paced the offense with a 3-for-3 night, including his first Major League homer, and Runelvys Hernandez
had his third straight quality start as the Royals topped Jeff Weaver
and the Dodgers, 3-2. There were some anxious moments in the ninth -- as there usually are when Mike MacDougal
enters a close ballgame -- but in the end, the Royals bullpen delivered three scoreless innings to secure the victory. A few things stand out...Elvys was throwing HARD. He got several pitches up to the 94-95 mph range, and his splitter had really nice sinking movement. His control was stellar tonight, as he walked nobody while throwing 60 of his 92 pitches for strikes. Of the eight hits he surrendered, only a few (including the two home runs) were actually hit hard -- the rest were on broken bat bloopers or seeing-eye singles. Manager Buddy Bell made the right call to pull him after six innings, as the Dodgers were due to send up a couple lefties in the seventh, including the red hot Hee-Seop Choi, who hit his seventh homer in four games off of Hernandez in the first. Jeremy Affeldt came in and dispatched the Dodgers in order with a 1-2-3 seventh. Hernandez is looking really good right now, and he managed to get his ERA under 5 for the first time in a while.RC had the pleasure of watching Costa over half a dozen times as he was developing in the Carolina League last season, but we never imagined he could contribute at the Major League level so quickly. Costa is locked in right now, and he's starting to spray line drives all over the field. He's certain to go through some rough stretches, but right now he doesn't look overwhelmed at all. Ambiorix Burgos was throwing some serious heat tonight. He came into the game after Affeldt walked J.D. Drew to lead off the eighth inning, and he struck out the side. He got Jeff Kent swinging on a beautiful split fingered fastball, and after plunking Olmedo Saenz with a misguided splitter, he worked the ladder to strike out Jayson Werth on three blazing fastballs. Jason Grabowski followed, but he didn't even have a chance. Burgos is just nasty, and RC doesn't understand how anyone manages to put the ball in play against him.This was the type of game that the Royals had no chance of winning earlier in the season. Something is most definitely different, and we're getting closer to the point that we can begin to suggest that Buddy Bell's influence has been the difference maker. It could be that the Royals have just been lucky for the past 13 games, and they will regress as quickly as they have improved. But there's no looking past this interesting footnote:
Tony Pena's 2005 record: 8-25
Buddy Bell's 2005 record: 9-4
Bell's brief Royals career is already littered with evidence of how he is a better fit for this team than his predecessor. The latest example of this occurred tonight in the lineup: Tony Graffanino did not play. Graf is the Royal's hottest hitter, and as hot as he is, there's no doubt that Pena would have started him every night until he cooled off. Of course, those starts would come at the expense of Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay. In a season such as this, the most important determinant of success is not measured in wins. Rather, it's measured in the development of our younger players. Graffanino's absence, while a seemingly minor event, speaks volumes about Bell's ultimate understanding of what it's going to take to build a winner in Kansas City. I don't think Pena ever got that memo.
Of course, it's also nice to win. I don't know what it is, but this team has been incredibly fun to watch for the past few weeks. Here's hoping they keep it up.