The worst plays and moments in Royals history, part two

Last week we looked at five honorable mention moments that fell just below the top ten cut off for worst moments of all time for the Royals. They really weren’t that bad. Kansas City hasn’t thrown any World Series games. If they had a player test positive for steroids, I haven’t heard about it. For the most part, the organization has had a relatively clean past. They have had some unbelievably bad play on the field, especially in their lost decade, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Here are numbers ten through six. Enjoy. Or not.

10. May 1, 2004 – The Eduardo Villacis game

Eduardo Villacis, a Venezuelan native, was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies as an international free agent in May of 1998. The Royals acquired him in May of 2002 for another pitcher named Bryan Rekar. I don’t remember much about Bryan Rekar, but Baseball-Reference says that he pitched in 129 games for Colorado and Tampa from 1995 to 2001. He appeared in two games for the Royals in 2002 without much success: he allowed 12 runs on 12 hits in just 7 innings of work. And that was it. He never appeared in another major or minor league game again.

Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images

After the trade, Kansas City assigned Villacis to Class A Wilmington, where he threw 28 innings with a 2.25 ERA. So far, so good. The Royals had him repeat Wilmington in 2003. Villacis appeared in 42 games, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.82 ERA over almost 93 innings. Again, not bad.

They bumped him to AA Wichita for the 2002 campaign, where he appeared in eight games with a 2.67 ERA. Then came the call-up. The 2004 Royals team was a special kind of bad. They ended the season with a record of 58-104. This wasn’t the worst team in club history. The 2005 Royals lost 106 and the 2018 team lost 104, so there’s some competition. But still, they were bad, make no mistake about it.

The 2004 team featured names like Abraham Nunez. Calvin Pickering. Byron Gettis. Juan Gonzalez drew a paycheck for 33 games before he was gone. Jose Bautista even got into 13 games. Yes, that Jose Bautista. Joey Bats. Bat flip Jose. The guy who would later go nuts and hit 288 home runs for Toronto. Evidently, he wasn’t good enough to make the 2004 Royals.

This Royals team was also desperately short of good arms and On May 1, they found themselves in New York needing a fresh arm to face the Yankees. Well, we’ve got this kid at Wichita throwing pretty well. Call him up!!

So, on this Saturday afternoon game, in front of 54,103 Yankee fans, Eduardo Villacis made his major league pitching debut. To add salt to the wound, the Yankees countered with one-time Royals prospect Jon Lieber, who had been a second-round pick of the club back in 1992. Lieber was later dealt to the Pirates for the remnants of Stan Belinda. Herk Robinson was the GM who engineered that not so brilliant trade.

The Yankees wasted little time welcoming Villacis to the big leagues. Villacis scuffed his way through eight batters in the first inning, giving up three singles and two walks, but amazingly only two runs scored.

He made it through the second in good shape, the only mark being Derek Jeter’s second single of the day. Things got a little rough in the third. Villacis gave up two walks, sandwiched around a Gary Sheffield ground out. He made a mistake to Ruben Sierra, who deposited that gift into the right field stands for a three-run jack. Manager Tony Pena sent the kid back out for the fourth. He retired Jeter on a long fly ball to right. Bernie Williams stroked a single to center and that was it. Pena came out and got Villacis after 66 pitches. The final line was: 3 1⁄3 innings pitched, six hits, four walks and five runs. His ERA spiked to 13.50.

In retrospect, Villacis didn’t do as poorly as I had thought. The real turd on the mound that day was Curtis Leskanic. He threw two-thirds of an inning, giving up five runs on three hits, the killer being a grand slam to Sierra. El Caballo, as Sierra was known, was a fine hitter in his day and hit 309 career home runs. He ended up with a seven-RBI day and was probably sad to see the Royals bus drive out of town.

The Kansas City press made a big deal out of the Villacis game, but it was really just a symptom of a bigger disease that was infecting the entire Royals organization in those years. In a shameful move, they quietly released him a couple of weeks later. The Chicago White Sox picked him up and he bounced around their minor league system for a couple of years. His 66-pitch day in New York was his one and only major league appearance. He ended up playing some independent league ball in 2005 and 2006, before calling it a career at the age of 26.

9. May 16, 2011 – Cleveland lights up Mazzaro

The Royals pitching woes continued into 2011. Did you know that Jeff Francis, who had a couple of decent years with the Colorado Rockies, was on that team? Even though he was only 30, Francis was pretty much shot by then. He started 31 games for the 2011 team and went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA. That 2011 season was the year Kyle Davies started 13 games and went 1-9 with a 6.75 ERA. The Royals cut him loose in August. He bounced around the minors for a few seasons before getting another major league game in 2015 with the Yankees. He finally retired after the 2019 year. Good for him though, he kept after it. I admired a person with perseverance.

