That listless loss occasioned a new set of Penny puns—"Penny can't cash in on past success" and "Penny's luck runs out in Philadelphia", at the mothership—so we have that going for us. The Cardinals seem like a team that can hit, and the season-long slumps have been limited to the middle infield, so being shut down so thoroughly by Kyle Kendrick, a guy who looks, at best, like someone Dave Duncan will be interested in ten years from now, is still less a fatalistic necessity than an unpleasant surprise. Cole Hamels—Cole Hamels throwing 95, no less, with the same change-up—is going to shut a few teams down every year. This might be the only time Kyle Kendrick does it.
Meanwhile, Brad Penny didn't really have the sinker, or else it wasn't working; fastball velocity was up, strikeouts were up, but flyouts outnumbered groundouts and he finally allowed some home runs. This wasn't the bad Brad Penny, though, unless you're really optimistic or have terrifying standards—he earned his swings and misses, he kept the ball in the strike zone, and occasionally someone who throws really hard is going to allow the ball to be hit really far. At the beginning of the season a quality start was the high end of my expectations for Penny; that I'm defending him for pitching one a month in seems like another good problem to have.
Not hitting, though—work on that. In their last four games (this is a misleading endpoint, as they walked six times on May 1) the Cardinals have walked unintentionally five times, against 31 strikeouts. This is all the problems of working deep into counts with none of the benefits; it's not a lot of fun to watch.
Now, a play in one act.
A VIVA EL BIRDOS PLAY IN ONE ACT
KYLE LOHSE, a forgotten ten-millionaire
BRAD PENNY, a strange conversational tic
COLBY RASMUS, a thinker
BRENDAN RYAN and JOE MATHER, some dancers
MATT HOLLIDAY, a nervous man
THE ANSWERING MACHINE, a convenient anachronism
JOHN MOZELIAK's office is crowded with printouts and charts and souvenirs, artifacts of dealing with an extensive system of scouts and teams and players. It is the office of a man who has to select, with great care, the problems he will deal with at a given moment. It is the office of a busy, nervous man. On the desk, by the computer and the phone, there is an ANSWERING MACHINE. It is talking.
ANSWERING MACHINE: Hi, you've reached John Mozeliak's office. I'm not here now—I being John Mozeliak, I mean. John Mozeliak is not here right now, which is me. If you leave a message—leave a message. After the— [There is a beep, and another voice.]
ANSWERING MACHINE: Are you there, Mo? It's me, Kyle. I just—I dunno, just leavin' you the old get-back-to-me message, you know? So get back to me, if you want. It'd be cool. I'm gonna—it's just I pitched really well the other day, and I was wondering if you saw it. Like I had this one pitch—Ryan Hanigan was batting, right? And he thought I was going to throw him a fastball, because he looked at one on the corner the pitch before, and—
The phone rings.
ANSWERING MACHINE: Hi, you've reached John Mozeliak's office. I'm not here now—I being John Mozeliak, I mean. John Mozeliak is not here right now, which is me. If you leave a message—leave a message. After the—
ANSWERING MACHINE: —and then I threw him a slider, and he was like, "Oh, s-word!" and swung right over it. Did you see that one? ... It was awesome. Anyway, I was just wondering, like, I checked, today, and I didn't get a win for that game. And I was wondering if I could maybe get one? However that works. Anyway, I guess I'll see you at the party tonight. Like, if you're going. It's no big deal. I mean, I'm going.
LATER THAT DAY
We are inside a Dave and Buster's—several tables are pushed together, TONY LA RUSSA has the company card; BRENDAN RYAN asked JOSE OQUENDO for $10 in tokens, please, please, and hasn't been seen for three hours; it has been a good month, and the team is ready to celebrate as most groups of employees do: with drinking, and awkwardness. Today, as ever, the focus is on a newcomer: JAIME GARCIA, the rookie starter with a golden arm.
LA RUSSA: To conclude: it's a long season, and if we don't keep winning series they'll get us. They'll get us and we won't know what hit us. [There is vague, mixed applause.] Enjoy Dave and Buster's, everybody. Enjoy it warily.
KYLE LOHSE is wandering Dave and Buster's without realizing it. He passes from station to station at the table and around the arcade without settling; he exchanges small-talk with his teammates and stares, mostly disinterested, at the Top Skater machine.
LOHSE: So. Uh. It looks like you're pretty good at this.
