Morning Juice: Royals set fire to Wood, barbecue Indians in 9th

David Brown
May 20, 2009
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This and every weekday a.m. during baseball season, let's rise and shine together to recap the most recent diamond doings. Roll Call starts in Kansas City, Mo., home of Kauffman Stadium and the world's finest barbecue. In those traditions, the Royals put Kerry Wood(notes) on a spit and charcoaled the Indians in a classic ninth-inning meltdown. Could Indians manager Eric Wedge have prevented the fire?

Game of the Day
Royals 6, Indians 5

How do you feel about Cleveland? From the Tribe's perspective, this one can be viewed two different ways.

1) Kerry Wood, the $31-million closer, simply failed to hold Cliff Lee's(notes) 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, with the Royals rallying behind back-to-back home runs by Mike Jacobs(notes) and Mark Teahen(notes), along with a sacrifice fly by Willie Bloomquist(notes).

"It just didn't work out for us," Wedge said. "Wood's been through all the battles, as a starter, as a closer. He has tremendous presence out there, but tonight they just got to him."

2) Lee was cruising along, la-la-la, having allowed two runs and thrown 101 pitches over eight innings, but Wedge took him out because, apparently, "that's what managers are supposed to do" these days come the ninth.

"He's the guy you were going to," Wedge said after Wood's second blown save of the season. "That's the reason he's here. A three-run lead in the ninth inning is the best situation for any closer."

Wood blew it, sure. But did Wedge blow it first by relying on an overused tactic in a situation that called for something else?

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Over the Cliff: Considering Lee wasn't throwing a no-hitter or even a shutout, and his pitch count wasn't exceptionally low, most other mangers, most other times, probably would have gone to the closer. If the Indians had anyone they really trusted in the eighth, Wedge might have taken out Lee sooner.

But, should Lee have been removed? Was he fatigued? I can't tell from any of the stories I've seen if he was even asked — by a reporter, by Wedge, by anyone. He retired his last eight batters and his 101 pitches were the second-lowest of the season; his average had been 108.

Is the point of the closer just to pitch the ninth inning of a relatively close game, accumulate saves and justify his expense, or is he there to get a save in the statistical sense and figurative sense? Did Cliff need to be saved?

Verdict: If Lee's not tired and could have pitched the ninth, Wedge was being a sheep. Bahh! General manager Mark Shapiro bought him an expensive toy, a closer, in the wake of the demoralizing ninth innings of 2008. The Indians might have won the AL Central if the back of their bullpen had been in order. These factors probably went into Wedge's thinking. When it came to push the ninth-inning button, he did it. He's no fool. Except, that, he was.

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Feelin' Rundown (neither Kerry Wood nor Eric Wedge messed up any of these games):

Yankees 9, Orioles 1: A-Rod has seven hits since coming off the DL on May 8, and five of them are homers. It was tough to hit home runs to left-center in the old Stadium, but A-Rod just gets the ball up into the jet stream, or something, and finds plenty of life in what was Death Valley across the street. Imagine what this guy could be doing if he were still on Vitamin S.

Brewers 4, Astros 2: We interrupt these six solid innings from Dave Bush(notes) to report that another player has stolen home. Kaz Matsui swiped the plate in the first during a double-steal-rundown thingie the Brewers messed up. Good to see Matsui recovered from his (whispering voice) anal fissures of a season ago. ... We interrupt these anal fissures to report that relief pitcher Russ Ortiz(notes) has hit a home run, his seventh dinger in nearly 500 career plate apps. ... We interrupt this home run to report that Mike Hampton(notes) cut his left thumb on a soap dispenser in a shower at Wrigley Field last week and had to leave this game after four innings.

Tigers 4, Rangers 1: Dontrelle Willis(notes) rolled up his sleeves (and his socks), went to work and something funny happened. He pitched great! Detroit is a Pistons town, of course, but everyone checks out those Calves when D-Train pitches.

Phillies 4, Reds 3: Hamels usually pitches well at Great American, where he made his big league debut in '06. The Phillies' rotation ranked last in the NL with a 6.35 ERA. Really? ... Still no word about Joey Votto(notes). It's still probably just the flu. But, as one of our commenters suggested, what about vertigo? Get Nick Esasky on the blower.

Red Sox 2, Blue Jays 1: Knuckles Wakefield was back in form, except for one he left hanging for Millahhh! ... Another solid outing for Brian Tallet(notes), whose mustache was hurt by the very bottom of the Red Sox lineup. How to explain this? I am aware of Jeff Bailey(notes), but every time I see him mentioned, I feel like going, "Who?" ... Big Papi still 0-for-season.

Pirates 8, Nationals 5 (10 inn.): The Nats have dropped six in a row while scoring at least five runs in each defeat; they are only the fourth team ever to do so. Look at Manny Acta, checking the stats: "We continue to put runs on the board, Acta said. "This is the 10th game in a row where we score five or more runs — and we're 1-9. That tells you the story right now."

Angels 6, Mariners 5: It wasn't his best game, but 30-year-old rookie Matt Palmer(notes) improved to 5-0. The moral of his story: if you have a dream, don't let go of it until you're at least 31.

D-backs 5, Marlins 3: ... When, all of a sudden, the Snakes struck for five runs against Josh Johnson(notes) and Rey Pinto in the seventh. Then, with their work done, they slithered back into their little wicker basket.

Athletics 4, Rays 1 (11 inn.): This was scoreless through 10 but a rare error by Jason Bartlett(notes) set up Matt Holliday(notes) to hit a three-run, go-ahead homer. The Rays won games like this last year, ain't doing it this year, and that's why they're not going to make it back to the playoffs.

Dodgers 5, Mets 3: The New Yorkers have allowed 20 unearned runs in 39 games. It's a good thing bad defense don't hurt ya'. ... Orlando Hudson(notes) has a bruised shoulder, but is OK, Torre reports. ... One homer allowed in 61 innings for Billingsley.

White Sox 6, Twins 2: Mark Buehrle(notes) is about the only reason to turn on a White Sox game these days. Unless you're Jonesing for Laynce Nix(notes). ... Mentally, the Twinkies were still in New York City, where they dropped four games by what seemed like a combined two runs.

Braves 8, Rockies 1: Todd Helton(notes) reaches 2,000 hits, for real this time. Unless he already did.

Cardinals 3, Cubs 0: A three-hitter (only one for extra bases) by Joel Pineiro(notes). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: pitching coach Dave Duncan is worth his weight in beer to St. Louis. Pitching coach Dave Duncan is worth his weight in beer to St. Louis. Told you I'd say it again.

Padres 2, Giants 1: Zito continues to take baby steps back toward $126-million respectability. He dropped to 1-4, but he's not nearly the basket case he was at this time last season when he was on the way to 0-8. It would help if the Giants scored better than 1.25 runs a game for him, probably, but they're not going to light up the scoreboard for anybody.