"R-E-B-E-L-U-T-I-O-N," Royals pitcher Danny Duffy explained, smiling, when asked what was on his ear buds earlier Monday night, before he went all Chuck Norris on the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting nine. "Feeling some good vibes out there today, man."
The scoreboard radar gun in the third inning flashed a 95. The gun on television in the sixth flashed a 96.
"You know, at the end of the (night), I said, ‘Man, you pitched a great game,’" Royals manager Ned Yost said after Kansas City’s 6-0 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in Game 1 of a home-and-home, four-game set. "’You didn’t throw a great game. You pitched a great game.’ He changed speeds, he kept the ball down, he was just right on top of his game (Monday)."
The 25-year-old allowed one hit — a single to Matt Holliday — and fanned five while walking one over six innings of work. It was Duffy’s best start, arguably, since an April 10, 2012, gem at Oakland in which he allowed just one hit, walked four and struck out eight during a 3-0 Royals victory. Or August 16, 2013, in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Detroit in which the California native allowed just one hit over six innings, walked three and fanned three.
No dead arm this time, kids.
"Phenomenal," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "To do what he did against a team like that is phenomenal."
"I just felt like I had more behind the ball (Monday)," Duffy (3-5) noted. "That being said, I didn’t feel any discomfort anywhere. Last time (at home on May 28), that’s (why) I was looking up, trying to take a peek at the radar. I’d seen 87 (on) the heater.
"And that was like, ‘What do you do there?’ You just keep pitching and keep trying to make pitches. I was lucky. I felt good (Monday)."
This time: 95, 96, 93. Pop. Pop. Pop. Of the first 20 batters the lefty faced, he opened with a first-pitch strike on 11. It was a welcome respite from his last two starts, including a "dead arm" outing last Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium in which Duffy was tagged for seven hits and six runs, five earned, and two home runs over just four innings in a 9-3 loss. The start before that wasn’t any more encouraging: six innings, nine hits — including two more taters — and five earned runs allowed during a 6-1 setback in Anaheim.
"You get that with the young pitching, is (that) little bit of inconsistency," Yost said. "We see it with (rookie Yordano) Ventura."
Duffy was Ventura before Ventura, the can’t-miss fire-baller who made throwing flame look free and easy. The portsider was Baseball America’s No. 68 overall prospect in 2011, pegged as an anchor arm in the building process.
The fiery stuff proved electric. The fiery temper proved problematic. The arm was a money-maker; the head was a potential career-killer.
"Even when we throw a pitch that we don’t want it to go where it went, still act like you meant to throw it there," Duffy said, "as opposed to earlier in my career, (when) I’d throw a pitch and then I get really upset with myself. You just can’t do that. This is a game that keeps going on, whether you go with it or not."
The kid blew several gaskets, then his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery, rehab, and a return climb to The Show that was more labored than the first.
"You know, my first two years, before I blew out my elbow, it was hit or miss with (my) mind a lot," Duffy said. "I’m starting to learn that my stuff will get a lot of people out."
Dozens, on a good day.
"He was mixing it up, he used both sides, had a fastball that guys were having trouble timing up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny noted. "It’s going to make for a long night."
And, given the current state of Matheny’s offense, a quick night, too. The hosts came into the evening having scored the seventh fewest runs in the National League (218). On the flip side, the ordinarily schizophrenic Royals attack found its feet in the seventh and eighth, plating three runs in each frame.
Fun fact: The visitors scored almost as many runs in those two innings (six) as they had, combined, over Duffy’s five appearances in May (seven).
"Well, you know, sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw," Duffy said. "The guys are swinging the stick really well. They do what they always do, and you know, I’ve had plenty of games in my career where they’ve bailed me out of a six-run (deficit)."
Plenty of times, too, when he might’ve melted down after falling behind 3-1 to Matt Carpenter. Plenty of times when concentration would waver, sashaying like a leaf in the breeze.
"I’d gotten intro trouble thinking too much," Duffy explained.
And I might stress
Yes I might stress, too blessed to be stressed
Yes, I might stress, too blessed to be stressed
Yes, I might stress, too blessed to be stressed …
Rebelution, a reggae-rock band from California, put a song out in the spring called "De-Stressed." In Duffy’s world, the thing is more than just a bouncy tune with horns and a funky organ line.
It’s a mantra.
"I used to be really red (faced) out there," Duffy says. "But at the end of the day, you just have to do your absolute best to stay composed, regardless of the situation, good or bad."