COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals did nothing to smooth the interstate tension between their two clubs in the final game of their home-and-home interleague series May 30. In fact, the largely one-sided rivalry characterized by one team's bitterness and the other's indifference may have taken a couple of steps backward.
The Cardinals' 35-18 record to open the season is in stark contrast to another disappointing season in Kansas City. With a 22-29 record, Kansas City finds itself in last place in the American League Central -- again. To make matters worse, before May 30, the Royals were enjoying an eight-game losing streak to cap a 4-19 record since May 6.
Recent history aside, it wasn't supposed to be like this for Kansas City this year. Perhaps that's why Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost were so desperate for a win in the series finale at Busch Stadium.
A Masterful Start and a Disastrous Decision
After a masterful start in his major-league debut that saw Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha throw seven innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts and no walks, even Royals new hitting coach George Brett admitted to thoughts of a no-hitter. But Wacha would eventually hand the game to the bullpen with a 2-1 lead.
With closer Edward Mujica unavailable due to a heavy workload the past week, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny turned to Mitchell Boggs to close it out in the ninth -- not Trevor Rosenthal, as expected.
Boggs promptly gave up a game-tying home run to pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur, Royals outfielder and favorite punching bag for fans in the KC area. Matheny replaced him with Victor Marte, a recent call-up from Triple-A, who hit a batter, made a throwing error, and gave up a two-run double to Eric Hosmer. The Royals had a 4-2 lead in the ninth, and Wacha's first major-league win was gone.
And then the heavy rains arrived and things got interesting.
A Nagging Little Rule
With one rain delay before the game started, umpiring crew chief Joe West was forced to halt play for a second rain delay in the ninth. Hours later, confused and tired, fans were still waiting on a decision from West and his crew.
Under normal circumstances, the umpires would have two available options: They could wait out the rain and finish the game, or they could suspend it to be finished later in the season. All things considered, most preferred the second choice.
But then there was this nagging little rule in the MLB rulebook.
In short, the rule said the game -- because it was the final game to be played between the two teams this season, and because the Royals had taken a lead in the top half of the ninth by scoring more than one run -- would have to revert back to the score at the end of the last completed inning if suspended. That meant a 2-1 lead in the eighth and a Cardinals victory.
So Joe West decided to wait. After more than four hours, the rain finally stopped but the drama was just beginning.
Theater of the Absurd at Busch Stadium
With the rains finally over, West and his umpires walked out to check the playing conditions of a field recently rebuilt after hosting an international soccer match earlier in the week. The Fox Sports Midwest postgame show would later observe that the umpires seemed ready to call the game due to unplayable conditions, but then a surreal scene developed on the field.
Royals GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost approached the umpires and started lobbying to play. After a bit of cajoling, the umpires seemed to be coming around, which prompted Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny to join the fray.
Before long, the theater at Busch Stadium had become host to the absurd.
Mike Matheny stomped around the field and angrily pointed out unplayable conditions, at one point even attempting to convince Moore and an irate Ned Yost of the risk to the players. Mozeliak, meanwhile, was on his cell phone on the field, presumably in an effort to gain an ally in the MLB offices. And all the while, the grounds crew -- after head groundskeeper Bill Findley visibly expressed frustration with Joe West's request to get the field ready -- worked diligently to turn the swamp into a beach with drying agent that resembled sand. Royals announcers seemed to believe their seemingly slow pace was intentional to allow the Cardinals time to wiggle out of finishing the game.
But despite the Cardinals' best efforts to erase Matheny's decision to use Boggs in the ninth, the game finally resumed at 3:04 a.m. the morning of May 31. Both lineups went down in order and the game ended in a Royals victory.
West Pities Royals
Most reasonable fans and media agreed the Royals deserved to win the game. Yes, Mozeliak and Matheny expressed considerable concern over the risk to players on a field better-suited to motocross than baseball, but I'm sure at least a part of their protest was an attempt to gain an undeserved win.
But in the end, the most significant factor may not have been injury risk or protecting the integrity of a game.
According to this piece appearing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 31, Jeff Francoeur offered a bit of insight into Joe West's thought process during that bizarre scene on the field.
"We owe Joe (West) a lot of credit for sticking through this with us tonight and giving us an opportunity. Joe knew, A, we'd been struggling and, B, when you come back and do that it's not fair to the team to just can the game and go back to the last inning."
The problem in that statement is the "Joe knew we'd been struggling" part. In effect, he pitied them. The head umpire in a major-league game made a decision to risk player injuries on a debatably playable surface because, in part, he pitied the struggles the Royals had endured during the month of May.
That should never happen. Granted, the rule that would have given the Cardinals a win is an odd rule and should be changed, but it exists for a reason -- to prevent players from completing games at a ridiculous hour on a dangerous playing surface. The decision to play or not to play should be based on those factors, not an umpire's personal feelings for a team's plight.
But then again, Major League Baseball created ridiculous situations like this by insisting on odd schedules to accommodate interleague matchups. Maybe it should take a look at that practice first, and then it can address horrendous rules created to deal with it.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast every Sunday evening at Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- Kansas City Royals
- Mike Matheny
- Joe West