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Winning Ways

Dec 03, 2014 -- 3:38pm

By Jeff Montgomery

Winning the American League Championship certainly has a way of turning the spotlight on an organization. The Royals were recently recognized by Baseball America as the Organization of the Year for the second time in team history after their World Series appearance this fall. Their other Organization of the Year award came after the 1994 season. This year’s 89 victories and first postseason appearance in many Kansas Citians lifetime provided an opportunity for the City to fall in love with the Royals again.

The 12-inning Wild Card Game win over the Oakland A’s and sweeps of the Angels and Orioles also gave many baseball fans across America a chance to root for their new favorite team, a team that was in search of the second World Series Championship in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Boys in Blue came up 90 feet short of winning the World Series but provided an unforgettable October for millions.

It will be interesting to see if winning the A.L. Championship will also give the Royals an opportunity to attract free agents that in the recent past have not considered signing with the organization because of their track record of not appearing in the post season. Such was not the case earlier when Torii Hunter signed with the Minnesota Twins to return to the organization that drafted him. Hunter would likely have been a very good fit for the Royals who benefited from having veteran presence on their team last year after signing Raul Ibanez. If Hunter is able to stay healthy he will provide the leadership of an Ibanez with nice production to go along with it. Unfortunately, the Royals will now have to switch to an alternate plan to replace Nori Aoki in Right Field.

In addition to replacing Aoki in right, someone or some group of others will need to replace the bat of Billy Butler. Losing Butler could have a more significant impact than most people think unless someone emerges as a consistent Designated Hitter. Right handed hitters with power are hard to find these days as we saw last summer when almost every team in baseball was trying to land a right handed hitter with power at the trade deadline. The Royals were able to trade for Josh Willingham but injuries did not allow him to produce at the level which was expected and it was ironic to see that Billy Butler heated up during the second half of the season to be the right handed bat the Royals needed.

Another opportunity to see how winning will work in attracting free agents will likely be tested as the Royals will attempt to replace James Shields with an experienced arm for the rotation. Word on the street is that Ervin Santana could be wearing Royal blue again. The Royals playoff run and the depth of quality relievers in the bullpen should make pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium an attractive home for anyone trying to make a living pitching a baseball.

As the Organization of the Year, there should be plenty of depth in the organization to insure the team is competitive for years to come. It will be fun to see how the team responds now that everyone expects them to win.


2014 "Wild" Series

Oct 19, 2014 -- 9:00am

By Jeff Montgomery

While talking about the World Series with some friends, I asked, “Have two Wild Card teams ever faced each other in the World Series?” Although no one could remember such a series, the Giants actually faced the Angels in the 2002 World Series.


As Wild Card teams, both the Giants and Royals have beaten the odds and survived the elimination Wild Card Game, the Divisional Series, and the League Championship Series to advance to the Fall Classic. Both teams have played some very exciting games in the Post-Season and found different ways to win baseball games by narrow margins.


Even though the Royals hit the fewest amount of homeruns during the regular season, they have encountered a power surge to add the homerun as another way to win along with their always present speed, defense, and pitching, especially their relief pitching.


Like the Royals, the San Francisco Giants have found some interesting ways to win in the Post-season themselves by taking advantage of wild pitches, walk-off errors, and walk-off homeruns as ways to win. Also like the Royals, the Giants won less than 90 games during the regular season and find themselves still alive in the post-season tournament and have proven several experts wrong in their post-season predictions.


This World Series is certain to be a “Wild” Series with both Wild Card teams squaring off to see who will be the last team standing which makes it almost impossible to predict a winner. However, if you want to base a prediction on the past, the Royals swept the Giants in a three game series at Kauffman Stadium this summer and the Royals were 15-5 against National League foes in 2014. Also, the Giants did lose to the aforementioned Angels in the 2002 matchup between the two Wild Card teams. We all know history has a way of repeating itself. Will it in this year’s Wild Series?

