JUDGING THE ROYALS

Shields throws a two-hitter — and loses

Updated: 2013-04-23T22:31:16Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

James Shields threw a complete game, giving up only two hits in nine innings. Unfortunately, one of those hits traveled over 400 feet. Blue Jays third baseman Jose Bautista hits with a slightly open stance; keep the ball away and he might have a hard time doing much with it. Hang a curve and someone goes home with a souvenir.

After the game Shields said he made two mistakes: the hanging curve to Bautista and walking the number nine hitter, Munenori Kawasaki, to lead off the inning. The Royals lost to the Blue Jays 3-2, but you can still see why they went out and got James Shields. I’m guessing the Royals would take this kind of effort from a starting pitcher any day of the week.

Game notes

Billy Butler was on first base with two outs when Salvador Perez doubled to right field. The crowd booed third base coach Eddie Rodriguez when Eddie decided to hold Billy up at third. The crowd also would have booed if Eddie had sent him—Billy would have been out.

Butler said R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball was moving everywhere and Chris Getz said Dickey had a good one going Saturday night. He scattered five hits over six and a third innings and gave up only one run.

In the third inning with Macier Izturis on third base, Ned Yost brought the Royals infield in to cut off the run at the plate. After the game I asked Ned if he had the infield in early because he could see how sharp the pitching was and how few runs would probably score and he said, no, he just wanted the number nine hitter—Munenori Kawasaki—to have to do a little more than hit a routine groundball to an infielder score a run.

Kawasaki did; he hit a sac fly to Jeff Francoeur and got the Jays first run home.

You could see Francoeur get behind the fly ball and catch it moving forward to get more on his throw home. Pay attention to which direction an outfielder is moving when he catches a fly ball. If he’s moving toward the infield, the throw will be stronger than if he’s moving away.

Salvador Perez did everything he could to block Izturis off the plate—if you watch the replay check out Salvy’s left foot and how he uses to keep the runner from touching home plate—but the umpire ruled Izturis safe.

Right before the Bautista home run, Melky Cabrera hit a groundball to second baseman, Chris Getz. There was one out at the time and a double play would have gotten the Royals out of the inning. Chris took a brief look at second, then settled for one out at first. After the game Chris told me the runner going into second—Kawasaki—was too close to the bag to risk the throw. And Kawasaki had also veered slightly out of the base path to his right, knowing that would block Getzie’s throwing lane to second. (Most of the time, they play a pretty sharp brand of baseball in the big leagues.)

Straddling the bag on a tag play

Watch an infielder take a throw on a stolen base and you can learn something about him. Old-school infielders will tell you that the correct way to receive a throw is while straddling the base. The feet block off two sides of the bag and that leaves only the front of the bag open. The infielder catches the ball and drops the tag, blocking off the only side of the bag open to the runner—the one right in front of him.

I’ve heard guys who have been around awhile say that too many young guys want to come out in front of the bag, receive the ball and then reach back to make the tag—that takes longer and allows the runner to avoid the tag by sliding to the back of the bag. Some infielders do it because they want to avoid a collision with the runner. The only good reason I’ve heard for coming out in front of the bag came from Chris Getz: if the catcher tends to sail his throws to the right field side of the bag, the infielder needs to come out in front so he can move laterally with the throw. If the infielder were straddling the bag and tried to move laterally with the throw he’d collide with the runner.

I’ve written this before but I was reminded of it Friday night. Elliot Johnson covered second when Melky Cabrera stole a base. Elliot straddled the bag—good for him. But Elliot failed to knock down the throw from Salvador Perez—another thing old-school infielder say you have to do—the ball skipped into centerfield and Melky got up and went to third. Afterwards, Elliot said he needs to find a way to knock the ball down, but got a very tough hop on that throw.

It’s always something, isn’t it?

A clarification

Let’s go back to Friday night and Emilio Bonifacio’s second-inning double: it was a big moment that changed the game—the Blue Jays were never behind again—and I wrote about it afterwards. Colby Rasmus was on second with nobody out, Bonifacio tried to bunt him to third twice and then hit a hanging breaking pitch over Jeff Francoeur’s head. Rasmus scored, Bonifacio was at second and Frenchy’s throw went over the cutoff man. Bonifacio took off third base when he saw the ball rolling across the infield, Salvador Perez picked the ball up, overthrew third and Bonifacio scored.

Got all that?

OK—I said that first baseman Miguel Tejada appeared to be out of position. On a throw to the plate the first baseman is usually stationed somewhere around the pitching mound and Tejada was somewhere around first base. With no one to cut off the ball, Bonifacio was free to advance.

But I also said I’d check and make sure I had that right. Turns out I was right—Tejada was out of position—but the reason is interesting:

When the ball went over Francoeur’s head the Royals infielders assumed Colby Rasmus would score—if you’re standing on second and someone doubles, you’re supposed to—so the Royals infielders began lining up for a throw to third base. When there’s a clean double the first baseman is supposed to trail the hitter to second base and come in behind him. If the runner rounds second too aggressively—maybe the defense can catch the runner off base.

So that’s what the Royals infielders were up to: set up a double-cut system with the throw going to third base and Tejada trailing the runner to second base—but then Colby Rasmus went back to second base to tag. Now it was no longer a sure thing that Rasmus would score. Jeff Francoeur saw this from right field and threw the ball home while the defense was aligning itself for a throw to third. It was one of those cases where someone on the other team does something unexpected—and maybe even wrong—and it catches you off guard. Tejada was doing what he was supposed to be doing had the throw gone to third. When the throw went home, Tejada wasn’t there to cut it off.

The people who have followed this web site from the beginning know how often I say you can never be 100 percent sure you know what’s happening on a baseball field. Talk to the participants and you’ll find out something that hadn’t occurred to you—and this is just one more example.

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