Friday night's Royals-Angels game in Anaheim, Calif., turned out to be Exhibit A of why you should almost never trust spring-training numbers.
Royals left-hander Bruce Chen, beaten and battered by opponents most of spring training, completely baffled the Angels through six dominant innings.
The Royals' offense, so powerful and productive throughout spring training, was no match for Angels ace Jered Weaver, who flipped eight shutout innings and struck out 10.
And in the end, the Royals' bullpen, purported to be the team's strength this season, caved in during a five-run Angels' eighth inning, keyed by Erick Aybar's three-run triple off Greg Holland.
The Angels went on to roll 5-0 in each team's season opener.
Yet if there was a bright spot for the Royals, the youngest team in the major leagues, it came from their oldest player the 34-year-old Chen.
Though Chen has been the team's top pitcher the past two years and was named the Royals' pitcher of the year in 2011, his rough spring training caused great concern to some back in Kansas City. In fact, some sports-talk radio hosts in Kansas City called for Chen to be removed from the rotation.
Chen, who signed a two-year, 9 million deal during the off-season, insisted he was simply experimenting with different release points during spring, which explained his shaky outings.
Chen seemed to prove his point Friday night. He worked almost exclusively with an over-the-top arm angle that seemed to allow him to pitch more downhill.
Chen was in command throughout, mixing in soft curves and sliders with an occasional snap-down fastball that at one point reached 89 mph. He did not walk a hitter and struck out four.
The Angels' biggest threat off Chen came in in the first when Howard Kendrick doubled with one out. But Chen induced Albert Pujols, making his debut with the Angels, to hit a soft liner to shortstop where Alcides Escobar caught it and tossed back to Yuni Betancourt at second base for a double play.
Chen also got Pujols to pop out to third two innings later.
"I was very proud of the way Bruce pitched," Royals manager Ned Yost said during his post-game press conference. "Very much in command."
Meanwhile, the Royals' bats, so hot during their time in Arizona, cooled off against Weaver, who also did not walk a hitter and faced only two serious threats.
In the third, catcher Brayan Pena drilled a single to left to lead off, and Escobar followed with another sharp single to left.
But Yost did not have Alex Gordon bunting, no doubt wary of having rookie Lorenzo Cain, who struck out three times on the night, on deck. Weaver, though, proceeded to strike out Gordon, Cain and Eric Hosmer.
The Royals had another shot to take the lead in the seventh inning when Jeff Francoeur lashed a one-out double to left. But Francoeur fell asleep at second and Weaver promptly picked him off.
Francoeur's lapse turned out to be big when Betancourt followed with a single to left. Mike Moustakas then ended the rally by rolling out to second.
"Weaver is no fluke," Yost said. "We knew how tough he would be."
Aaron Crow, the Royals' lone All-Star in 2011, came on to pitch the eighth and struck out the side, including Pujols.
Yost sent Crow out for the eighth as well, and with one out the Angels loaded the bases on singles by Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo and Chris Iannetta. That prompted Yost to bring in Holland, who many thought would start the season as the Royals' closer (that job now belongs to Jonathan Broxton).
The play of the game came next when Peter Bourjos chopped a weak grounder toward Escobar. Moustakas cut in front of Escobar, who seemed distracted and bobbled the ball, allowing a run to score.
"I need to go back and look at the video of that play," Yost said. "I'm not sure (Moustakas distracted Escobar)."
Aybar followed with a shot into the right-field corner, clearing the bases.