Exactly five years ago, on August 28, 2009, my dad and I were at Busch Stadium in St. Louis watching the Cardinals play the Washington Nationals.
We were sitting out by the left field foul pole – my least favorite spot to sit in any ballpark – but on this night, I wouldn’t’ve wanted to be sitting anywhere else. In the bottom of the 8th, Khalil Greene had hit a solo homer that bounced off the top of the wall right in front of us to tie the ballgame, 2-2.
The Cardinals shortstop, Brendan Ryan, grounded out to short to end the inning, and Jason Motte – then an unproven catcher-turned-relief pitcher – came in to pitch the top half of the 9th. He stranded a 1 out double, and got out of the inning with no harm done.
I glanced up at the scoreboard to see who was leading off for the Cardinals in the final frame. I read the name, and turned to my dad. “Ballgame.”
“What?” He asked, “It’s still tied. Cards need to score here.”
I nodded, “Yep. And look who’s leading off.”
He checked the scoreboard. Up next: Albert Pujols.
Sure enough, three pitches later, we watched the ball jump off Albert’s bat, sail over our heads past Big Mac Land and into the concourse. Walkoff. Cardinals won, 3-2.
That is how last night should have ended at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals were going for the sweep against Minnesota. They’d managed to steal both of the previous games: Gordon’s walkoff had taken game one on Tueaday, and a six-run 8th inning had fueled them on Wednesday.
The Twins kept scoring runs, but the Royals managed to keep pace. 2-0 Twins. Then 2-2. 4-2 Twins, then 4-4. 5-4 Twins, then 5-5 on Alex Gordon’s 119th career HR – passing Wade Boggs for the most HRs all time by a Nebraska native.
Early on, it felt like Minnesota would eventually manage to keep KC from matching their offense. But as the game went on, things slowly started to feel destined to go the Royals way. Maybe we were just used to dramatic wins at that point.
I was reminded of that night at Busch five years ago the moment Alcides Escobar grounded out to short to end the 8th. He stepped on the bag and I thought, “Wait. I’ve seen this before.” Deja vu, I guess. A flashback or something. Remembering the scenario, I looked down at my lineup and noticed who was due up in the bottom of the 9th…
It was exactly how the 8th had ended in STL. I knew exactly how this would shake down because I’d seen it before. First, Greg Holland would come in and mow ’em down. Then #GordoBomb and we all #GordoHome.
In came Greg Holland. He worked around a 1 out walk to Brian Dozier – Salvador Perez threw out Dozier trying to steal second with ease from his knees for the second out – and as Kurt Suzuki grounded out to end the inning, I even said it aloud: “Ballgame.”
Up came Alex – just two nights removed from his two-run walkoff homer on Tuesday night. Everyone was standing, cheering, hoping. The Twins had brought in Brian Duensing – sounds like a typical, run of the mill, loser. A home run machine, no doubt.
But Alex got under it a bit and flew out to center field.
No matter. Billy Butler will jack one next. The Twins changed pitchers – this time Anthony Swarzak – another loser, guaranteed.
Billy got a good swing on it, but couldn’t get his arms extended and flew out to right field.
No matter. Salvy will jack one instead. But he ripped a single up the middle instead. Which brought up Josh Willingham, who grounded to short to end the inning.
It felt wrong. Like somehow the Twins had managed to sever time and create an alternative universe where the course of events aren’t what then should be. Like LOST, season six. The Royals were supposed to walkoff. Something went awry.
It was like when Marty McFly* and his siblings start disappearing from the Polaroid because George and Lorraine don’t go to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance together. “They’re supposed to go to this. This is where they kiss for the first time.” Sorry, Marty. Not in this new universe.
* – Two consecutive Royals posts with BTTF references. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
Because in this Universe, Bruce Chen is coming in to pitch the 10th, and Bruce Chen is going to face 10 batters in the inning, and Bruce Chen is going to let six of them score.
The Royals went quietly in the bottom half, and the Twins won 11-5. Weird.
