It was Attack of the Killer B's this afternoon in Tucson, with Brian Bannister vs. Billy Buckner the pitching match-up Though "match-up" may not be the right word, implying as it does a contest of equals. Does Buckner enjoy the Reno buffet or something? Seems that must be the case, given by his lackluster performances thus far in spring. He came into this came with an ERA of six, and left the first inning with that number having ballooned all the way up to 9.90, as the Royals teed off him, to the tune of five hits, a walk and five earned runs. On the plus side, he did strike out the side. When the opposition send nine men to the plate before you get that third K, I'm less likely to be impressed.
It was merely a precursor of things to come, a trailer for the real horrorshow which would follow. Details on the rest of Buckner's day, and how things went for the rest of the Diamondbacks, after the jump. Those of a nervous disposition might want to go elsewhere.
The answer, for Buckner, is very little better. Four more hits and three runs followed in the next frame, giving Kansas City an 8-0 lead - and it would have been worse, but for a diving catch by Cole Gillespie. Mark Reynolds singled, leading off the bottom half for Arizona and then stole second-base, but was stranded in scoring position. Buckner was replaced, but Chad Qualls proved to be worse still. He retired one of the seven batters he faced, giving up with another three runs scored. Enter Clay Zavada, facing a one-out, bases-loaded situation. It didn't go well. Two hits, a hit batter and a walk followed for him, before he closed the book on the third inning.
Never mind a football score, the Royals had run up a tennis one, being 15-0 up on the Diamondbacks, having accumulated twenty base-runners on sixteen hits, three walks and the plunking. At this point, Kansas City had gone 16-for-25, with the top four in their line-up combining to go 11-for-12 on the afternoon, driving in seven and scoring nine times. Only once since August 2005 had our pitchers allowed fifteen earned runs in a regular-season game. Today, they'd done it before retiring nine batters, and things were so bad, Zavada - a man with three PAs in his entire pro career - was allowed to hit for himself in the bottom of the third. He grounded into a double-play.
Brian Anderson homered with a man on-board and two outs in the next inning to make it 17-0. More remarkably, that came on the heels of his previous single, double and triple off Buckner - meaning Anderson had hit for the cycle by the middle of the fourth. And driven in seven runs while he was at it. After another feeble inning by the offense, there were four different Royals who each had more hits, individually, than the Diamondbacks had managed collectively in their thirteen at-bats. And the slaps kept right on coming, against Aaron Heilman in the fifth, who decided to outdo Qualls, retiring one of the first eight batters faced, giving up hits to the other seven - including, naturally, one to Anderson. I await brian custer's reaction to this performance, with interest.
That put Kansas City ahead by three touchdowns: bad enough if the Cardinals had been playing the Chiefs, but as a baseball score this had gone beyond embarrassment. Isn't there some kind of mercy rule in spring training? However, the Diamondbacks fought back, Nick Piecoro reporting that Augie Ojeda received a "sarcastic standing ovation" from the crowd at Tucsom Electric Park after his RBI single broke up the shutout and brought Arizona back to within, er, twenty runs. Further runs were driven in by Rusty Ryal, Kelly Johnson and Cole Gillespie, and we had a game again, with the score now 21-4 to the Royals.
A miracle then ensued. Josh Ellis put up a zero for the Diamondbacks, something the four "major-league" pitchers ahead of him had singularly failed to do. Sure, he walked a couple of people, and there was a man on third by the time he escaped. But considering that the visitors had been averaging better than four runs and almost five hits per inning for the previous couple of hours, this can only be classed as a victory, even if every Kansas City starter was now out of the game. He followed this up with a scoreless seventh, and surely has to be considered a front-runner for a rotation spot now.
Ed Rogers made it five unanswered runs for Arizona [hey: you take your comforts, small and feeble though they may be, where you can on a day like this]. But with Ellis gone from the mound, normal service was rapidly resumed by the Royals, who got a three-run homer off Blaine Boyer in the eighth, though an error by Rogers meant that only two of those were earned. Like I said, feeble comforts... The Diamondbacks reached double-figures in hits off Matt Herges in the eighth, with an RBI by Brandon Allen and a field-go...er, three-run homer by Sean Coughlin lending respectability to the score.
Abe Woody pitched the ninth, and much like Ellis, gave a lesson in retiting hitters to his big-league brothers, pitching a hitless ninth to keep the Royals just short of the quarter-century. We went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, and it was finally finished. To put the overall total into context, only twice since 1985, in regular-season games without a DH, has a team scored 24 runs. Both of those were at pre-humdor Coors Field, most recently when the Reds beat the Rockies 24-12. I do think, however, that the Diamondbacks pitching box-score for the game is worthy of permanent preservation, so here goes.
Anyway, before you wrap yourself in Sedona Red chains and fling yourself into Tempe Town Lake, go read this article, conveniently published this afternoon. In summary, "The fortune cookie at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant can offer more precise forecasts about a pitcher's 2010 season than can his results in the Grapefruit or Cactus League." It points out the of the Cy Young winners in the past couple of years, three have had spring ERAs in the eights and nines, with none below four. After a performance like this afternoon, one can really only hope, fervently, that it is indeed the case.