07/14/2003 5:51 PM ET
MacDougal a Royal surprise in 2003
Righty closer excited to be an All-Star
CHICAGO -- Exhibit A in the case that things have changed for the Royals is the standings -- Kansas City leads the White Sox and Twins by seven and 7 1/2 games, respectively, in the American League Central. It's the second-biggest lead in baseball at the All-Star break.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
But Exhibit B, well that would have to be a Royals reliever making the AL All-Star team. Mike MacDougal, a 25-year-old rookie right-hander, is Kansas City's lone representative in the Midsummer Classic. First baseman Mike Sweeney was selected to the squad but is not playing due to injury.
That leaves the hard-throwing MacDougal, who has recorded the first 24 saves of his Major League career over the past three months. With a lifetime ERA approaching 5.00 before this season, MacDougal wasn't even sure he'd still be on the Royals' roster by mid-July -- never mind the All-Star roster.
"The first (save) was the biggest one, because I'd never closed before in the big leagues," MacDougal said Monday. "So that was a huge one. And once I got that one, it gave me a little bit of confidence to go out there. I knew there was a possibility of being a good closer."
But even then, the thought of playing on the same roster with Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Roger Clemens was the furthest thing from his mind.
"Never," he said. "It didn't even cross my mind until like a week (ago) when people mentioned it. I didn't even think about it. I was just glad to be up in the big leagues."
MacDougal's fortunes have paralleled those of his team this year. He came out of the blocks absolutely blazing, converting his first 10 save chances and not allowing an earned run in his first nine appearances. The Royals were similarly torrid, roaring to a 16-3 record in late April.
Player and team hit a rough patch -- the Royals fell to .500 by the end of May, and MacDougal blew four of six save chances -- then rebounded. A stellar June and July have MacDougal and the Royals running away with the AL Central -- a thought that would have been inconceivable before the year to most outside the organization.
"It was definitely an exciting time," MacDougal said of the hot start. "I guess it's one of those things, like a snowball effect but in a good way. We just kept going with it. It seemed like everything went our way. It's hard to stop.
"We faded a little bit. Obviously there's gonna be those times during the season. I thought we were playing well during that time. We were just coming up a little short, losing by one run or so."
Now MacDougal is trying to keep up with the frantic pace of All-Star week. He's had to find ways to keep family and friends happy, not to mention dealing with an unfamiliar amount of media attention.
"It's pretty hectic," he said. "I've been trying to get enough tickets. I've got a bunch of family and some friends coming out, so (I was) getting tickets for the game and the home run contest. But the traveling secretary hooked me up pretty good. He did a good job.
"It's weird. I'm not used to having attention like this. It's pretty odd."
And as for the chance that his pitches could determine home-field advantage in the World Series, well, that's a possibility that MacDougal relishes.
"It's a little pressure, but that comes with the job," he said. "That's part of the fun of it, too, to go out there and compete. When you end up on top, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Besides, you never know just how important those final outs could be to the Royals themselves. If they make the playoffs, and if a few things break right...
Exhibit C might be that home-field advantage in the World Series actually matters to MacDougal and the Royals.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.