Easy to miss amid the excitement of the otherwise utterly riveting, record-breaking game the KC Royals and New York Yankees blessed baseball with Monday night was the short performance of a pitcher who, in the twilight of his career, refuses to give in.
Nothing he did in two-thirds of an inning ultimately broke the contest one way or the other, but there was Wade Davis entering the game with two runners on in the 10th inning after Richard Lovelady gave New York a two-run lead. Davis increased the tension of the moment by walking the first Yankee he faced, but then retired the next two to close out the frame. Limiting the damage to the runs Lovelady surrendered kept the game within reach and enabled the Royals to tie it up in their half of the frame.
Few, if any, observers of the 11-inning affair, which KC lost 8-6, will remember Davis’ three-batter effort, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important in the grand scheme of his 2021, a season that began with the promise of an Opening Day save but soon gave way to dismal performances rendering the end of his second go-round with the Royals inevitable, if not imminent.
Keeping Davis seemed especially inadvisable after his irrelevant, but shaky and ugly, two innings against Texas June 26. The two runs he gave up capped a terrible stretch over which Davis surrendered 23 runs in 25.2 innings. He went to the Injured List three days later with a right forearm strain.
There was little if any reason, other than General Manager Dayton Moore’s fondness for giving struggling veterans a venue to rebuild and rejuvenate their careers. But it seemed time for even the eternally optimistic Moore to admit Davis, once the middle piece of the Royals’ feared “H-D-H” late-inning relief threesome, and then a star closer in his own right, probably didn’t and couldn’t figure into the KC Royals’ plans after this season.
Davis, though, appears determined to defy his detractors. And time. Since returning from the IL July 17, he’s been a different pitcher, one looking more like the old Davis than the one who’s struggled so many times this season.
In eight appearances, Davis hasn’t given up a run, earned or unearned. He’s struck out only five of the 24 batters he’s faced, but he’s also walked only two. The two singles opposing batters have managed both came in the same game, so Davis has held teams hitless seven times. He has a save.
Davis’ ERA, an astronomical 8.06 when he went on the IL, is now 6.34.
What does Wade Davis’ turnaround mean for his future with the KC Royals?
Whether the forearm strain that forced him to the IL contributed to his difficulties for an extended period is unknown, but his success since returning certainly begs the question. What’s clear, though, and regardless of cause, is that Davis, who turns 36 next month, found something, somewhere that turned his pitching around.
Will this god fortune continue? Hopefully. And if it does, Davis will have made a case to return to Kansas City next season.
Whether the club should bring him back is, of course, an entirely different issue. Davis doesn’t have the velocity he used to, nor does he dominate hitters like he once did. Even if he can pitch next year as well as he has over the last month, his championship experience and mentoring will constitute his greatest values—there are younger hurlers in the Royals’ system who can fill his shoes on the mound.
So, the answer may well be that even pitching well for the rest of this season doesn’t justify Davis coming back, not if it blocks any younger pitcher or if his 2022 role will be minimal. Instead, making 2021 a respectable campaign is the ideal way for Davis to bow out.
Wade Davis is pitching well again. Let’s hope he keeps it up.