The game got away in the sixth inning, one of the hardest innings in baseball. It’s not the first time I’ve pointed that out to readers, but ever since former Royals catcher Jason Kendall pointed it out to me, I see it all the time: the starting pitcher is running out of gas in the sixth or seventh (another hard inning) and hasn’t gone far enough to hand the ball to the most dominant relievers at the backend of the pen—the set-up man and closer.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
In this case the starter was Wade Davis. A 31-pitch second inning just about guaranteed Wade wasn’t going to make it through seven innings, so when it was time to leave with two runners on and nobody out in the sixth inning, the ball went to middle reliever, Bruce Chen. Not Aaron Crow, not Kelvin Herrera, not Greg Holland. Every offense wants to get the starting pitcher out early, do damage against middle relief and avoid the power arms at the backend of the opponent’s bullpen; the Yankees did all three.
Chen—who had been excellent before this outing—appeared to leave some pitches up in the zone and the Yankees scored five runs before the inning was over. Guys with great stuff—guys like Crow, Herrera or Holland—might get away with bad location, middle reliever Bruce Chen needs to hit his spots. Chen didn’t hit his spots so the Yanks hit him instead. The Yankees had two runners on when Chen came in, and five runners eventually scored. By the time the inning was over, the game was over—but what do you expect?
The sixth inning is one of the hardest innings in baseball.
There’s probably going to be some complaining that Bruce should come out to start the sixth—and in fact I thought he would—but when he got in the game Chen gave up a double, a single, a triple, a single and a lineout. I’m not sure getting started on that earlier would have changed much.
Second inning: To start the game Wade Davis threw Brett Gardner, the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, a first-pitch fastball. Wade then threw a first-pitch fastball to the second hitter, Robinson Cano. The three-hole hitter, Vernon Wells, also got a first-pitch fastball. At the beginning of the second inning Travis Hafner got a first pitch fastball and so did Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro didn’t wait around—he hit his first-pitch fastball over the left field fence.
I’ve never pitched and I’ve barely caught, but that seems like an awful lot of first-pitch fastballs in a row. If Ichiro was paying attention he might have been sitting on that first-pitch fastball and didn’t miss it when he got it. I’ve got no clue if that’s really what happened, but Wade Davis started the next hitter, Jayson Nix, with a curveball.
Davis went on to give up four runs and throw 31 pitches in the second inning. When a pitcher has an extremely long inning his offense needs to help him out by allowing him time to rest. Guys will sometimes have what looks like lousy at-bats because they went up to the plate taking pitches and falling behind in the count so their pitcher could get a breather. The other pitcher should be smart enough know that the hitters are taking pitches—then the pitcher can pour in strikes.
To his credit, Eric Hosmer came to the plate, saw five pitches and never took his bat off his shoulder. To his discredit, Phil Hughes walked him. The Yankees starter paid for that later in the inning when Hosmer scored on a Jarrod Dyson home run. Let me repeat that: Jarrod Dyson homered and it was a no-doubter.
Third inning: Lorenzo Cain led off the inning and was hit by a pitch. The Royals were down by one run at that point, but if you were waiting for Cain to steal second base, you had a long wait. I’ve gone over this math before, but here it is one more time: the average base stealer in the big leagues takes 3.4 seconds to steal second base and the average catcher takes 2.0 second to receive the ball and throw it down to second base, so pitchers need to get the ball to home plate in less than 1.4 seconds to give their catcher a chance to throw out a base stealer.
That brings us to Phil Hughes.
Before Friday’s game outfield and base running coach, Rusty Kuntz, told me that with a runner on first Hughes throws everything out of a slide step—including a 95 mph fastball—and generally gets the ball to the plate in less than 1.2 seconds. The only guy on the Royals who runs a 3.1 to second base is Jarrod Dyson—and a 3.1 puts you in a bang-bang play at best. With Hughes on the mound, the Royals were unlikely to steal—they’d have to use the hit and run instead.
Fourth inning: Mike Moustakas was off and running on what appeared to be a hit and run when Elliot Johnson hit a soft, low pop up to Robinson Cano at second base. Cano caught the ball—or at least the umpire said Cano caught the ball—and Moose was doubled off first.
Fifth inning: Thursday night in Baltimore Alcides Escobar lined out to right field twice and left field once—the Orioles were playing their outfielders shallow and daring Esky to hit it over their heads. Ichiro Suzuki was playing Alcides deeper so Esky’s line drive dropped in front of him. The Yankees’ outfield played deep most of the night, so look for balls dropping in front of them and base runners going first-to-third and second-to-home; playing deeper means longer throws back to the infield.
Sixth inning: The Royals were already down 9-5 with Brett Gardner on third and Robinson Cano batting. Ned Yost brought the infield in to cut off a run at the plate and keep the Royals within three. That positioning kind of backfired when Cano snuck a ball down the line past Mike Moustakas. On the other hand if Mike were playing deep, fielded the ball and threw Cano out at first, Gardner—who can run a little bit—probably would have scored anyway.
In the bottom of the inning Mike Moustakas homered. Moose also homered on Thursday and hit another one on Wednesday. Bob Dutton, Star beat writer, has said he thinks Moose will be a streaky hitter—if so, Moose is in a good one. But streaky means being patient when Mike’s cold so you can get the production when he’s hot.
Eighth inning: With runners on first and second Vernon Wells hit a ball over Jarrod Dyson’s head in centerfield. Jarrod can play shallow—taking away bloops and flares just over the infield—because he goes back so well. Vernon Wells plays deep because he apparently doesn’t go back so well (and he proved it on Alex Gordon’s two-run double in fifth). During this series, keep an eye on the Yankees’ left fielder and his positioning—it may come into play.
If you want to pitch in Baltimore, speed it up
Talk to big league base-running coaches and they’ll tell you the stolen base is becoming a bigger deal; according to the guys I’ve talked to, drug testing is getting PEDs out of the game so playing small ball is making a comeback. So if the stolen base is a bigger deal, stopping the stolen base is, too.
Apparently, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has mandated that his pitchers cut their delivery time to 1.35 seconds or less in an effort to stop base stealers. Rusty Kuntz said it took a couple years to get all Baltimore’s major league pitchers to be that quick to home plate and now they’re working on it in the minors. If a pitcher wants to advance through the Orioles system, get it to home plate in less than 1.35 seconds or you ain’t gonna make it. Instead of having a full leg quick delivery that can take as much as 1.8 seconds and then switching to a slide step delivery that’s 1.35 or less—but struggling with consistency—more pitchers are using one delivery all the time. The end result of all this is fewer stolen bases against the Orioles.
Sounds like an idea that might catch on.
Camden Yards and the home run
The Royals hit six home runs in a three-game series in Baltimore and before Friday’s game I asked Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur how many of those home runs would have been out of the park if they’d been hit in Kauffman Stadium. According to Moose and Frenchy, two: Alex Gordon’s blast on Thursday night and Mike’s shot the night before.
Mike hit Camden Yards’ right-field foul pole Thursday night, but he said the ball was hooking. Baltimore’s right-field foul pole is 318 feet from home plate; Kansas City’s is 330 feet away. Moose figures the ball would have just kept hooking and been a long foul ball here at home. Eric Hosmer’s opposite field home run went over the fence in left center, 364 feet away in Baltimore, 387 feet away here.
Clearly you can hit home runs in Kauffman—the Yankees and Royals combined for four Friday night—but you better crush the ball. A home run that lands in the first row in Baltimore is just a long out here in Kansas City. People who got excited about all the home runs the Royals hit in Baltimore need to remember they did it in Baltimore. It’ll be harder to do the same thing here.