Bullpen Remains Key

Sep 15, 2014 -- 3:03pm

After Sunday’s frustrating 8-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox, there were several people questioning Ned Yost’s usage of his bullpen - which is what happens when managers make moves that don’t work out. The blame should always be on the player but unfortunately, the manager is the one who puts the player in a position to either succeed or fail. On Sunday, it was Aaron Crow who failed to execute the manager’s plan when he surrendered a grand slam in the sixth inning.


By Jeff Montgomery

When looking deeper into the game situation, it is easy for anyone to be critical of Ned Yost’s plan that didn’t work. I agreed with Ned’s reasoning for not bringing in a left-hander to face Daniel Nava who hit the grand slam off Aaron Crow. Had a left-hander entered the game to face Nava, a potential long ball threat named Mike Napoli would have entered the game. A very similar situation occurred back on July 18 when the Royals were playing the Red Sox in Boston and Ned replaced James Shields with Scott Downs to face lefty Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Following the move, right-handed batting Jonny Gomes was summoned to pinch-hit and responded with a two-run home run to put the Red Sox on top. Yost admitted after the game that he gambled and lost, as he did not think Sox Manager John Farrell would pinch-hit in the sixth inning.


It will be interesting to see if Ned Yost will change his thinking regarding the usage of his three top relievers with less than two weeks of baseball remaining on the schedule. Although Aaron Crow has had some moments lately to indicate he may be ready for some high-leverage situations, it seems risky to chance that Crow will have the consistent command to survive outings like Sunday when you have Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland rested. Before Sunday’s game Herrera had only appeared twice and thrown 32 pitches in the last six games while Davis and Holland had only appeared once each and thrown 18 pitches each in the last six games.


While the top three of Herrera, Davis, and Holland can stack up against any teams top three at the back end of their bullpen, the remainder of the Royals bullpen is not as consistent. Since June 26th the top three have an ERA of 0.31 with 25 walks, 109 strikeouts, and 0 Home Runs allowed, while the remainder of the bullpen has a 5.23 ERA with 47 walks, 83 strikeouts, and 15 home runs allowed.


In a perfect world it is great to be able to limit relievers roles to one inning stints and Ned’s thinking is one reason his big three has been so dominant. However, going down the stretch he may need to adjust his thinking in order to make sure that one of the teams biggest strengths is not sitting on the bullpen bench watching opportunities slip away.

Farewell to Captain Clutch

Sep 05, 2014 -- 11:35am

By Jeff Montgomery

The Royals only trip to Yankee Stadium this year was one that had major significance. Not only was it the first leg of one of the most important road trips in recent years, it also marked the last time the Royals would play a Yankees team Captained by Derek Jeter. And although Jeter’s numbers for 2014 are not anything close to the incredible numbers he was able to accumulate over the years, he is still an exciting player to watch as you never know what kind of spectacular play he will make next. He just doesn’t make the highlight reel as often now days.

Jeter made his first appearance with the Yankees in 1995 but it was his rookie season of 1996 when it became apparent that he was going to be a special player. His World Series performance that year was the impetus for one of his many nicknames including “Mr. November”, since Reggie Jackson had already claimed “Mr. October”. While most fans outside of New York, especially in Kansas City, hate on the Yankees it is easy to pull for a professional such as Derek Jeter.

Jeter is one of only three players (Rickey Henderson and Craig Biggio are the others) to have 3,000 hits, 250 home runs and 350 stolen bases during their careers. He will also retire with some pretty amazing numbers against the Royals too. In his career vs. KC he is 180-for-556 good for a .324 batting average with 22 doubles, 4 triples, 10 home runs, 65 RBI, and 103 runs scored.

I can remember experimenting with a side arm slider in Spring Training of 1997 when I threw a pitch to Jeter that was supposed to be low and away from him but actually drilled him in the back. After the game in Tampa at the Yankees Spring Training home I saw Jeter outside the clubhouse and he asked me if that was payback for him hitting the home run off me in 1996? It actually was not intended to be any form of retaliation but I told him “yes it was”. Since the home run he had hit in ’96 was an inside the park home run he just laughed and said “I would hate to see what you would do if I had it it out of the park”. A few weeks ago when the Yankees were in Kansas City I reminded him of that inside the park home run and he just chuckled as he had forgotten but thanked me for reminding him of it.

