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Royals draw Cards to open Interleague Play

Royals draw Cards to open Interleague Play

Royals draw Cards to open Interleague Play
KANSAS CITY -- There's always a festive air when the St. Louis Cardinals come to Kauffman Stadium to renew the old Missouri rivalry with the Royals.

In Kansas City, of course, this never fails to bring forth the swelling of pride about the Royals' only World Series championship, wrested away from the Cardinals. But wait, that was 26 years ago in 1985! A lot of Royals fans, not to mention 10 of their current 25 players, weren't even born yet.

So that prompted a pop quiz to a couple of the kids: Who won the 1985 World Series? Both Jeremy Jeffress and Nate Adcock promptly answered correctly.

"I've actually been studying," said Jeffress, who came from Milwaukee in the winter swap for Zack Greinke. "As soon as I got traded, I started looking in the book."

Adcock is also a newcomer, picked in the Rule 5 Draft from Pittsburgh, but he knew too.

"The history of the Royals -- they teach us that in Spring Training," Adcock explained. "You hear about it and you don't forget it."

That was this city's only trip to baseball's pinnacle and the fact that it came against the Redbirds-on-the-bat gang down the road on I-70 generates a pleasant visit to Nostalgiaville. There's still some unpleasantness between the fans of the two teams, however.

Royals pitcher Aaron Crow grew up near Topeka, Kan., as a Kansas City fan but went to the University of Missouri where he encountered a lot of St. Louis partisans. So he's up for this series.

"I think the reason that I'd be more fired up than normal is that I went to Mizzou and there are so many Cardinals fans in Columbia and they got on my nerves -- I couldn't stand 'em," Crow said.

The guy that really gets on KC fans' (and pitchers') nerves is Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols, who has a .383 (67-for-175) career average against the Royals with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs in 45 games. Oddly, his average at Kauffman Stadium is also .383 (46-for-120) in 30 games and 13 of his homers have come in the spacious park.

Former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis will start Friday night's Interleague opener with a 4-1 record against the Cardinals and he's managed to hold Pujols to 4-for-14 with no homers and one RBI in their NL faceoffs.

"He's about as tough as you can get," Francis said. "He's probably the best hitter I've ever faced. The trick is probably keeping the people around him off the bases and, if you get into a situation where the game's in hand, you can go right after him. If not, you can try to pitch around him."

Indeed, Francis judiciously has walked Pujols six times.

Jeffress pitched against the Cardinals once last year with the Brewers and took on both Pujols and Matt Holliday.

"Albert hit a ground ball to third and he reached on an error. Matt singled in the 4-3 hole. I got out of it, a scoreless inning though," Jeffress said.

In this 15th year of Interleague Play, after a hiatus in 2010, the Cardinals-Royals rivalry resumes its home-and-home format starting at Kauffman Stadium this weekend -- on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Last year, the Royals didn't go to St. Louis, but they'll return to Busch Stadium on June 17-19, also a weekend.

In addition to the Cardinals, the Royals will be home against the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago Cubs and visit the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies.

Royals manager Ned Yost gets to go back to his roots in the National League cities where no designated hitter is used and he has to rely on those NL subtleties he employed as skipper of the Brewers for six years.

In his second year as an AL manager, Yost has learned one thing.

"It's more work for us than it is for them. We've got to take pitchers that never bunt, never take batting practice, start a regimen for them and get them going two or three weeks ahead on the offensive side of their game," Yost said.

And, in the NL cities, the AL team has a disadvantage.

"We'll have a player that has to sit on the bench that normally plays every day and they won't. I didn't mind it as much when I was in the National League; I mind it a little more when I'm in the American League," Yost said.

That player is usually the designated hitter, so will it be Billy Butler for the Royals?

"We'll see," Yost said, not committing himself.

Last year:The Royals repeated their 2009 results with an 8-10 record. They won two of three games each from St. Louis, Cincinnati and Houston, but lost two of three each against Washington and Colorado and were swept at Atlanta.

All-time: Since 1997, the Royals have a losing record, 115-132. The best year was 2008 with a 13-5 record that included a sweet three-game sweep at St. Louis. The worst year was 2002 with an opposite 5-13 mark that included being swept in three at St. Louis and at Montreal.

vs. St. Louis, May 20-22: Pujols played in high school and college in Kansas City, so he's always a center of attention and he's a .383 hitter at Kauffman. The Cardinals are throwing three pretty good pitchers in Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia.

at St. Louis, June 17-19: The I-70 Series resumes on the east side of Missouri nearly four weeks later. The Royals have done pretty well at the two Busch Stadiums with a 12-12 record including 7-5 at the new ballpark. KC swept three there only in 2008.

vs. Arizona, June 21-23: KC fans might remember that D-backs manager Kirk Gibson played for the Royals in 1991 or at least his famous homer for the Dodgers. Arizona's Willie Bloomquist, a popular Royals utility player for two years, has been injured but should be OK by then.

vs. Chicago Cubs, June 24-26: The lovable losers make their third trip to Kauffman Stadium, but first since 2000 when Sammy Sosa was playing (and hit three homers in the series). Now it's Alfonso Soriano bashing most of the Cubs' dingers and rookie Darwin Barney among the NL's leading hitters.

at San Diego, June 27-29: KC hasn't been here since 2004 when, memorably, Matt Stairs drilled relay man Ken Harvey in the back with a throw and the Padres swept the series. Former Royals left-hander Buddy Black gets to manage against his old team for the first time.

at Colorado, July 1-3: The Royals are 8-7 against the Rockies, their only winning mark against any NL foe of 2011. Last year Troy Tulowitzki was 5-for-12 with two homers and the Rox won two of three. Lefty Jorge De La Rosa has blossomed since the Royals let him go.

Players to watch
• Alex Gordon, LF (.312, five HRs, 21 RBIs): Maybe because he grew up a Royals fan, the Cardinals bring out the best in him -- .347 (17-for-49) with four homers and 11 RBIs in 12 games.

• Billy Butler, DH (.307, five HRs, 17 RBIs): -- Last year after hitting .447 (17-for-38) in the first nine IL games, he was .167 (6-for-36) in the last nine games. Go figure.

• Joakim Soria, RHP (14 saves, 1.53 ERA): A premier closer, Soria prospers against NL teams, too. Last year he was 4-for-4 in save chances and didn't allow a run in six games.

• Jeff Francis, LHP (8-6, 4.13 ERA): Tops the Royals in IL wins but, of course, all came in the NL for the Rockies, including two over the Royals (they beat him once, though).

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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