Plugging All the Holes
In the Royals' 7-0 win over the A's last Thursday, the names in the box score for Kansas City included infielders Keith Lockhart, Joe Randa and Edgar Caceres; outfielders Les Norman and Jon Nunnally; and DH Jeff Grotewold. Umpire Larry McCoy, with 25 years of service in the American League, tapped K.C. catcher Brent Mayne on the shoulder during the game and said, "I don't know anyone on your team."
"Neither do I," said Mayne.
Yet through Sunday the Royals were a surprising 27-20, after having won 18 of their last 25 outings. They were still seven games behind the seemingly unstoppable Indians in the American League Central, but their record would have put them just one game off the pace in the East and two games back in the West.
Kansas City wasn't supposed to be this good. Not after the Royals slashed their payroll last spring by trading centerfielder Brian McRae to the Cubs for two minor leaguers and sending pitcher David Cone to the Blue Jays for three minor leaguers. Rookie manager Bob Boone started the season with an untested outfield, little offense and questionable pitching.
Then on June 2, veteran second baseman Chico Lind walked out on the team after his wife filed for divorce. He won't be invited back. Ten days later DH Bob Hamelin, the 1994 American League Rookie of the Year, was sent to Triple A Omaha because he was hitting .175 with two homers. That demotion marked the first time since '82 that the league's top rookie ( Dave Righetti of the Yankees) was shipped to the minors in the following season. Through all of this, the Royals kept winning. "If we'd had the '94 Hamelin," Boone says, "there's no telling where we would be."
One reason for Kansas City's success has been the shift from a five-man to a four-man starting rotation, featuring Kevin Appier (9-2 through Sunday) and Mark Gubicza (4-5), who, including his one-hit shutout of the A's last Thursday, was 3-1 with a 2.11 ERA in his last five starts. Offensively, Nunnally, who played Class A ball last year, has been the most productive (.302 with seven home runs at week's end) of the unknown newcomers.
But the biggest surprise has been the play of a familiar face—leftfielder Vince Coleman. After Coleman hit .240 last year, the Royals gladly allowed him to seek work elsewhere as a free agent. But no one else wanted him, and Coleman called Kansas City general manager Herk Robinson in mid-April, begging him for a job. Robinson signed him to a minor league contract, and Coleman was called up to K.C. on May 7 after playing nine games in Omaha.
Through Sunday he was hitting .321, thanks to a recent 17-game hitting streak, and had 15 stolen bases. What's more, Coleman, whose salary dropped from $3 million in 1994 to $250,000 this year, has been a model citizen—quite a change from his days with the Mets (1991 to '93), when he threw firecrackers near fans and screamed at his manager. "He has been no problem here; he has been nothing but a good player," says Mayne. "He has been nothing but helpful, especially to the young guys."
Who Am I?