Chicken Little claimed that the sky was falling after a single acorn fell on his head.
After what seemed like the world’s longest off-season, the Royals finally played a game that mattered on Friday night. There was tremendous buildup – not just because all of the hype of the returning rookies and guys coming off career years, but also because of increased expectations. These guys are winners. They’ve won at every level & now it’s “Our Time” to win where it really counts. You also had the whole Albert Pujols circus & national broadcast to deal with. And man, to have to wait until 9:00 to get going?!? By the time the game started I couldn’t tell if I wanted to bounce off the walls or go to bed.
By the way, it’s got to be so difficult to come up with a new one line slogan every year. I can’t imagine sitting in a room & having to come up with a positive slogan for the 2007 season. Three straight seasons of 100+ losses really brings out the optimism in people. I give a lot of credit to the person who came up with the “Our Time” slogan. It’s so fitting & is said with such confidence by the Royals during countless commercials & promos.
It just turned out that “Our Time” didn’t start on Friday night.
As is often the case early in the year at any level, the pitchers are comfortably ahead of the hitters. Angels ace Jered Weaver was as good as anticipated, but even Bruce Chen looked like an All-Star. He matched Weaver inning for inning, bad swing for bad swing for six innings.
That, unfortunately, was the difference in the game. While Chen exited to give way to our surefire bullpen after six, Weaver went eight strong. Not to say that I wasn’t completely pleased with Chen’s performance – he was outstanding. However, the difference between our “Ace” and Jered Weaver, those two innings, is the length of the bridge to the closer. Again, our bullpen (along with our offense) is supposed to be able to compensate for our lack of starting pitching. It’s ironic that our two strongsuits failed while our weakness dominated.
On Friday night, Aaron Crow had one outstanding inning – the seventh. The eighth was a nightmare. If Chen is able to go even one more inning, then Crow pitches a great eighth & we get to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth with a chance to win. Instead, Crow lost his ability to locate a pitch after getting the first out in the eighth and left multiple balls out over the plate, which the Angels hitters pounced on. They looked like starving dogs that hadn’t eaten all winter. After Crow got out of there & Greg Holland came in – ideally to close the door as he did so well in 2011 – Erick Aybar stepped in and slugged every Royals fan in the gut with a bases clearing bleeder down the Right Field Line.
It was a game in which pitching dominated. Hitters looked anxious, as evidenced by just the one (intentional) walk in the game. They looked sluggish. We saw numerous bad swings and poor decisions. Weaver’s slider was nasty, but we were hoping to see a little more offense than we got in the Opening Act. It’s tough to sit there & watch Alex Gordon strike out on multiple check-swings, but that’s Game 1 kind of confusion. Hosmer’s swing looked long & slow – and he chased pitches out of the strike zone all night. Jeff Francoeur was over-anxious, but I could see him working – just trying to hit a fastball rather than wait for that dirty slider.
Frenchy’s mistake at second base highlighted a very emotional seventh inning. In a game like this, it only takes the slightest misstep to change the outcome. It seemed like the game had finally tipped in the Royals’ direction when Francoeur ripped a double to left. The veteran had come through and picked up his young teammates. However, a quick spin move by Weaver caught Frenchy too far off second and just like that there were two outs and nobody on. It could have meant a run for the Royals, which at that point looked like it might have been enough for a win.
As it turned out, the Angels had tipped the scales back in their direction, and in the bottom of the eighth, they finally capitalized. They pounded out five straight hits, sent 10 men to the plate, and exited with a 5-0 lead. Ballgame.
When there is such buildup and high expectations for an event, it’s easy to get down after it doesn’t go your way. I’m sure that the lockerroom was pretty quiet afterwards. That’s where we need to have leadership that can remind this team that no matter how disappointing, it still only counts as one loss. One out of 162. As Royals fans, we need to remember the same thing. Sure, it stinks to lose on opening day, but the beautiful thing about baseball is that they get to turn around and play again this afternoon. They’d better be ready, because it will be another tough game.
The moral to the story is that in the end, Chicken Little learns to suck it up and stop being – well, a chicken. He learns to have courage and get back out there. Even with the threat of another acorn falling on his head.