The 2011 season was Danny Duffy’s rookie year and the second year for Greg Holland. Kelvin Herrera made his debut in September of 2011. The pitching was so bad that even Mitch Maier got an inning. That came against Boston on July 26. Mitch also got an inning in 2012. Two innings, two hits allowed, no runs allowed. Should have moved him to the mound.

Vin Mazzaro had come over in November of 2012 from Oakland with another pitcher, Justin Marks, in exchange for David DeJesus. Mazzaro was a big guy, 6’2, 220 pounds and at one time was rated the #8 prospect in the Oakland system. Kyle Davies got the start against Cleveland on May 16 but never made it out of the first inning. Ned called on a young pitcher named Nathan Adcock, who got the Royals through the first and second with minimal damage, only allowing three runs.

Mazzaro, who was scheduled to start the next day, was called on in emergency. You’ve got to give it up for those guys that do long relief. They’re usually called on after the starter has gotten his head bashed in and their job is to give the team 5-6 innings and try to keep the score manageable. Every staff has one or two guys for this job. There’s no glory in being a long reliever, but you have those guys.

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Mazzaro came on in the third with Carlos Santana on first. He made it through the inning without allowing a run. The good ship Mazzaro started taking on water in the fourth when Cleveland sent 13 men to the plate. Mazzaro gave up two singles and two walks, sandwiched around a groundout and flyout, which plated a single run.

Then it got ugly. The next six batters went: double, single, single, double, single, home run. Ouch. Mazzaro finally got Asdrubal Cabrera swinging to end the inning. 13-3 Cleveland after four.

For some reason Ned sent Mazzaro back out for the fifth. No matter that he was supposed to start the next evening and quite possibly had family coming in for the game. Forget about his confidence, right? The mound can be a very lonely place when the ump isn’t giving you the corners and the other team is smoking everything else you throw.

Mazzaro got the leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Chin on a fly ball that looked like it might leave the park. Santana nicked him for a double. He walked Travis Hafner. Orlando Cabrera beat out a nubber. Travis Buck laced a single into left, scoring Santana. At this point Ned had finally seen enough and mercifully put an end to the slaughter. Jeremy Jeffress came in and gave up a couple more runs. 17-1 Cleveland at the end of five. In all it took seven Royal pitchers to limit the Tribe to 19 runs in the game. Whew, what a game. Maier must not have been available.

Mazzaro’s line was historic: 2 1⁄3 innings of work, 71 pitches, 14 runs on 11 hits. He left the game with a 22.74 ERA. That’ll kill your contract negotiations.

Mazzaro set a franchise record for most runs allowed in a game. The last time a pitcher gave up 14 runs in less than three innings? June 29, 1899. Kansas City optioned him back to Omaha the next day. I feel kind of bad for the kid. That 2011 team would have been a tough team to develop young pitchers and it was borderline managerial malpractice for Ned to leave him out there that long. When his Kansas City days ended, Mazzaro went to the Pirates, where he had a really good 2013 season, 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA over 73 innings. He spent some time with Miami and San Francisco. He’s spent the last three seasons pitching in the New York-New Jersey Independent leagues. Here’s hoping he gets one more day in the bigs.

8. April 17, 2004 – Tony gets lathered up

After surprising everyone in 2003 with an 83-79 record, the Royals were a trendy pick to win the American League Central in 2004. They won their opener in dramatic fashion: trailing the White Sox 7-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Royals needed something close to a miracle. And they got one. Joe Randa and Ken Harvey drew walks to lead off the inning. Benito Santiago, who at one time had been one of the premier catchers in the game, came to the plate. In 2004, Benito was 39 and he was past his last legs. He got 48 hits for the Royals in 2004 but I’m not sure any of the others were as big as the double he stroked into the left field corner, scoring Randa and Harvey.

