“No, Bud, of course not.” She quickly closes her nightgown. Bud is blind as a bat, she thinks.
“It’s Kansas City. Kansas City, Sue. My life’s work has been designing a system which pays off the bad teams to not compete against the teams that draw the highest TV ratings. It’s finally rounding into shape, and now this. It’s all Zach Grienke’s fault.”
“Meinke whales? What?”
“Greinke, Sue. Zach Greinke. 26-year-old kid from Orlando, drafted in the first round by the Royals in 2002, then a dismal failure. He went 5-17, 5.80 in ’05, then spent ’06 on the DL because of depression and Social Anxiety Disorder. Nobody thought he’d make it back. He did. Been fair-to-middlin’ the last two years. Had problems with depression again this off-season. Now, all of a sudden, he’s a god who walks among us.”
“So he’s won a couple of games. Don’t let that get to you, Bud. It’s a long season.”
“You don’t understand, Sue. He’s on one of the greatest streaks in the history of baseball. No one has ever pitched like this, except maybe Bob Gibson in 1968, when head-hunters walked the earth and hitters might as well have been using paper mache bats. Maybe Fernando in ’81.
“Greinke’s 6-0. He’s given up two earned runs total in those six starts. Two! Walked eight, struck out fifty-four. Three complete games. Two shutouts, one of them at Texas in that ridiculous bandbox in Arlington. Throws four pitches for strikes. Mid-90s fastball, great slider, curve, ruthless change-up. The fans are catching on. The Royals sold out on a Friday night for a Greinke start against Detroit, and, maybe even more impressive, 22,000 on a Monday night for his last start. The stats guys are going insane. He’s been on the cover of frickin’ Sports Illustrated. Do you know how many baseball players made the cover of SI in the last two years for an article about what they were doing on the field? Zero, Sue. None.
“He’s doing something that frankly was lost in baseball during what my critics love to refer to as the ‘Steroid Era.’ He’s pitching at such a high level that it transcends sport and becomes art.”
Sue thinks it over. “It’s kind of bittersweet and lovely that this is happening contemporaneously with the passing of Mark Fidrych, the last guy in the American League who came out of nowhere, charmed people and turned the baseball world on its ear. It’s hard not to root for this kid.”
“Frankly, Sue, I don’t give a gosh darn. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Royals were like that Fidrych team in Detroit in ‘76. They ended up winning 74 games, you know. Fifth place. The Royals seem to be different story entirely. The whole team is going crazy behind Greinke. Look at their pitching. Sidney Ponson stumbled through eight major-league jobs but has landed in KC sober and ready to go, with four good starts already. Gil Meche is, as always, a pro. Brian Bannister, a career mediocrity, is shutting people down. Joaquin Soria out of the pen has the best slider on earth. Juan Cruz eats right-handed batters for breakfast. Even Robinson Tejada, who washed out of Texas, has been tough.
“It doesn’t stop there. The hitters are all over it, too. Mike Jacobs, who the Marlins practically threw away, has become one of the best clean-up hitters in the league. All those kids the Royals kept saying would turn into good hitters – Mark Teahen, Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo – well, they have. Right this minute. Coco Crisp, who came over from the Red Sox, has been great in center field. The Royals are 18-11, and in the AL Central, if they get a few more games ahead, well, no one’s good enough to catch them.”
“Is that such a bad thing, Bud?”
Selig sighs. “Tell you what. You tell Fox that the billions they paid for the post-season TV rights just bought them a Kansas City-Milwaukee World Series.”