A Dud of a Home Opener Won’t Suppress Optimism


Thank God I didn’t take off work for Opening Day.

That’s what I thought to myself late Friday afternoon as I watched the first inning of the Kansas City Royals’ home opener on DVR delay. What else was there to think as the worst case scenario was playing out before our eyes like a nightmare designed by Freddy Krueger.

It would be difficult to imagine a worse welcome for Royals Nation than the one provided by starting pitcher Luke Hochever. After a sellout crowd shelled out big bucks for tickets, gas, parking, food, drinks, merchandise, and carousel rides, Hochevar allowed the Indians to batter him like a speed bag in the first inning.

I’m barely exaggerating.

And the day started with such promise. The sun peaked out from behind the clouds. There was a packed house of fans brimming with optimism. Alex Gordon received his Golden Glove award in a pregame ceremony. The Royals obliged the will of the people by orchestrating a military flyover.

I was definitely jealous. And then Luke Hochevar took the hill.

Cleveland lead-off hitter Michael Brantley – riding a devastating 0-15 stretch – singled sharply to lead off the game. This was not a good sign for Hochevar, who has always struggled with men on base. In his career, he has allowed a robust .304/.372/.478 line with runners on.

Second hitter Asdrubal Cabrera sensed the blood in the water, ripping a double into the left field corner that put runners at second and third with no outs. At this point, Royals color commentator Rex Hudler opined that Hochevar could be suffering from Opening Day jitters. I foolishly (and somewhat desperately) accepted this theory.

Shin-Soo Choo didn’t bite, though, and knocked the runners in with a seeing eye single that slipped just under second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt‘s glove*.

*Yuni later booted a routine ground ball. Insert snide Yuni joke here.

Hochevar pulled it together long enough to strike out clean-up hitter Carlos Santana, although Choo did steal second on the strikeout pitch. When Travis Hafner grounded meekly to Eric Hosmer for the second out of the inning, the situation almost seemed palatable. A two run deficit is a manageable position.

And then Shelley Duncan ruined that fleeting moment of hope with one positively hideous, “oopsy-daisy” swing. Hochevar delivered a high 95 miles per hour fastball that Duncan tried to keep himself from swinging at. Only it was too late: In his effort to halt the swingm Duncan’s back foot had twisted awkwardly below his body, his head turned, eyes half closed. Of course, he blooped a soft single over the head of Hosmer, scoring Choo.

Casey Kotchman followed that up with a single, as Hudler acknowledged that Hochevar was finding “too much of the plate.” On his next pitch, Hochevar grooved a fastball to new batter Jason Kipnis. It couldn’t have been juicier if it was placed on a tee. Kipnis predictably crushed a shot to the center field wall, just over the outstretched glove of Jarrod Dyson, scoring two runs to make it a 5-0 game. Things were quickly spiraling out of control.

On the next pitch, Jack Hannahan ripped a single to center field to score Kipnis. Hochevar threw a wild pitch, and then Michael Brantley (you getting deja vu yet?) crushed a double off the top of the right field wall. 7-0 Indians. The dismal turn of events led to this rich exchange between the Royals TV team of Hudler and Ryan Lefebvre.

Lefevbre: “Not what the folks had in mind when they walked through the turnstiles today.”

Hudler (subdued):  “Not at all.”

That was pretty much that. The Royals tried to make a game of it, scoring three unanswered runs to get the score to 7-3. But they ultimately perished, falling by a final count of 8-3.

The story of the game, though, was that first inning. After that fiasco, the revelry dissipated abruptly.

To add injury to insult, Hochevar took a hard line drive off the inside of his left ankle in the fourth inning. Although x-rays were negative, He could wind up missing his next start.

So, yeah, Opening Day was a disappointment. But that didn’t stop me from watching the game. It didn’t stop me from appreciating doubles from Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler (he leads the American League!). It definitely didn’t stop me from being spellbound by the triple digit fastballs Kelvin Herrera was slinging to home plate.

Even in the worst case scenario, I couldn’t help from being drawn into the game. There are so many intriguing parts on this team. For the first time in ages – even with a couple of bumps in the road – it’s going to be a fun year to be a Royals fan.

There’s another game tonight, and I for one will be praying for the weather gods to leave Kauffman Stadium alone.

I need to get the bitter taste from last night out of my mouth immediately.

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