Vin Mazzaro, Abuse Victim

Yes, I'm looking forward to the postseason. Yes, I've been enjoying even the execrable wild card turning what most of the world predicted to be a boring September into a near-classic nail-biter. Never mind that the nail-biting has been caused by a pair of former locks decimated by injuries and inconsistency falling from out in the distance to right out of the running, in hand with a pair of thought-to-be also-rans surging up from almost nowhere to give the former locks a real run for it.

And, yes, I could point to a small passel of moments to remember ranging from the sacred to the profane and all the way back to the extraterrestrial. Ben Revere's double-gainer triple? Beautiful. David Ortiz v. Kevin Gregg for the baseball world babyweight championship? Knockout. The Cleveland bullpen squirrel? Nuts. Justin Upton's self-portrait in Broke-bat Mash'em? Oscar-worthy. The Pittsburgh Pirates actually sitting in first place for a spell? Priceless. Evan Longoria's walk-off driving home the collapse that may cost the most successful manager in Boston Red Sox history his job? Don't ask.

The one that has them all beat for extraterrestrial surreality (there isn't that much surreality about the Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves's self-immolations) is probably the one Vin Mazzaro would love to forget. And you can't blame him. Except that I and a lot of other people, Kansas City Royals fans or otherwise, can't forget. Is there anyone on earth who can explain precisely why Royals manager Ned Yost — whose team had been one of the pleasant surprises of the American League otherwise to that point — left Mazzaro on May 16 to take what only charity would call a rough outing?

Rough outing, my bunion. Mazzaro was beaten to death and back, and if there was anything left over the Indians beat that to death and back, too. The Indians drove the Royals below the floor of the ocean, 19-1 … and 14 of those runs were charged to Mazzaro's watch. Never mind that he wasn't even on the mound when the final three of the holocaust crossed the plate.

That may have been the only time in baseball history when a young pitcher sent to the minors after such a nuking as Mazzaro withstood thought his organization was doing him a huge favor. The only reason Mazzaro wasn't charged with the loss was because Kansas City starter Kyle Davies left the game with a sore shoulder after getting only one out, and his relief, Nate Adcock, lasted only an inning and two-thirds, before Yost went to the pen again and brought in Mazzaro.

Oh, Yost was beautiful after the game. "My thinking was," he explained, perhaps a little too patiently for a manager whose thinking got blown up in his face like a suicide bomber, "was I could get through two or three innings with Adcock, bring Mazzaro in there and, hopefully, get five innings out of him and keep us in the ballgame. Then go to the back-inning guys. But it didn't work out that way."

Was he serious? The Indians were probably hoping they could get five innings out of poor Mazzaro, too. Would you like to remember it in thumbnail, or do you prefer all the gory details?

* Mazzaro was brought in with the Indians leading, 3-0, after Adcock opened the top of the third by walking Carlos Santana. (Absolutely no known relation to the guitar legend.)

* The third inning actually went reasonably enough for the kid. Travis Hafner flied out to left; Santana stole second while Mazzaro was swishing Orlando Cabrera. He wild-pitched Santana to third with Travis Buck hitting, but he got Buck to ground out to first base unassisted for the side.

* Come the top of the fourth, Matt LaPorta opened against Mazzaro with a line single to right, but Jack Hannahan forced LaPorta at second. Mazzaro walked Michael Brantley on four pitches before Astrubal Cabrera dumped a quail deep in the hole between shortstop and third base to send home Hannahan.

* Still, Mazzaro was in reasonable shape after he got Shin-Soo Choo to fly out to the rear end of center field, deep enough to let Brantley tag and take third. Two out, man on third, Santana at the plate. Cabrera stole second as Santana worked out another walk. Bases loaded, two out.

* All Mazzaro needed was a ground ball to end the inning. All he got from Hafner this time was a three-run double to the back of center field, and the massacre was on in earnest. From there, it went like this: RBI single (Orlando Cabrera); infield single (Buck, moving Cabrera to second); two-run double (LaPorta); single through the hole at second (Hannahan, for first and third); three-run homer (Brantley); and, at long enough last, a swishout on the guy (Asdrubal Cabrera) whose rib single started the inning's ten-run beatdown in the first place.

