Judging the Royals

The Royals lose, Billy Butler’s ejection doesn’t help

Updated: 2013-05-27T02:53:07Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

They say you know an umpire did a good job when you don’t notice him—by that standard, umpire Marty Foster had a bad weekend. Friday night he missed a call on a stolen base involving Chris Getz and Mike Trout, Saturday afternoon he at least appeared to miss a call on a double play involving Getz and then wound up ejecting him. Sunday afternoon he made a questionable call on Billy Butler (I’ll explain why it was questionable in a moment) and then ended up ejecting him. And to top things off, he missed a foul tip during Jeff Francoeur’s last at-bat and then, after Frenchy objected, Foster checked the ball and when then that didn’t satisfy him, he went out and consulted with the rest of the umpiring crew.

According to Ned Yost, that’s not allowed—the first or third base umpire calls foul ball if they see it, but if they don’t call it, you don’t go ask. Angels manager Mike Scioscia lost it and came out to confront Foster. I’m not the world’s greatest lip reader, but Siocscia at least appeared to ask Foster how many times he’d f----d up that weekend. Scioscia got tossed.

That’s three ejections in two days—I wonder if that’s a personal best.

But back to the "questionable" call: the ball was in the strike zone, so why was Butler upset? Whether you agree with how it’s done or not; if a catcher sets up slightly outside the zone, but the pitcher hits the mitt, the pitcher might get that call. If a pitch is in the zone, but missed the target badly, the pitcher might not get that call. The Angels catcher, Chris Iannetta, was set up away and the pitcher, Jerome Williams, missed inside. He didn’t miss the strike zone, he missed Iannetta. In Billy’s mind—and to be fair, a lot of other big league players would agree—you don’t reward a pitcher who missed his target that badly by calling a strike.

(I ain’t defending it, I’m just explaining it.)

So in Billy’s mind he had good reason to complain; they don’t make that call in the big leagues. Having said all that, I still think Billy can’t get thrown out there. It was the fifth inning of a 2-0 game, he had two more at-bats coming and Billy has been the team’s best overall hitter—he was named the best designated hitter in the league last season—Billy Butler might have made the difference. Afterwards Ned Yost said a professional ballplayer can’t allow that to happen, but being human, it still does.

Angels 5, Royals 3.

Game notes

First inning: When he’s in a slide step, Wade Davis gets the ball to home plate in 1.1 to 1.3 seconds. With Salvador Perez and his 1.8 time to second base, the two of them are tough to steal on. I don’t know George Kottaras’ pop time (you don’t ask that kind of thing until the third or fourth date), but nobody stole on them so it must be OK. When a pitcher is that quick to the plate, base stealers will look for breaking ball counts to run in. They’ve got all the numbers and if a guy likes to throw a curve 1-2, they might take off then.

Second inning: With Lorenzo Cain on first, pitcher Jerome Williams tried a pickoff. It didn’t work, but first baseman Mark Trumbo deked (decoyed) the ball getting away. He turned as if the throw had gotten past him and then looked back to see if Cain had bought the deke—Cain didn’t. Then Lorenzo stole second base and there was no throw, so shortstop Erick Aybar deked catching a pop fly. If Cain didn’t know where the ball was, maybe he’d start back to first. Lorenzo didn’t buy that deke either.

Third inning: Umpires might dispute this, but I’ve had long-time veterans tell me you don’t nibble with a superstar at the plate—he’ll get the call. I was reminded of that when Albert Pujols went 3-2. Wade Davis didn’t nibble and Albert hit the snot out of the ball, but right at Alex Gordon. (It also works in reverse: don’t take a two-strike borderline pitch if the guy on the mound is bound for the Hall of Fame—the umpires will see things his way.

Fifth inning: That’s when it dawned on me how well Wade Davis was pitching. Ned Yost said that for the first six innings, Wade was the best he’s been since he got here.

In the bottom of the fifth, George Kottaras lead off with a walk and the Royals appeared to put on a hit and run—either that or Chris Getz suddenly lost all sense of the strike zone. Getz swung and missed at an inside pitch so far off the plate Getzie fell down in front of the catcher. Either Chris is smart enough to get in the catcher’s way or the Royals got extremely lucky: the catcher didn’t get a throw off and Kottaras stole his first base in a long while.

Alcides Escobar singled, Kottaras went first-to-third and then, with Alex Gordon at the plate, Jerome Williams threw wildly on a pick-off attempt. The bad throw allowed Kottaras to score from third, but first base umpire Scott Barry didn’t get out of the way of the bad throw in time. That kept Escobar at first. Had Barry not played backstop, Escobar might have scored from second on Alex Gordon’s infield single. There were two outs, the ball was stopped behind second base and if Esky hit third and kept going, the throw still would have gone to first base(a much shorter throw and a force out). When Gordon was called safe, Esky would have scored.

Sixth inning: The 5-4-3 double play turned in this inning helps explain the widely varying opinions about Chris Getz. He does not put up numbers in the categories that impress sabermetricians, but he constantly does things that impress his teammates.

