On Saturday night, Greg Holland came in to protect a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth. He proceeded to walk three straight batters but struck the next two out before Kevin Frandsen delivered a bases-clearing, game-winning double.
Is that sinking feeling coming back? The ominous, anxious knot in your stomach that everything’s going to fall apart before it’s even put together?
Remember last year? The Royals open up on the road, they’re looking to carry a winning record into the home opener and have a lead in Oakland. Jonathan Broxton got the first out, then Seth Smith reached on an error, Broxton walked the next two batters and a groundout tied the game. Then, with two outs, Broxton hit Yeonis Cespedes and Johnny Gomes in consecutive at bats and brought in the winning run.
The Royals came back to Kansas City, gave up seven runs in the first inning and lost every single home game on their way to a crippling 12-game losing streak and the season was effectively toast from that point on.
Last year’s catalyst for a meltdown could have been prevented – Alcides Escobar committed the error, and if he gets that out, the groundout that scored the tying run would have ended the game. On Saturday night, the Royals made an error – but on the basepaths – that could have gotten them an insurance run. Miguel Tejada doubled and moved to third on a sacrifice by Elliot Johnson, then got caught too far off third and picked off. Even after Chris Getz‘s fly out, if Tejada’s still there, Alex Gordon would have had a shot to bring him in.
It’s easy and expected and justified to be disappointed after a loss like that. I understand the worry, as well, since sudden a drastic swing can conjure the feeling of impending doom, and with last year’s early collapse in the back of everyone’s heads – including the players – maybe there’s a slight cause for worry.
The big difference between this season and last season is that the game after Broxton’s implosion was started by Luke Hochevar. Sunday’s game will see James Shields take the mound, a significant upgrade. His job at the top of the rotation is to take the ball in situation’s like this and be the stopper. He’s the reason most feel that another 12-game losing streak can’t happen again.
It’s fair to worry. It’s fair to be disappointed. But it’s not 2012 anymore and the Royals hope James Shields makes that point emphatically on Sunday and calms a fanbase’s nerves.