Yost may have been that desperate to get a bullpen spell out of Mazzaro, but a ten-run single-inning holocaust might cause most managers to get the kid out of there, pat him on the fanny, thank him for taking one for the team against an Indians lineup that was using his man for batting practice, and send him to a merciful shower and maybe a night and following day off to lick his wounds and rejuvenate.

Not this time. With Choo, Santana, and Hafner due up for the Cleveland fifth, Yost sent Mazzaro out again. If the Indians were licking their chops at the sight of Mazzaro coming back for more use, misuse, and abuse, you couldn't blame them. Never mind that Choo flied out on 2-1 to open:

* Santana sent one grounding through the infield for a double to right.

* Hafner drew a four-pitch walk.

* Orlando Cabrera singled deep to third to load the pads.

* Buck singled Cabrera home with a sharp liner to left center field.

Finally Yost exercised his mercy clause and removed Mazzaro from the game before the Indians could draw any more of what remained of his blood. Yost brought in Jeremy Jeffress. And the Indians finished what they'd started in the inning: a two-run double (LaPorta) and an RBI groundout (Hannahan), all of which runs were charged to Mazzaro, before Jeffress finally ended the carnage courtesy of Brantley skying to short center field.

Jeffress would surrender a two-run double to pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan an inning later, the last of the Cleveland scoring on the day. The Royals more or less snuck home their only run of the game in their half of the fourth, when Alex Gordon scored as Billy Butler was grounding out to second. They should have been arrested for criminal neglect for what they allowed to happen to Mazzaro.

Mazzaro may have had few comforts when he was sent down to regroup in Triple-A, where you hope someone told him there are ways to shake off being the first pitcher since 1900 to allow fourteen earned runs (with or without a little help from his relief) in less than three innings. But these are some of them:

* Nineteen pitchers since 1919 have allowed fourteen or more earned runs in an outing, and three of them (Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Ted Lyon) happen to be Hall of Famers.

* It was 13 years since the last time it happened, to an Oakland Athletics starter named Mike Oquist, who took his abuse from the 1998 New York Yankees, en route their staggering 114 wins.

* Relief pitchers aren't normally accustomed to giving up fourteen runs in any outing, and the last reliever to do it before poor Mazzaro was Tommy Warren, a wartime Brooklyn Dodger who surrendered 15 (eleven earned) in 1944.

* Mazzaro's not even close to being the first Royals reliever to surrender 10 in a single inning. Jimmy Gobble accomplished that anti-feat in 2008.

* Mazzaro actually got rid of four of his first six hitters. The problem was when he only got rid of three of his next 16.

* He actually kept the Indians' number three and cleanup hitters — Choo and Santana — from driving in any of the runs he surrendered.

It helps to remind you that baseball players are only human and not supermen, no matter what they do or don't accomplish on the field, when you remember hours such as Vin Mazzaro's. Remember those hours, too, when your favorite team's postseason dreams get blown up out of nowhere when fallible young men prove only too fallible in the heat of the season's most definitive competition. Remember that it wasn't exactly their idea to wear goat horns instead of caps or batting helmets.

Exactly why Ned Yost elected to leave this kid in to take the beating of his and a few other lives remains a mystery. I don't recall that the Kansas City bullpen was so decimated that Yost couldn't have gotten Mazzaro the hell out of there on a night when what stuff he had wasn't much stuff. Taking one for the team isn't supposed to be synonymous with a public massacre.

Not even Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta (who burned his bullpen a little too much in the season's first half, a mistake he couldn't afford to make with the Braves' bats so fragile and the pitching staff shouldering too much of the load) or Terry Francona in Boston (who may or may not have dozed at the tiller while too many of his players became ill-conditioned, ill-timed, or ill-suited to the bristling of a pennant race) made a move that egregious.

Wherever he is today, if this is any comfort to Mazzaro he can take solace in surrendering a mere eleven hits while the Indians were spilling his blood, and it won't necessarily harm any Hall of Fame chances he might yet have. An Indians pitcher four years younger at the time once surrendered fifteen runs on fifteen hits, and two of the offending hitters were named Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. That pitcher would lead the American League in wins over the next three years.

If there is justice for Mazzaro, he will have been told, long before I sat down to write, that he, too, can recover from his very slightly lesser shellacking at the hands of somewhat lesser hitters, if a terrorist attack led by the Iron Horse and the Yankee Clipper could be shaken off by Bob Feller.

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