RYAN [without looking back]: I'm really more of a 4thMix guy. But you've got to play the DDR you're given, you know?
MATHER [focused on dancing]: That's—that's really profound.
Whatever it is he's looking for, he didn't find it at Dance Dance Revolution with BRENDAN RYAN, who said, apologetically, that he has trouble playing the easier songs with a partner. He didn't find it at the table, where DAVE DUNCAN and 34 year-old who claimed to have an 88 mile an hour fastball were discussing ground ball theory. He didn't even find it at the Top Skater machine, which was broken, anyway, like every Top Skater machine.
LOHSE: Brad. B-Dog. What's happening?
PENNY: Not much, Kyle, not much. Just thinkin' like Lincoln, to coin a phrase!
LOHSE: Oh. I guess.
PENNY: Just my one cent, man!
LOHSE: Yeah, yeah—I know. Look, do you like Dave and Buster's? I haven't played Time Crisis in like 50 years and I just need somebody to shoot while I reload. I'm basically the best Time Crisis player who ever lived—like, if the actual President's actual daughter were ever kidnapped, they'd probably call me, like in The Last Starfighter, and give me a gun and some barrels to hide behind—
PENNY: Sorry, Kyle, Jaime already asked me to play Street Fighter 4. Which is to say: my time is—otherwise invested.
LOHSE [disheartened]: Well—I guess I'll talk to you later, then. I just wanted to know if Penny Arcades, is all.
PENNY: Wait, what are you, stupid? This is clearly not a penny arcade; the games are far too new, for one thing.
LOHSE: ... What? It's a—
PENNY: I'm just not sure what you're getting at, here.
LOHSE: You are the worst. Ever.
HOLLIDAY: Don't listen to him, Kyle. I know what's eating you.
LOHSE: You do?
HOLLIDAY: Yeah. Waino and Carp are the best, Penny—
PENNY: Like the coin!
HOLLIDAY: I know! Penny is off to a great start, and Jaime is the exciting new rookie. You were hot stuff in 2008 and now everybody forgets to watch the games you start on TV.
LOHSE: Man, that's it exactly! What do I do about it?
HOLLIDAY [sitting down]: Well, keep pitching well, for one. Build on this last outing. But there's more to it than that. You have to— [He looks up; his eyes widen. ALBERT PUJOLS appears to be staring at him from some distance away, his gaze—disgusted, but knowing—passing right through BRENDAN RYAN and JOE MATHER on the DDR machine.]
LOHSE: What is it?
HOLLIDAY: I have to—I have to run some sprints, I think. I'm sorry.
LOHSE: See, Colby, it's just like that. You have their attention one day, and the next they've replaced your pile of sherseys in the team store with a fresh shipment of Matt Pagnozzi.
LOHSE: I know what you mean. It's just hard being the fifth starter so suddenly. At least they used to complain about my contract! Now I haven't gotten recognized on the street in a year and a half, unless you count the guy who thought I was the one friend from Flight of the Conchords. Stalkers have started de-friending me on Facebook.
LOHSE [stirring his SHIRLEY TEMPLE]: Right? I know I'm not the best, but all I want is a little encouragement. I'm worth that, right? Just somebody saying, "hey, Kyle, it's awesome that you struck out seven guys that one time, even though two of them were Homer Bailey. Wanna come over and watch Avatar later?"
LOHSE: You know, Colby, man, I like you. You've got a head on your shoulders.
RASMUS: Thanks, Kyle. But—after some consideration—I don't think it's my intellect so much as my empathy that's brought us together. Through no fault of your own you remind certain people of that which they'd rather not remember. To Mr. Mozeliak you're totemic of that terrifying interval where salaries grew incommensurate with the underlying trends of a damaged economy—no GM wants to remember that. To the fans you're a figure who's already peaked, and who did so at a time when the rest of the rotation was nightmarish, to put it charitably. You're the proverbial sheep in wolf's clothing, Kyle, and regrettably so.
LOHSE: Wait, what?
RASMUS: And all you can do is just keep giving 110% out there, every day.
LOHSE: I guess you're right. Do you wanna go play Time Crisis? I love how you can take your foot off the pedal and hide behind the barrels. Then you pop up and—pow, pow, pow, pow, pow. I like to shoot them like that—one leg, other leg, one hand, other hand, headshot. It's awesome.