Twenty-five years ago this week, Kevin Appier pitched perhaps the most dominant game in Royals history. And lost.
That’s a bold claim, you might respond. I answer with the Game Score stat.
You’re familiar with Game Score, yes? Devised by Bill James, it is a stat to determine a starting pitcher’s effectiveness in a single game. While it is somewhat of a “quick and dirty” method, in general it works to give us a good idea of just how well a pitcher did in any game. The formula is simple: start with 50 points, add one point for each out, one point for each strikeout, and two points for each inning completed after the fourth. Then subtract one point for each walk, two points for each hit, two points for each unearned run, and four points for each earned run. A Game Score of 100 is exceptional, a Game Score of 90 is terrific, and the proverbial “quality start” is probably going to be between 50-60 points.
In Royals history, the highest Game Score ever is a 98, achieved by Dick Drago in 1972. It was a much different time: Drago worked 11 innings before allowing a run in the 12th. Unfortunately, that cost him the game, as the Royals lost 1-0. The second-highest Game Score in team history is a game most of you will recall: Danny Duffy striking out 16 Tampa Bay hitters in 2016 for a 95.
Next on the list is a 93 by Appier in 1995. That was pretty dominant: he shut out California on three hits and struck out 13 hitters. Roger Nelson also got a 93 in a 1972 game against Boston, striking out nine and allowing one hit. But those 1972 games were played without the designated hitter—that rule came into effect in 1973.
There are two 92 Game Scores on the list, one by Bret Saberhagen in 1987 and Jim Colborn’s no-hitter in 1977 (if you’re wondering, Saberhagen’s 1991 no-hitter comes in at 90—he only had five strikeouts and walked two batters).
And then there’s the game in question here: a Game Score of 91 for Appier on July 27, 1993. Fun fact: Appier actually had two Game Scores of 91 as a Royal. And he lost both times by a 1-0 score. The first one was a 10-inning loss to Cleveland in 1992, but he only had four strikeouts. It’s the second one of those games that we should examine more closely.
July 27 was a typical Kansas City summer day, with a forecast of 91 degrees and a slight chance of rain. That was a welcome break from the rain that had been falling in the area—and really, all of the Midwest—most of the spring and summer. Many parts of Kansas City and the surrounding areas, especially Parkville, were either flooded already or desperately piling up sandbags to limit potential flooding. Meanwhile, the Royals were trying to keep pace with Chicago in the AL West race, along with their opponents in this game, the Texas Rangers. An earlier rainout had been rescheduled as part of a July 26 doubleheader between the two teams; the Royals won both games to move to 1.5 games behind the White Sox, while Texas sat four games back of Chicago. This was now a rare five-game series, and with one of their aces on the mound, the Royals had a chance to open up more room between themselves and the Rangers.
Appier began the game with a groundout, then struck out the next two hitters. He collected two more strikeouts in the second, sandwiched around a lineout to third baseman Phil Hiatt. Then he got two more strikeouts in the third, accompanied by another groundout. That was nine up, nine down, six strikeouts, and no balls out of the infield so far.
It was apparent Appier could do something special on this night. But would the Royals ever score?
That was always a question when Appier was on the mound, it seemed like. In 1990, the Royals scored two or fewer runs in eight of his 24 starts. In 1991, they scored two or fewer runs in nine of his 31 starts. And in 1992, they scored two or fewer runs in 14 of his 30 starts, which is probably where the notion that the Royals never scored for Appier comes from. In 1993, it was back to a more reasonable nine of 34 starts. Of course, this particular Royals team would finish last in the AL in runs scored in 1993, so it was a fair question.
Anyway, Rangers starter and Royals nemesis Kenny Rogers was working out of trouble. Kansas City had a great scoring chance in the second, when Gary Gaetti led off with a double that missed clearing the wall by perhaps a foot. Kevin McReynolds singled with one out, but Gaetti stopped at third. Hiatt struck out and Jose Lind grounded out, ending the inning.