Middle infielders have to know the foot speed of the guy at the plate and the runners on base before deciding how to handle various groundballs. In a double play situation the speed of the hitter is important (in this case it was Albert Pujols and he’s hobbling), but the runner on first is just as important; he’s the guy who is going to try to get to the pivot man and blow him up to prevent the defense from turning two. The runner on first was Mike Trout and they don’t get much faster.

When Albert hit the ball to Elliot Johnson at third base, the first thought of a second baseman in Getzie’s situation might be that he’s in trouble: it won’t be a quick feed from the shortstop, it’ll be a long throw from third, the guy coming into second can fly and the second baseman will be blind to his arrival—he’s looking at third base until the last moment. In that case you’ll see a lot of second baseman take the throw, tag second and then move laterally to get out of the runner’s way—but that takes time. The other thing you might see a second baseman do is tag the bag and move backwards—away from first base—in order to keep the base between him and the runner; that offers some protection, but once again takes time.

What you don’t see nearly as often is what Getz did; he stepped toward Trout to make a stronger, quicker throw. This move can cost a second baseman a broken leg, ankle or blown out knee. Getz had to make the throw and get his weight off his left foot before Trout hit him. Weight on the foot: damage. Weight off the foot: you get flipped, but survive. Getz got flipped (that’s why the throw bounced), but survived—and turned the double play. That play takes guts.

I don’t know if you care, but plays like that explain why his teammates dig him.

In the bottom of the sixth Eric Hosmer doubled and Lorenzo Cain walked to the plate. The score was still 2-0 and Lorenzo needed to move Eric over to third—at a minimum. Cain saw nine pitches and pulled the eighth one—a 94-MPH sinker—foul. When a hitter gets the bat head out early and pulls a ball foul, the pitcher might decide to take advantage of that early swing and throw something off-speed. Cain struck out on the next pitch, an 85-MPH changeup.

Seventh inning: Josh Hamilton homered and after that, Wade Davis walked two—both of them came around to score. Bruce Chen came in and gave up two singles, then Luke Hochevar followed him. I don’t know if Aaron Crow is the new set-up guy, but if he is, Wade didn’t go deep enough in the ballgame to get to him and Holland.

Eighth inning: Hochevar walked a guy, hit a guy and both of them came around to score.

In the bottom of the inning the first-base umpire missed a call on David Lough and called him safe. The umpire (Scott Barry again) said Trumbo didn’t touch first, but he did. Elliot Johnson singled, and it appeared one of the Royals finally bought one of the Angels’ infield dekes—Lough slid at second on a ball hit into the outfield—but David popped up and made it to third.

Ninth inning: J.C. Gutierrez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and looked good doing it. Not much positive happened after the seventh, but if J.C.’s performance was a bright spot.

The kid that ran on the field

Friday night some kid jumped out of the stands, sprinted onto the field and headed toward the pitcher’s mound. The police officer that tried to tackle him was Detective Tommy Woods. Saturday morning I got to talk to Tommy and told him I’d been rooting for him to make a bone-crushing tackle. According to Woods he had it all lined up, but then the kid slid into the mound, grabbed the rosin bag and tossed it in the air. Tommy had street shoes on, tried to cut and slipped on the grass.

If you were like me—and God help you if you are—you wondered why the kid threw the rosin bag. Apparently the kid’s buddies said they’d give him $500 and post his bound if he could make it all the way to the mound and touch the rosin bag. Sounds like a deal, right?

Well, another police officer told me the fine for going out on the field was a thousand dollars—so he lost $500 even if his buddies paid up—and Tommy Woods told me the kid is a college athlete. Tommy expressed concern for the kid: would this incident get him expelled or lose him a scholarship? Royals coach Rusty Kuntz was considerably less sympathetic. Rusty said fans don’t realize how scary it is when someone comes running out there, nobody knows the fan’s intentions. The kid made it to the pitcher before anyone made it to him: "What if he had a knife?"

Remember Monica Seles? There have been enough incidents concerning fans and athletes that it’s not an unrealistic worry. And making world-class athletes think they might have to defend themselves is not a great idea. You think you’re going to run up and shake someone’s hand; he’s thinking about knocking the hell out of you. Do yourself a favor: stay in the stands and enjoy the game from there. Come out on the field and you may get to meet Tommy Woods in person—and this time he might not miss the tackle.

What the players think

When someone runs out on the field, players are rooting for something spectacular to happen: they want to see security body slam the guy, or get out a taser and light the guy up. Sunday morning James Shields, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and a few others were sitting around in the clubhouse and when I told them why the guy threw the rosin bag, they all had stories of their own. Elliot Johnson said there was a guy in Tampa Bay who tried to jump in the tank that holds live stingrays.

"You wanted to see that?"

"Of course."

I asked the players if they’d ever seen anyone get away after jumping on the field and they said no—nobody got away and it always ended badly for the guy who tried it. The stories ended with broken ankles, fingers, crushing tackles, big fines and jail sentences. So be advised; going onto the field is really bad idea.

But if you’re thinking of jumping into a tank with live stingrays, Elliot Johnson would like to see it.

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