Judging the Royals

One vs. one

Updated: 2013-04-26T04:16:19Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

People are going to focus on Alex Gordon’s extra-inning grand slam with good reason, but don’t miss what happened earlier: James Shields kept the Kansas City Royals in the game even though they were facing Detroit’s ace, Justin Verlander. The Star’s Bob Dutton wrote it earlier: a game like this is why the Royals went out and got James Shields. When they run into a number one starting pitcher like Verlander, the Royals now have their own number-one starting pitcher to face him.

Verlander had slightly better numbers—seven innings, eight hits and one earned run versus Shields eight innings, five hits and three earned runs—but Shields kept the Royals close. Close enough that they tied it up 3-3 in the eighth inning and then won it in the tenth when Gordon sent a ball over the centerfield fence. After beating the Tiger’s 8-3, the Royals come home in first place.

Enjoy the moment.

Key moments from the game

Bottom of the fourth: James Shields walked Prince Fielder to start the inning. Then Shields threw a couple wild pitches to put Prince on third. With one down, Jhonny Peralta hit a fly ball to right-center field for a sac fly and Fielder scored.

Two things about that play: Lorenzo Cain caught the ball and made a decent throw home, but if Jeff Francour could have caught the ball (and it was unclear from the replays) Lorenzo needed to let Frenchy make the play. Jeff has the better arm and the better reputation—maybe Fielder doesn’t try to score if Francoeur catches the ball. Also, Frenchy would catch the ball on his throwing-arm side so there would be no need to do any extra footwork. Cain caught the ball on his glove side so he had to get his footwork straightened out before throwing the ball home.

And the second thing about that play is Eric Hosmer cutting the ball off and relaying the throw home: typically, the cutoff man does nothing unless he’s asked to—in that case Hosmer would have been told to cut the ball off by Salvador Perez. I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t there, but that’s how it usually works.

Top of the fifth: Eric Hosmer gets his second opposite-field hit. Hitting the ball the other way cures a lot of slumps: it forces the hitter to stay back and wait on the ball and keeps the hitter’s front-side closed. Hos ended the day at .288.

Bottom of the fifth: One of the theories about pitching to great hitters is to quit worrying about it; they’re going to get their hits—just make sure you get the hitters in front of them and behind them. Isolate the great hitters and minimize the damage they can do.

Victor Martinez—hitting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder—went 0 for 4, but Torii Hunter—hitting in front of Cabrera and Fielder—went 2 for 4. Hunter drove in the Tiger’s third run of the game, making the score 3-2.

Top of the eighth: Billy Butler led off the inning with a single and Ned Yost sent Jarrod Dyson out to pinch run for Billy. Anyone wondering why Ned would take the Royals best bat out of the lineup needs to remember this: the score was 3-2 at the time and the Royals needed to score one run in the next two innings. Dyson stole second base, moved to third on Eric Hosmer’s groundout and scored on Lorenzo Cain’s fly ball to centerfield. Ned got what he wanted: a tie ballgame.

Later in the inning Mike Moustakas doubled into the right field corner. In his previous at-bat, Mike lined out to Miguel Cabrera at third. Mike’s game stats still look bad—1 for 4—but when you’re scuffling, hitting two balls hard back-to-back can be meaningful. Two well-hit balls does not mean Moose is back on track, but it’s a start.

After Mike’s double, he stole third base easily and here’s why (probably): Jeff Francoeur was at the plate and Tiger’s reliever Bruce Rondon threw Jeff an off-speed pitch. Miguel Cabrera probably knew what pitch was coming—the middle infielders can see the signs and find a way to signal the corner infielders—so Cabrera was not going to cover third base, open a hole and let Francoeur bounce a routine grounder through the infield. If Moose deciphered the signs from second base and knew an off-speed pitch was coming, he also knew Cabrera wasn’t likely to cover third on a steal.

There’s more going on out there than most of us realize.

Top of the tenth: With the bases loaded, George Kottaras came to the plate, saw five pitches and walked. That scored Lorenzo Cain and the Royals were up 4-3. Alex Gordon’s grand slam put the game out of reach, but Kottaras taking a walk in that situation was a key moment.

Ballplayers are only human and they get jacked up and excited with the game on the line, just like the rest of us. The guys who can take a step back, calm down and "try easier"—George Brett’s mantra—have a better chance of succeeding. After the game Ned Yost said Kottaras gave a professional, "no-panic" at-bat.

Gordon did something spectacular, but Kottaras gave the Royals their lead.

Alex Gordon’s leadership

Gordo is a pretty quiet guy and for a long time I thought he was aloof—one of those "too cool for school" guys. I couldn’t have been more wrong. One of the advantages of going to every game for the past three years is getting to know the players and once I got to know Alex, you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy.

But he is quiet.

Ask people about team leaders and they’ll all name Gordon. Alex is not vocal, but he leads by example. The guy scuffled, went back to the minors, learned a new position, came back to the big leagues and dominated (my word not his). Anyone who’s paying attention cannot fail to see how hard Gordon works: he takes extra balls in the outfield, works out like a maniac and is rumored to have last had a bite of pizza when he was just a kid—if Gordon wants a treat he eats a power bar.

One day Alex walked by with his shirt off (the lack of body fat is just plain ridiculous) and Chris Getz said: "That’s about ten years of eating right." Since I can’t manage ten hours of eating right, I’m never going to match Gordo’s physique, but young teammates would be smart to emulate Gordon’s dedication.

Alex Gordon has two Gold Gloves and is currently hitting .337—none of it happened by accident.

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