday night, for the record, I was dozing on the couch throughout the game. Kates badly wanted to turn the channel to one of her Hallmark movies, but she held on for me and kept it tuned into the game.

I opened my eyes for a few moments, just in time to catch Alex Gordon rounding the bases after hitting his walk-off home run. ... But I missed Alcedis Escobar's  web gem.

It was a grand snapshot of this Royals season ...
The best thing about the best moment in baseball is that, sometimes, it really does happen like in the movies. Escobar bloops a single. Gordon blasts a slider over the right field wall. The Royals win 2-1, this increasingly sepia season taking its first real slow-motion, grab-your-buddy-and-kiss-his-cheek moment with a walk-off home run. The Royals remain in first place. It might be the best moment of Gordon’s All-Star career. Afterward, he’ll do an interview on national TV and then spread his arms and smile as Sal Perez dumps yellow Gatorade over his head.
Then, Ned Yost went off on the fans ... And Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger went off on Ned.

In the defense of fans, it was a school night, the games do tend go long -- and the cost to take a family to a ball game, pay for parking and purchase concessions in addition to seats is almost worth taking out a loan to pay for all of it.

But Sam makes some good arguments, too. In fact, counting this weekend's soon-to-be sweep by the Indians, the Royals are 4-9 in front of crowds more than 30,000 at home.

(Update 08.31.2014: The Royals tied last night's game, just before another storm blew over Kansas City, and the game was suspended in the bottom of the 11th inning.)

(Updated 09.02.2014) Here's some good baseball reads ...  

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