In a lot of ways it will be tough to see the player which Major League Baseball has used as its poster boy for so many years retire.  And while Number 2 will never be worn by another Yankee, Jeter will never be forgotten by baseball fans as he was one of the classiest players to ever wear a MLB uniform.

All-Star Game Memories

Jul 15, 2014 -- 7:34am

By Jeff Montgomery

Like most young baseball players, I grew up dreaming of playing in the Major Leagues and since I was from southern Ohio, I wanted my dream to come true in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. I was fortunate to have grown up following a team that was full of All-Stars which included the likes of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Davey Concepcion, George Foster, and Ken Griffey Sr. to name a few.


As I grew older my dream of playing in the Big Leagues never faded but I did come to realize that just because a player wanted to play in the Major Leagues there was no guarantee it would happen.  After being drafted in the 9th round of the 1983 June Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, my dream became a more realistic possibility. However, after spending just a few seasons in the Minor Leagues it was obvious to me that earning an opportunity to play Major League Baseball was enormously more difficult than anyone can imagine.


Fortunately my dream became a reality in 1987 when the Reds promoted me to the Big Leagues for the first time. After a lackluster finish to the ‘87 season I was blessed by being traded tot the Kansas City Royals. It was the opportunity provided by the Royals that allowed me to earn three American League All-Star Team berths.


July 14, 1992 – 63rd All-Star Game, Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego, California


Although I do remember that our American League team won the game big when we scored early and often against National League starting pitcher Tom Glavine, and that we would go on to win the game 13-6, I don’t remember most of the details of the game, but I do remember that Ken Griffey, Jr. was the Most Valuable Player of the game. I pitched 2/3 of an inning in the game and left with 2 runners on base which scored when Rick Aguilera relieved me and gave up an opposite field home run to Will Clark, who was the first batter Aguilera faced after replacing me in the game.


After traveling with my Manager, Hal McRae, who was named as a coach in the game from Milwaukee to San Diego, with a stop in Las Vegas, we arrived a the Marriott Marquis and Marina which was the spectacular team hotel. One of things I remember was the amount of activities going on in connection with the All-Star Game itself. I don’t remember if Major League Baseball had an official “Fanfest” at that time but there seemed to be activities and parties taking place around the clock. As a first time All-Star, I felt almost obligated to attend every event that I was invited to and by the end of the All-Star Break, I need a break! One bit of advise I always passed on to my teammates in later years that were attending their first All-Star Game was to enjoy as many events and activities as they could, but don’t get worn out trying to do everything.


The Home Run Derby on Monday evening before the All-Star Game was the highlight of the trip for me. Being on the field cheering on Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Carter, and Cal Ripken Jr. was a blast. Seeing Mark McGwire hit 12 Home Runs during the contest was unreal. He hit line drives that reached the stands in what seemed like less than a second as well as long, towering shots that could have made it rain.


July 13, 1993 – 64th All-Star Game, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Maryland


I enjoyed the 1993 All-Star Game more than any of the three I was selected to for a number of reasons. One big reason was that the ballpark was my second favorite behind Kauffman Stadium and because of the venue; I knew it would be a great experience. The ballpark had opened the season before and had been given great reviews by everyone who had seen it. Another reason I enjoyed this All-Star Game so much was because I knew more about what to expect since it was my second selection. I was able to enjoy time with my family more than the previous year and everything was within walking distance from the team hotel, with several activities, including the All-Star Gala taking place at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.


My locker was in a corner next to Kirby Puckett and Cal Ripken Jr., which was especially cool because Kirby was a non-stop trash talker to everyone.  He never let anyone off easy, including Vice-president Al Gore. I remember Puckett giving him a hard time about the new higher tax rate and surtax the Clinton administration had just implemented which obviously impacted most every player in the room. Vice-president Gore was speechless when Kirby posed the question as to why they made the higher tax retroactive by one year.


