Let’s see if I can get this one straight. My Royals are losing by thee runs in the ninth inning. They get two guys on base, and slap-hitting Tony Graffanino is due up. Matt Stairs, a hulking, clutch-hitting, lefthanded batter is sitting on the bench. The Royals signed him for situations like this.
Tony Pena signals for Stairs to go face fireballing White Sox closer Billy Koch.Jose Guillen, the new White Sox manager, knows what Matt Stairs does to fireballing right-handed pitchers, so he summons the left-handed Damaso Marte from the bullpen, liking those odds better, since Stairs hasn’t batted against a left-handed pitcher since Warren G. Harding was president.
Pena, not wanting to be the first manager in decades to let Stairs hit against a left-hander, especially a left-hander he’s never so much as watched from the bench, looks around for a right handed hitter. There’s backup catcher Kelly Stinnett, who’s two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Stairs. Career batting average: .236. And there’s Mendy Lopez, a utility infielder the Royals keep around solely because he knows how to play 8 different positions. Career batting average: .257. And a few pitchers, but most of them hadn’t batted against a left-handed pitcher since before Harding was president. Or Little League, whichever was earlier.
Pickings were slim.
If I were managing the Royals, I’d take my chances with Stairs.
But I’m not managing the Royals. Tony Pena is. And what did Tony Pena do? He motioned for Lopez, because Lopez had seen Marte so many times playing against each other in winter ball. Pena ordered Lopez to hit a home run.
Now, Lopez has up until this moment hit a grand total of five home runs in his 7-year career. The Royals have guys who can hit that many in a single game. Tell a guy like Lopez to hit a home run, and more than likely he’s going to strike out trying.
So what’s Lopez do?
He plants a 420-foot bomb behind the center field fence. This is the same fence the Royals moved back 10 feet in the offseason because they were tired of musclebound teams like the White Sox coming into town and hitting 47 home runs in a weekend.
Game tied, 7-7. Now it’s a new game, the Royals have home field advantage, and if it goes into extra innings, well, Mendy Lopez knows how to play second base.
Angel Berroa, the incumbent Rookie of the Year (deal with it, Steinbrenner), followed with a single, bringing up Carlos Beltran, the most underrated player in the game. Beltran hit one into the left-field fountains, a mere 408 feet away. Upstaged by Mendy Lopez. How insulting.
But 408-foot homers count just as much as the wimpy 312-foot homers a left-handed hitter can hit at Yankee Stadium. Game over. Royals win, 9-7.
I think this is going to be a good year.