The Royals drew a massive crowd that day, 41,575, and they started to roar. After Aaron Guiel went down swinging, light hitting shortstop Mendy Lopez stepped into the box. With the count 3 and 1, Damaso Marte caught too much of the plate and Lopez sent the ball over the centerfield fence to tie the game and send the crowd into a state of near delirium. Just for context, Lopez hit six career home runs in 463 plate appearances. This home run would be the last of his career. Angel Berroa drilled a full count pitch into left for a single. Carlos Beltran stepped into the box. By 2004, Beltran was a bona fide star. 2004 would be the fourth consecutive season in which he drove in and scored more than 100 runs. The young Beltran could also run, having swiped 31, 35 and 41 bases in the previous three seasons. The guy could flat out play. Against Marte, Carlos worked the count to 2-2. The rest is Royal lore. Beltran took the next pitch and deposited it deep into the left field stands, giving the Royals an unlikely 9-7 victory. The Royals entered the ninth inning with a 2% chance to win and they somehow pulled it out. Maybe 2003 wasn’t a fluke. Maybe 2004 was going to be the year?

The Royals went on the road on April 13 for an eight-game road swing through Chicago, Minnesota and Cleveland. They were 4 -2 when they left Kansas City. Chicago swept them, the last two coming on walk-offs as Curtis Leskanic and D. J. Carrasco played the role of bullpen gas cans. They lost the first two in Minnesota to drop to 4-7 and manager Tony Pena cracked under the pressure.

The game itself wasn’t that close. Kevin Appier was one of the greatest pitchers in Royal’s history, but in 2004, he was running on fumes. Appier needed 71 pitches to cover three innings. He would make one more start a week later before calling it a career. After home runs by Beltran and Mike Sweeney staked the Royals to an early 4-3 lead, the wheels came off. More accurately, the bullpen happened. That 2004 bullpen was some kind of bad. They tried 18 different arms that season, trying to find someone, anyone, who could get some outs. The Twins ended up winning this game 8-4 dropping the Royals to 4 and 7 on the year. After the game, in an effort to get his despondent team to relax, Pena pulled one of the more unusual stunts in Royals history.

Here’s the play by play according to Rustin Dodd:

By Saturday, April 17, they had lost five in a row, and manager Tony Pena tried to break the tension by stepping into the showers in Minnesota with his uniform still on.

He lathered himself up with soap, complimented Aaron Guiel’s hair, and then returned back to his office. “I had to do something,” Pea explained. “Make them laugh. Well, they laughed. We know we’re better than this. We know that.” “We’re going through a tough time,” Pena said, “but every team goes through a tough time. I’m not going to let my team get down. I want my team smiling. Nobody is going to knock the smile off of my face.”

Unfortunately, the stunt didn’t work. The Royals played .357 ball the rest of the season (54-97). They officially embraced the tank in June when they sent Beltran to the Astros for a return of John Buck, Mark Teahen and Mike Wood. Plus, some desperately needed cash. Opening day star Mendy Lopez was released on July 9. The Royals raised the white flag on the remainder of the decade.

7. August 14, 2008 – Dong-Dong-Dong-Dong!

Are you starting to notice how many of these moments happened between 2000 and 2010? That was some bad decade of baseball. This game occurred during the Trey Hillman regime. Kyle Davies was on the mound for the Royals. You knew he had to be in here somewhere, right?

The game started well for the Royals. Jose Guillen hit a two-run single in the first to give the Royals a quick lead. The Sox pulled ahead in the second, the big blow being a double off the bat of former Royal Jermaine Dye. It was still a 3-2 game going into the bottom of the sixth. Joel Peralta came on in relief of Davies. He gave up a one out walk to Ken Griffey Jr. It just doesn’t seem right that Junior played a season In Chicago at the end. Carlos Quentin drew a walk. Peralta got Dye on a pop up for the second out, which brought Royal killer Jim Thome to the plate.

Thome always owned the Royals. You know what happened next. Peralta hung a 3-1 pitch and Thome jumped all over that cheese. Big Jim hit a three-run bomb deep into the right field seats. Paul Konerko, another guy who feasted on Royal pitchers, hit the very next pitch into the left field stands. Peralta made it to four pitches with Alexi Ramirez before the ball ended up in the seats. Hillman brought in Rob Tejada. Rob Tejada? I had to look that guy up. He pitched in Kansas City for four seasons. Gave up 80 runs in 181 innings. Sounds about right.

Juan Uribe hit a two-strike pitch into the left field seats. Four consecutive home runs. At this point the Sox had to be worried about running out of fireworks. How rare is it for a team to hit four consecutive big flies? Rare. It’s only happened ten times in major league history. The Twins pulled it off against the Kansas City Athletics in 1964. The White Sox have done it twice as have the Nationals. The Drew brothers, J.D. and Stephen have been involved on three of the ten. The four-home run outburst was a coda to the decade of bad Royal’s pitching.