The Royals collected two-out singles in both the fourth and fifth innings, but nothing came of them. Meanwhile, Appier had retired 15 straight hitters, with a fly ball to short center to end the fifth the only ball hit out of the infield. Eight of those 15 hitters had struck out.
Appier continued to dominate as the sixth inning began, striking out Doug Strange for the first out. But Dan Peltier drew a walk, ending the perfect game. Trying to get something started, Peltier took off for second on the first pitch to the next hitter. Catcher Mike Macfarlane fired a strike to second to cut down Peltier, one of four times he would be caught stealing that year without ever being successful. Appier kept the no-hitter going by getting Mario Diaz for the final out.
The Rangers could only manage two groundouts to start the seventh. Rafael Palmeiro stepped to the plate, took one pitch for ball one, and then threw a slider to Palmeiro…
“I was not trying to hit the ball out of the park. I was just trying to hit it somewhere.”—Palmeiro, quoted by the Associated Press, July 28, 1993
It was not a long home run, but it was still a home run. The ball landed in the Royals’ bullpen in right field and Texas had a 1-0 lead.
“The guy gave up one hit, you can’t say any pitch he threw was a mistake. He was hitting my glove all night. I didn’t have to move it.”—Macfarlane, quoted by Jonathan Rand, Kansas City Star, July 28, 1993
Now the pressure was on the Royals’ offense. Gaetti started the seventh with a single, and McReynolds singled with one out to move Gaetti to second. Hiatt hit a line drive headed for right field, but Strange made a leaping catch, then threw to second to double off Gaetti. The scoring threat was over and it was on to the eighth inning.
Appier again set the Rangers down in order in the eighth. The Royals got a two-out single by Greg Gagne in the bottom of the eighth, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
In the ninth, Appier got three quick outs, striking out Manny Lee for the second out of the inning and his 11th K of the night. As he walked off the mound after the third out, the crowd of 22,415 rose for a standing ovation.
“It was nice what they did, showing their appreciation. I was uncomfortable coming out when we were behind like that. But I recognized what they were doing.”—Appier, quoted by Rand
The Royals had one more chance. Gaetti singled with two outs in the ninth, and the Rangers turned to closer Tom Henke. Pinch-hitter Wally Joyner grounded out and it was official: Appier had struck out 11, allowed one hit, and lost.
“It’s hard to say if it’s the best game I’ve ever thrown because we lost. I felt in control the whole night. It was frustrating for all of us to lose.”—Appier, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, Kansas City Star, July 28, 1993
Appier had been very efficient, throwing just 108 pitches. He had faced one batter over the minimum, and lowered his season ERA to 2.92 in the process.
“I do recognize I threw a good game. It wasn’t good enough. I’m bummed for that.”—Appier, quoted by Rand.
“I’ve seen some great performances over the years by some great pitchers, including Doc Gooden, and that’s right at the top. Any time you can strike out 11 and do it economically you just hope he can find some solace and feel good about it tonight, then carry it over to his next start.”—Royals pitcher David Cone, quoted by Rand
Appier actually got bombed in his next outing, allowing seven runs—five earned—in just two innings. But he finished at least seven innings in 10 of his 11 remaining starts, finishing the year with an 18-8 record and leading the league with a 2.56 ERA. He finished third in the Cy Young voting.
Given the strength of the Texas lineup, which featured Julio Franco (2,586 major league hits), Juan Gonzalez (434 career home runs), and Palmeiro (3,020 major league hits), I’d argue that this outing was more impressive than Duffy’s 16-strikeout one. And just think, had Palmeiro’s home run just bounced off the wall and the Rangers remained scoreless, Appier’s Game Score would have been 95, tied with Duffy for second-best in team history.
Then again, if Appier had pitched a one-hit shutout and won, I wonder if we would even remember this game. Something about pitching so well and still losing, giving one’s absolute best and not getting rewarded, seems to strike a chord with people. It’s unfortunate, but maybe it’s good that it helps us remember this game, which does get my vote as the most dominant pitching performance in Royals history.