ARLINGTON, Texas — The Kansas City Royals haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series, but if Jeremy Guthrie keeps pitching like he did over the weekend the Royals have a great chance of snapping their playoff drought this fall.
On Saturday night in Texas, the 1997 Ashland High graduate — now 10-10 with a 4.32 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 42 walks in 26 starts — pitched a strong eight innings, allowing just five hits, one run and one walk while striking out two as the Royals beat the Rangers 6-3 at Globe Life Park.
Guthrie’s lone blemish came on the first pitch of the game when Texas outfielder Shin Shoo Choo blasted a leadoff home run to center field. Other than that, it was rather smooth sailing for the 35-year-old starter.
“The first pitch was actually a pretty good pitch. It was a fastball that was down. He tried to get ahead on the first pitch of the game and it was down. It wasn’t a bad pitch, but Choo did a nice job of taking it out of the ballpark the other way,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But Jeremy was sharp with everything he had tonight. He was sharp with his command, with movement on his pitches. Him and (catcher Erik) Kratz did a great job of working together and he was really, really good tonight.”
Through Sunday’s games, Kansas City was leading the American League Central with a 72-57 record, two games ahead of second-place Detroit. And with 33 games remaining in the regular season, Guthrie knows that every time he gets the ball until KC’s Sept. 28 regular-season finale against the White Sox, the stakes will be high.
“Well, every performance here on out’s going to be important,” he said. “There’ll be good ones. There’ll be bad ones as well from everybody. Really going into the game there’s no different mindset than there’s been up to this point. Maybe the ramifications are more but I don’t think we have too many guys on this team that’s going to weigh on going into a game. We’re just going to be the same that we have and see what we can do.”
Throughout his 269 career starts, Guthrie has developed a well-deserved reputation as an innings eater. He has pitched at least 200 innings in a season four times in his career, including last season when he pitched a career-high 211 2/3 frames for the Royals. And every time he takes the mound that’s his goal, to pitch as deep as he can into games.
His next scheduled start is Wednesday against Minnesota at Kauffman Stadium in the second of a three-game series against the Twins. Guthrie says his focus is always on his next start, but even the savvy veteran who debuted for Cleveland in 2004 can’t help but think about the possibility of finally experiencing what the postseason is like should the Royals continue playing well.
“I think it’d be very exciting,” he said. “Obviously, what every professional baseball player hopes to do is to play in the playoffs and ultimately get a chance to win the World Series. This is a team we believe has a lot of talent, so from day one we’ve been working towards that goal. Now we’re in a position that we have a chance to accomplish it. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played and we’ll continue what we’ve done the first five months and carry that into the last month as well.”
Kansas City, which acquired Guthrie in a July 2012 trade with Colorado, is the fourth team he’s pitched for. And as he looks back on his big-league career, which has included being drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Indians in 2002 and being released four years later, he takes a great deal of pride in the determination, work ethic and tenacity he’s developed over the years.
“To be able to look back, it gives a big sense of gratification and satisfaction,” he said. “I continued to work and learn the things that were going to help me to be able to be consistent enough to pitch at the Major League level.”
And as one of the older members of what is a pretty young roster, Guthrie admits it has been a thing of beauty to see the Royals finally put it all together on the field after making a nice run in 2013.
“Last year’s team came together and figured out that this team can win as well as anybody in baseball the last couple months,” he said. “For us last year, it was too little, too late. But coming into this year, we replaced a guy that was tremendous for us in (Ervin) Santana with (Jason) Vargas, who’s pitched very close if not as well as Santana pitched if not better than last year. The few players we did lose have been filled with guys who continue that same type of performance.”
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.