6. April 26, 1993 – Mac blows a fuse

Hal McRae had taken the managerial reins of his former team midway through the 1991 season. That team didn’t have much. George Brett was nearing the end and hit a career low .255. Danny Tartabull, in his last season in Kansas City, had the best year of his career. Todd Benzinger and Jim Eisenreich hit for a decent average, but no power. The pitching staff was still pretty solid, anchored by guys like Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Jeff Montgomery, Tom Gordon and Kevin Appier. Somehow Mac willed this crew to a 66-58 finish. The Royals returned to the norm in 1992 at 72-90. Brett rebounded to .285, which was the highest batting average of any of the regulars. With Tartabull gone, there was no power to speak of. Mike Macfarlane led the team with 17 home runs. Gregg Jefferies led the team in RBI with 75. Appier led the staff with 15 wins. Jeff Montgomery saved 39 games and that was about it. The cupboard was pretty much bare. Now if you saw Hal McRae play, you know that none of this went over well with him. Mac was about the most competitive player I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, he just didn’t have the horses.

The Royals got off to a slow start in 1993 and after losing to the Tigers on the 26, their record stood at 7-12. The game itself was a Monday night game and 20,090 came out to see the Royals. Mark Gubicza had a rough first inning, getting tagged for three hits, a walk, a stolen base and a wild pitch. He also hit a batter. By the time he got out of it, it was 4-0 Tigers. The Royals finally showed some signs of life in the bottom of the ninth. A Chris Gwynn single plated two runs and made it 5-3, Detroit with nobody out. The momentum was killed when Gwynn got doubled off second base on a Brian McRae line drive out. The game ended with the tying run at the plate.

After the game, reporters crowded into the manager’s office. In those days, the reporters just sat their tape recorders on the managers desk, asked a few questions, then departed to write their stories. A typical session after a loss might be as few as ten minutes. McRae was obviously uptight about the game and his team’s slow start. John Doolittle of 980 KMBZ, asked Mac a very valid question: “Did you consider Brett for Miller with the bases loaded in the seventh?”

Ah yes, the seventh. With two outs, the Royals strung together two singles and a walk to load the bases. Down by the score of 5-1, the DH, Keith Miller was coming to the plate and George was sitting on the bench. Why not? After all, were talking about Keith Miller who came into this at bat hitting a robust .150. The Tigers had righthander and former Wichita State star Dave Haas on the mound. Seems like a good bet, right? One of the game’s all-time great hitters against a journeyman reliever. Right vs. left. Mac stuck with Miller and paid for it when Miller was retired on a pop foul to the third baseman. Brett did come on to pinch hit in the ninth, for Chico Lind, and delivered a double.

The Brett for Miller question lit the fuse of McRae’s firecracker. Clad in a long sleeve blue crew and white long johns, McRae pushed away from his desk, threw up his hands in disgust and for the next minute, literally lost his mind. “Don’t ask me such stupid (bleeping) questions. That’s it. I’m tired of being asked these dumbass questions every night”. Mac swept items off his desk and hurled a tape recorder. More stuff was swept off his desk followed by McRae yanking his office phone loose and looking like a shot putter in pajamas, twirled and threw the phone against the back wall. Royals coach Lee May, who was probably the only person big enough and strong enough to corral McRae, if need be, led reporters from the room. McRae still had some fight in him though. He came into the hallway clutching what appeared to be a half-gallon bottle of vodka and resumed his tirade, closing it with the famous line, “Now, put that in your (bleeping) pipe and smoke it.” Alan Eskew, a fine writer for the Topeka Capital-Journal emerged from the room with a bloody one-inch gash under his right eye curtesy of a flying tape recorder. Royal trainer Nick Swartz patched him up.

McRae apologized to Eskew, who accepted the apology and told Hal that he owed him a crab dinner next time the team was in Baltimore. David Cone took a look at Eskew and said, “I thought the New York media was tough.” Third base coach Steve Boros asked Eskew if he was going on the disabled list. Eskew said no way. “That’s the attitude, rub some dirt on it and go right back out there” said Boros. McRae met with Doolittle the next day for 45 minutes to explain his actions.

The incident was totally out of character for McRae, who nearly all reporters viewed as open, honest and accessible. In 1993, the rant made the national news for a few days until something bigger knocked it off. It’s hard to imagine what a tirade like that would do today, with social media and Twitter. McRae would probably lose his job in short order and Eskew would probably walk away with a nice check from the Royals. How times have changed.

One thing the rant did was light a fire under his team. The Royals won 25 of their next 38 games on their way to an 84-78 season.

Next week: The top five

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