Pe�a is able to maintain the easygoing, open demeanor essential to a young club. "I give my players some freedom," he says. "You need some space, room to make mistakes and correct yourself. I'm not going to scream at you, call you some kind of name or grab you by the chest." Last Thursday afternoon at Minnesota, Harvey misplayed a Shannon Stewart bunt in the bottom of the eighth, throwing wide of the bag for a two-base error that keyed a four-run inning and the Twins' 6-2 victory. Afterward Pe�a brusquely cut off a reporter who asked about the miscue. "My players know I am not going to crucify them for one mistake," he said. "All I want is for him to come back with a clear head tomorrow." The next day in Detroit, with the Tigers trailing 2-1 and two men on in the fourth, Harvey vacuumed up a blistering Eric Munson grounder inside the chalk, pivoted neatly to fire the ball to second, then hustled to the bag to complete a difficult 3-6-3 double play that ended the inning. Kansas City would win 8-3. "[ Pe�a] obviously remembers what it's like to play, what it's like to fail and succeed," says reliever Jason Grimsley. "He knows when guys need a kick in the ass and when they need a pat on the back."
The Royals' fortunes have already picked up at the gate. Although their average attendance of 22,487 ranked 21st overall through Sunday, it's their highest since 1994, when they finished four games out in a strike-shortened season. How high the turnout climbs depends on how K.C. plays down the stretch. Sweeney's return to the lineup, expected in mid-to-late August, will add an impact bat, but the team has more serious deficiencies than any other division leader. The bullpen is undependable—at week's end it packed a 5.59 ERA and had surrendered 1.2 home runs per nine innings (12th)—but at least it's a tight-knit group. Last Thursday night all the relievers scored backstage passes to Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest show in Detroit, but arrived straight from the airport still clad in suits, prompting one onlooker to observe, "There go Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers."
Baird added righty Curtis Leskanic in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers last month—inspiring Pe�a to pen the ditty, "No need to panic, we've got Leskanic," and Leskanic to respond, "I don't know where he gets it from. It's like the child in him is coming out"—but even with Monday's acquisition of Graeme Lloyd from the New York Mets, the bullpen is short on lefthanders. Rookie closer Mike MacDougal, whose heater grazes triple digits and whose roller-coaster breaking ball occasionally looks brilliant, has struggled to locate his fastball since the All-Star break.
To this point the Royals have over-achieved. Says Iba�ez, "When we play good teams and you look up the runs per game, we're about the same as them; ERA, about the same. And they might have outscored us for the season, but somehow we've got more wins than they do. I think we just find a way to win and we're resilient." Or lucky. Bill James's Pythagorean theorem, which expresses the relationship between runs scored and runs allowed as an anticipated winning percentage, suggests that Kansas City, which at week's end had outscored opponents just 531-525, should be a .500 team; instead, the Royals were 11 games over. Using that formula the second-place Chicago White Sox should lead the AL Central by a game over K.C. The Royals are also streak?'—their 16-3 sprint out of the gate was followed by a 12-26 skid, and a concomitant 10-game swing in the standings, from 5� up to 4� back—and will face a slightly tougher schedule down the stretch than the third-place Minnesota Twins. (The defending Central champs are 6� games back but play 31 of their remaining 58 games against pushovers Cleveland, Texas and Detroit.)
All of this is lost on the Royals, who appear at home atop the division. "It's like the weirdest thing," says Leskanic, "but this clubhouse is exactly the same, win or lose. We don't blow it out, and we don't mope. No one even talks about being in first place. Maybe we don't want to jinx it, but guys out in the bullpen don't even look at the scores." Kansas City has faith in its rejuvenated ace and its inspirational manager, the man who, while driving between Mayag�ez and San Juan during a winter scouting trip to Puerto Rico, concocted the slogan We believe. Unveiled on the first day of spring training, it's still on players' lips and emblazoned on T-shirts throughout the clubhouse.
"What I saw in my ball club last year was players with great enthusiasm, with ability, but making a lot of mistakes," Pe�a says. "It seemed like they didn't believe in themselves, so I said, 'O.K., I'm gonna come out and say I believe.' The veterans were the first ones to follow." Kansas City believes. The rest of us are watching, slowly coming around.
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