On baseball

Royal chance for momentum swing

By Nick Cafardo
July 17, 2006
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When it comes to knowledge of the Royals, nobody has more than Allard Baird, the former Kansas City general manager and newly appointed Red Sox special assignment scout, who will report to Boston GM Theo Epstein today as the Sox begin a three-game series against Baird's former team.

``This certainly wasn't by design," said Baird, a Rochester, N.H., native hired by the Sox two weeks ago after being fired by the Royals May 31, on returning to Fenway Park the same day his former team was in town. ``It just happened to coincide with my meeting with Theo."

Even if it was by design, any ``insider info" Baird may have about Royals tendencies won't help a lick if the Sox can't turn the juice back on, pitch more consistently, and dominate at home, as they are accustomed to doing.

The Sox, 8-1 losers to the Oakland A's yesterday, have seven losses in their last 11 games; have four defeats in their last five games; dropped three of four to the A's over the weekend, and sustained a brutal 19-inning setback to the White Sox just before the All-Star break.

Their lead in the American League East is a half-game over the Yankees, who yesterday completed a sweep of the world champion White Sox with an outfield of Bubba Crosby, Aaron Guiel, and Melky Cabrera.

The Sox are wilting a tad in these hot July days after the break, and when the silver lining for manager Terry Francona was that Manny Ramírez's knee seems OK after he was thrown out trying to go from first to third on a Trot Nixon single to center in the sixth inning, you know things are a bit off kilter.

While it's always nice to see the hapless Royals (32-59) come to town, they are 6-7 in July and have played better recently.

Baird, who spent 18 years in the Royals organization, said he roots for the players and manager Buddy Bell, whom he hired to direct the rebuilding effort in Kansas City. Unfortunately for Baird, owner David Glass has put few resources back into the organization, which often tied Baird's hands when he tried to sign draft picks or obtain players.

Baird, who was hired as the Kansas City GM in June of 2000, replacing Herk Robinson, was replaced by Braves assistant GM Dayton Moore, who is about to start selling off many of Baird's veteran acquisitions, such as Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Mark Grudzielanek, and possibly even Mark Redman, an All-Star lefthanded starter.

But when Baird shows up at the park today, ``You can bet I'll be rooting for the Red Sox all the way."

Actually he already was rooting for Boston yesterday because he's so fond of Sox righthander Kyle Snyder, who pitched well for four innings before blowing up in the fifth.

Snyder was drafted first by the Royals in 1999 when Baird was the assistant GM, but four major arm surgeries for the 6-foot-8-inch University of North Carolina product, who was signed to a $2.1 million bonus, kept Snyder from realizing his potential.

He has shown flashes of the pitcher Baird remembers, however, just as he did yesterday.

Early on, Snyder showed the sinking fastball, biting curve, and devastating split-fingered pitch he had when he first signed with Kansas City. Baird said the Royals always believed Snyder had top-starter stuff, but that the surgeries set him back. There was always concern about his height, and how easy it is for tall pitchers to have their mechanics get out of whack.

Baird said he had nothing to do with the Red Sox signing Snyder off the waiver wire.

Snyder had a chance yesterday to really make the Red Sox' decision on him difficult. There's suddenly new-found hope that David Wells will return to the rotation and finally solidify the No. 5 starter role.

But Snyder claimed there was no pressure on him to compete for that spot, partially because of all he's gone through.

``I've been through a lot," said Snyder. ``It's pretty easy [now]. It's a lot easier for me, I think, under the circumstances, having had four arm surgeries and having this [livelihood] stripped away from me a number of different times. I just focus on taking it start-to-start, day-to-day, and game-to-game."

And he appreciates all Baird did for him.

``He's such a good man," said Snyder. ``He believed in me, he stuck with me. He was so patient with everything I went through. I can't thank him enough. A lot of people would have given up on me, but Allard saw something that I could make it back.

``He's a great baseball man. I'm sure he's loving being here with the Red Sox, an organization that's really committed to doing the things it needs to do to put a good team on the field."

Snyder's demise came in the fifth, when he allowed a couple of hits and then plunked No. 8 hitter Adam Melhuse off the backside, loading the bases. While he wasn't hit hard, he was hit hard enough. By the time Francona came out to yank him he'd allowed four runs, and he was charged with another soon after.

``He's a very quiet guy, but he's a fierce competitor," said Baird. ``He has a high level of mental toughness. A tough kid who still tries to grind it out. He's still out there giving it everything he has all of the time."

But all of the intangibles Snyder brought to the game yesterday didn't matter, just as all the good things Baird did in Kansas City didn't end up mattering because the record wasn't good enough, and someone had to be blamed. While most of baseball realizes the situation was a no-win one for Baird, he never has made excuses.

``It's a game of results," said Baird, who had to trade Johnny Damon (the player he signed as a scout), Carlos Beltran, and Jermaine Dye for salary reasons. ``I don't think all of the other reasons that went into things as to what happened really matter. The results weren't there."

When Baird comes to Fenway, he'll say hello to Bell, and take satisfaction in the fact that young Royals such as John Buck, David DeJesus, and Mark Teahen are developing. But he'll also be hoping that at the end of the day the Red Sox have righted their ship at his old team's expense.

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