The Kansas City Royals began their Monday evening of baseball activities by officially losing that suspended game to the Cleveland Indians, although they made it interesting by scoring a run and having the tying run at second when Omar Infante popped out to end the game.
Then, in the bottom of the first inning, leading 1-0 after the Indians gifted the Royals a run with some shoddy defense, Danny Duffy was suddenly staring at the bases loaded, no outs, and Royals fans watching with their guts in their throats.
When you've lost for 30 years, a moment like this feels like the moment of the season, at least until the next one tomorrow or the day after that. Remember, Duffy had lasted one pitch in his previous start on Sept. 6 before leaving with shoulder soreness. So when he walked Michael Bourn on five pitches and Jose Ramirez lined a single into left and Michael Brantley singled off Duffy's glove to load the bases, I imagine Royals fans saw three decades of misery flash before their eyes: George Brett's final years; Hal McRae's tirade; the trades of Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye; that first 100-loss season in 2002, soon followed by three more; Runelvys Hernandez; a guy named Eduardo Villacis, barely out of A-ball, called up to start a game at Yankee Stadium (he pitched poorly) and released two weeks later; Dee Brown; Emil Brown; Adrian Brown; a 19-game losing streak; the time Chip Ambres dropped a fly ball to lose the game; The Process; Jeff Francoeur; Ned Yost deciding that pinch hitting Carlos Pena was a good idea.
Yes, when you've lost a lot your brain goes to dark areas with bad thoughts. With the bases loaded, it seemed like everything in 2014 was on the line. Nobody knew that the Mariners were on their way to a 14-4 blowout loss in Toronto, or that Detroit would lose 2-0 to the White Sox.
And then Danny Duffy pitched out of it, and saved the Royals' season.
The key pitch was the first one to cleanup hitter Carlos Santana, a 95 mph fastball up in the zone. Santana had destroyed the Royals on the season: .350 with seven home runs entering that at-bat. He was looking fastball, got his arms extended ... and just missed, sending a pop fly harmlessly into shallow center that second baseman Infante corralled.
Duffy battled Yan Gomes: a fastball at the knees that Gomes thought was low; a sharp-breaking curveball for a strike; a 96 mph fastball fouled off -- yes, Duffy's stuff is as electric as that of any lefty in the game, as evidenced by the .201 average against him entering the game -- and then a curve fouled off. At 2-2, Duffy threw another curve, at the letters, Gomes took it and plate ump Lance Barrett rang him up.
That brought up Mike Aviles, a former Royal. Of course. It was a great nine-pitch duel, Aviles fouling off four pitches with two strikes. Duffy threw four straight curves and Aviles hit the fourth one to right field for the third out.
Disaster averted. A 24-pitch inning that Royals fans should tuck away in their back pockets, to remember if the team goes on to make its first playoff appearance since 1985.
From there on, Duffy was great, holding his pitch count down enough to last six innings with no runs, and hand the ball over to rookie Brandon Finnegan (the 17th overall pick in June from TCU who now has five scoreless appearances in the majors) for the seventh, Wade Davis for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth. It was a 2-0 victory and now the Royals are two up on Seattle and just one game behind Detroit. The Indians, essentially needing a sweep to stay in the wild-card race, dropped 3.5 games behind the Royals.
The Royals haven't locked up anything, of course. Royals fans know that. There's still plenty of time for some inappropriate bunting from Yost. But Duffy will get another start, the back of the bullpen is terrific, the Mariners have appeared to hit the wall and there is at least a little breathing room.
So the wild card looks good. And the division title is still up for grabs. Twenty-four pitches to remember.