Lining up on the foul line for introduction to the baseball world watching on television was very memorable in each All-Star Game, but what followed in Baltimore was most special as my friend and lead singer for the band Rush, Geddy Lee sang the Canadian National Anthem.  James Earl Jones followed by reciting the United States National Anthem in his big, deep voice.


The game itself went well for our American League squad as we won the game 9-3. I was fortunate to pitch a scoreless inning and got the final out of the inning by striking out Darren Daulton. I remember I was able to use all four of my pitches (fastball, curveball, change-up, and slider) to record the strike out.


On Wednesday after the game I flew to Toronto to open the 2nd half of the season and was seated by Geddy Lee and his family on the flight to Toronto. It was great to have a chance to sit by him and recount the game and talk to him about his music and how he had me on his fantasy baseball team but the bonus came when we arrived at Canadian Customs and Geddy was able to get us through as VIP’s without any delays.


July 9, 1996 – 67th All-Star Game, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


After posting good numbers in the first half of the ’96 season I was selected by Mike Hargrove of the Cleveland Indians to be in his bullpen as the Royals representative for the game. Manager Bob Boone and Trainer Nick Swartz were also selected to represent the American League.

The Home Run Derby was the most memorable element of the ’96 All-Star celebration as Barry Bonds outdueled Mark McGwire to win the contest. It was the first year the Derby had multiple rounds so it added a new twist to the event.


The Home Run Derby was not the only contest the National League won that year; they also won the All-Star Game by a score of 6-0. Philadelphia native Mike Piazza who was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 62nd round draft choice had quite a homecoming and won the All-Star Game MVP after hitting a towering Home Run to help the National League prevail.


In retrospect, having the chance to represent the Kansas City Royals in the Mid-Summer Classics were some of my biggest thrills in baseball. The chance to play baseball with and against the great players in the game was a truly unforgettable experience. The opportunity to share a clubhouse and mingle with the players you try so hard to beat each night during the season is even more special, even if it last for just a few days in the middle of the summer.


Imagine, this all began as a dream, many summers ago while watching my boyhood heroes representing their teams and their leagues in the National spotlight.

Significant Streak

Jun 19, 2014 -- 6:49pm

By Jeff Montgomery

It is often said that all good things must come to an end at some point but the Royals recent 10-game winning streak should carry the current version of the Royals for an extended period. While the streak was tied for the third longest in team history, it should be noted that two of three of the other teams that won at least 10 in a row went to the postseason. Those teams were the '77 and '78 Royals (two winning streaks of at least 10 games by the '77 Royals). The other team that had at least a 10-game winning streak was the '94 Royals, who won 14 in a row but never went to the postseason because it was cancelled by the players strike - but that team was likely going to qualify for playoffs too as it would have been the first year with the Wild-Card system.

The most encouraging part about a team that has the ability to reel off 10 consecutive victories is that it cannot be accomplished without talent. There may have been some doubts about the level of the much advertised talent of this year's Royals during the first two months of the season when they were not hitting much at all and showed no ability to win unless the pitchers threw a gem.  But looking back a little before the winning streak started the Royals had played better baseball and especially had hit the ball better. That improvement coincided with the shuffle among a the coaching staff which included the reassignment of Dale Sveum from third base coach to hitting coach. During the 19 games since the shuffle the Royals were 15-4 through the winning streak.

Also, during those 19 games, the Royals were able to play well enough to get their run differential to +18  - which was the best in the Central Division. Winning 3 of 4 against the Detroit Tigers should also pay huge dividends to the Royals as they were 0-5 on the year against the Tigers before winning the first three games of the most recent series. The turnaround showed enormous improvement in most every department. In the first five games against Detroit, the Royals only scored 12 runs while hitting .180 with only one home run and the Royals starting pitchers were tattered at the rate of almost 6 Runs per game. In the just ended series against the Tigers, the Royals scored 25 runs while hitting around .350 with four home runs and the starters' ERA was around 2.50.

Beating the Tigers at Comerica Park should eliminate any doubt that may have existed in any Royals mind that they can compete with the mighty Tigers for the Central Division title throughout the rest of this season. It should be a fun ride!

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