By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Baseball requires you to be rational, but tempts you to be emotional. Making good decisions when your hair’s on fire isn’t easy, but it is necessary. That’s why ballplayers run through the available options before the ball is ever put in play—there won’t be time to think things through while the ball is whistling your way.
When a player is presented with options and one of them requires a difficult play, most coaches will tell you to take the sure out.
In the fifth inning Alcides Escobar didn’t do this and the Royals paid the price. Chris Dickerson was on second base after hitting a double and Nate McLouth hit a bouncing ball up the middle, Dickerson decided to advance to third and Esky decided to throw Dickerson out. Two problems: Alcides was in the base path (which meant he’d have to throw around the runner) and it wasn’t a force play (which meant Mike Moustakas would have to make a tough catch and tag). The out at first was there for the taking and Escobar didn’t take it.
Esky’s throw hit Dickerson and everyone was safe.
Next, Manny Machado singled, Dickerson scored and the guy who should have been the first out—McLouth—wound up on third. When something bad happens to the other team, a lot of managers will immediately put a play on; they go for the kill. Rack up some runs while the opposition is still thinking about what has happened and hasn’t zeroed in on what might happen next.
Machado stole second and Royals catcher, George Kottaras, bounced the throw. With the ball rolling around on the ground in the vicinity of second base, Nate McLouth headed for home. Escobar picked up the ball, bounced that throw and McLouth scored. Meanwhile, Machado came around to third base. The Royals already had three errors in the inning and pitcher Luis Mendoza added a wild pitch. Luis bounced the ball too far out in front of home plate for Kottaras to block and the Orioles had their third run of the inning.
After the game Ned Yost said if Escobar had taken the out at first, the Orioles probably would have scored one run instead of three. The Royals lost by two—it’s easy to see the cost of not taking the sure out.
First inning: Billy Butler walked—again. Until someone starts hitting behind him, Billy will get few good pitches to hit. Look at Prince Fielder; he hits behind Ryan Braun and Braun wins an MVP. Then Fielder hits behind Miguel Cabrera and Cabrera wins an MVP and leads the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Will Eric Hosmer hit well enough to get Butler better pitches?
Second inning: J.J. Hardy homered to put the Orioles up 2-0.
Fourth inning: Left-handed Mike Moustakas singled to left field. When a guy is a dead-pull hitter, teams will often pitch him away and let him hit weak groundballs to the pull side of the field. If the dead-pull hitter just keeps doing the same thing, they’ll just keep pitching him the same way. Once the hitter starts taking that outside pitch to the opposite field, the opposition has to come back inside to keep him honest. Make a mistake inside and the dead-pull hitter will do some damage.
In the bottom of the inning J.J. Hardy walked. If a hitter shows power, pitchers start to nibble. If a guy isn’t going to hurt them with the long ball, pitchers are more likely to come right after them. If you ever wonder why some singles hitter doesn’t walk more, it might be because he’s a singles hitter.
Sixth inning: Orioles’ pitcher Chris Tillman came up and in on Lorenzo Cain, forcing Lorenzo to spin out of the way. Whenever a pitcher throws high and tight, look for the next pitch to be away. Hitters know that pitchers do this, but it’s still hard to convince yourself to dive to the outside corner to cover that pitch when the one before it almost tore off your lips. To Cain’s credit, he dove to the outside corner, fouled the pitch off and eventually walked.
Moustakas then homered, driving in Cain and making the score 5-3.
Elliot Johnson followed with a single and tried to stretch it into a double. The gamble didn’t work and Elliot was thrown out at second base. There were two down at the time and you’ll often see base runners take chances to get into scoring position at that point; stay on first and it will probably take two hits to score the runner, get to second and one hit might do the trick.
Elliot was not the tying run, but there’s some merit in the idea of getting one run now and trying to get the other one later—but the Royals were running out of time and outs.
Ninth inning: Yesterday I said the Royals better have a lead after eight s because the Orioles have a dynamite closer, Jim Johnson. When a team has a closer who is automatic—and Johnson recorded his 34th straight save—the game gets shortened. When Elliot Johnson got thrown out to end the sixth inning, the Royals pretty much had two more innings to grab a lead, not three. Let the Orioles hand the ball to Johnson with a lead and the game is nearly over. If the Orioles are leading after eight innings tomorrow, the Royals odds of a comeback win go way down.
A clean inning
There's been lots of discussion about Ned Yost's decision to pull James Shield's after eight innings in Monday's game. Many people, myself included, have said that if they had the choice, Shield's would have been sent out for the ninth inning with a 1-0 lead, but pulled if the winning run came to the plate. In other words; let James go until he had a runner on. That would bring the winning run to the plate and I can see why a manager would not allow a starter to throw that well and lose.
But those of us who only manage from our couches should remember that managers who do it for real often like to give certain relievers a clean inning. Remember Jonathan Broxton? You better give Broxton three bases to work with because they all might be full before he buckled down and got the job done. Some guys are like that--they have to face a batter or two before they get in synch. I don't if Holland is one of those guys, but it wouldn't be surprising if Ned would rather have his closer start an inning. Send a closer to the mound with the tying run on second and no room to breathe and all they have to do to blow a save is make one bad pitch.
Just remember that when managers go to the pen, some of the relievers have the stuff and temperament to put out fires and some relievers need a clean inning.