The Kansas City Royals were blown out by the New York Yankees on Saturday night, and fans in attendance got a special treat, even though it was at the expense of the home team: a three home-run performance by Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod will quite likely own the all-time home run record one day. If you were at Kauffman Stadium Saturday night, you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the Home Run King at his very best.
But on Sunday, something else happened between the Yankees and Royals, something much more unexpected, much less flashy, much less significant in the grand scheme.
What happened was one of those special baseball moments. The kind that can’t be defined. The kind we see only once in a blue moon. The kind that doesn’t grab too many headlines. But the kind we remember for the rest of our lives.
Bryan Bullington beat the Yankees.
You probably know a little bit of Bullington’s back story. The 29-year-old pitcher was the No. 1
overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft. The Pirates reached down to select Bullington ahead of players like B.J. Upton, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and the Royals’ very own Zack Greinke because the Pirates were concerned they wouldn’t be able to sign those prospects. They did sign Bullington. And after a season in the minor leagues, it looked like a wise choice.
Bullington was brilliant in 2003 across two minor league levels, he posted a 13-5 record with a 2.42 ERA. But his numbers dried up after that, and by the time Bullington made the big league team in 2005, he was already considered a bust. Bullington pitched in only six games for the Pirates over two seasons, and the organization cut ties with him in 2008.
After short stints in the Cleveland and Toronto systems – where he pitched in only seven more major league games – Bullington signed as a free agent with the Royals at the beginning of the 2010 season.
The pitcher performed well enough in the Royals’ minor league system to earn a mid-season callup. Prior to last week, he’d pitched in five games out of the bullpen. Due to a change in pitching technique which took Brian Bannister out of the rotation, Bullington was called into service as a starting pitcher.
In his first major league start since 2008, on Tuesday against the Angels, Bullington pitched well over six innings, earning a quality start, but still got credit for a loss. With Bannister still tweaking his windup, Bullington was handed the ball again on Sunday night against one of the greatest lineups in the history of baseball.
And the Yanks were on a roll, riding high off a Saturday beatdown and A-Rod’s three dingers.
On Sunday, however, Bryan Bullington, the man who had gone from top-flight prospect to No. 1 overall pick to colossal failure Bryan Bullington was better than the Yankees.
He pitched eight scoreless innings and gave up only two hits and one walk to the Bronx Bombers. He struck out five batters. Over eight full innings, he threw less than one hundred pitches.
Joakim Soria came in and shut the door in the ninth, and the Royals defeated the Yankees 1-0.
In an eight-year baseball career that included only 20 major league appearances (only seven of them starts), Bryan Bullington earned his first major league victory.
Unfortunately, since then, he’s gotten almost no respect except from the players on the field Sunday.
The consensus in the New York media was that Bullington got lucky and the Yankees phoned it in. Even the hometown Kansas City Star called Bullington a “journeyman” (a phrase that is not always meant as an insult, but is never used as a compliment). Other media sources indicated Bullington’s success could be attributed to the fact that the Yankees had never faced him.
However, Derek Jeter, the newest Yankee legend in a long line of Yankee legends, had this to say: “Whether we’ve seen him once or a hundred times, the way he threw today, he was going to beat us.”
Not a bad guy to receive praise from.
Really, Bullington’s performance was nothing short of amazing. For one brief shining moment on Sunday afternoon, Bryan Bullington was Royalty.
Who knows what the future will hold for the old-by-baseball-standards pitcher. It’s not realistic to think Bullington will be a part of the Royals’ rotation in the future, or even a contributing member of the bullpen.
But maybe, just maybe…
“…There were days in Triple-A where it felt like I was never going to get another shot,” Bullington told the Kansas City Star. “I’m at the point where I don’t want to kick around in Triple-A for another four or five years. I know that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it now.”
That’s the kind of player you should root for.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.