Fans immediately went to Twitter to rip Ned Yost for putting Chen in the game at all, but it’s not Ned’s fault, and it’s not Chen’s fault either. Well, it is Chen’s since he was terrible and gave up all of the runs. But there’s a reason he’s only pitched 3 other times in the past month…he just isn’t very good.
Now I love Bruce, we all do. The fans love him. The players love him. He’s hilarious. He’s always the go-to comedic relief for in between inning gimmicks. There was also that one time a few years back when Will Ferrell was mic’d up in the dugout seats at The K and kept screaming, “C’MON CHEN,” over and over, and that only adds to his loveably goofy persona.
And as much as I love the guy, it pains me to say that he shouldn’t be on this team.
Come to think of it, why is he on this team?
Well, he began the season as a starter. Yost gave him a slot in the rotation over Danny Duffy, who – as I wrote on Wednesday morning – is our best pitcher and ace of the future. When Yordano Ventura missed a couple starts with some elbow soreness, Duffy moved into the rotation and nearly threw a no hitter. So when Ventura came back, they sent Chen to the ‘pen instead of Duffman.
That’s when Chen morphed into the in-case-of-injury spot starter/innings-eater-upper-in-a-blowout guy. But the Royals starters have been strangely healthy all season (Kudos to their training staff) so that part of Chen’s roll is gone. Then as the Triforce emerged – that is, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – they looked to Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno to cover the blowouts.
Wade Davis had thrown 24 pitches the two nights before, so he wasn’t available to pitch. Bueno had already pitched earlier in the game, as had Jason Frasor, and Aaron Crow had just been optioned to NW Arkansas for the weekend until rosters expand next week to make space for the Royals newest acquisition, Jayson Nix.
Bruce Chen was the only option Ned Yost had.
Okay, they had Scott Downs too, who just came off the DL, but in a knotted game with no bullpen left, you gotta go with the guy who can eat up more innings.
You can say Ned used his bullpen wrong to that point. But if they’d walked off like they were supposed to, then we wouldn’t have a problem, would we? Hindsight.
So they had no choice but to send out a guy who has zero roll on this team to keep us in a tie ballgame in extra innings. It was what it was, and it wasn’t great.
I’m absolutely not suggesting that GMDM hasn’t put together a solid bullpen. On the contrary, he has proven that it’s his area of expertise. He simply botched the last 24 hours of roster moves in favor of Chen.
And that just can’t happen. Because it’s Bruce Chen.
The question is not, why did Ned send in Chen?” The real question is, “how does a 25-man roster get to the point that the manager has nothing else to do but to feed good ole Bruce to the wolves?” In all honesty, I think all of us – GM Dayton Moore included – just love him too much to actually think of giving him the axe.
Aaron Crow got shipped to NW Arkansas for a week because they favored Bruce Chen? No way. They kept Chen because he was co-hosting the Royals Social event with Joel Goldberg! They’d been talking it up for days – can’t send the guy down the day he’s supposed to do that!
Even after his miserable showing, I still struggle with the thought of DFAing Bruce Chen. Just let him hang around and be apart of the 40-man September roster, right? He’s been here for long enough that he deserves to celebrate a postseason berth with the rest of us.
That’s what I want them to do, but it’s not what they need to do. They need to cut Chen and be done with him. He has no roll on this team anymore.
It’s unfortunate that Bruce had to bear that awful outing. He never should’ve been out there because Moore should have been more thoughtful with the roster situation over between now and expansion next week. This loss is on him for letting Bruce hang around when he needs to be cut.
So on a night that felt destined for a walkoff, this morning you could glance at the box scores and not even realize the game was ever even close. Everything seemed to align perfectly for another unbelievable moment. But the moment came and went giving way to the reality that Bruce Chen might be done with the Royals soon.
Poor Bruce. He was just the victim of reality not going the way it was supposed to go. And now, like Marty McFly in the Polaroid, he’s about to be erased from existence on this team.
UPDATE: As of about 30 minutes ago Bruce Chen had been DFA’d. So, I feel like a terrible person, but it’s the right move for a division contending and championship chasing team. All the best to you, Chen.