In the fourth inning Salvador Perez hit a two-run home run and, with the game tied 2-2 in the eighth, Billy Butler drove in the winning run with a double down the left field line—but let’s focus on a few things that didn’t happen:
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
In the top of the first inning the Astros had runners on first and third with two outs, but didn’t score.
In the top of the second inning the Astros had runners on first and third with one out, but didn’t score.
In the top of third, with a run already in, the Astros had a runner on third with nobody out, but didn’t score.
In the top of the fourth inning the Astros had runners at first and third with one out, but didn’t score.
In the top of the sixth inning the Astros had runners at first and second with one out, but didn’t score.
In the top of the seventh, with a run already in, the Astros had a runner on second with two outs, but didn’t score.
James Shields gave up two runs in seven innings, but pitched out of trouble all night. This is what they mean when you hear someone talk about "limiting the damage." The Royals were able to take the lead in the eighth inning, but only because of what James Shields did in the first seven.
The Royals beat the Astros 4-2 and are now 19-5 when they score more than three runs.
Second inning: Chris Carter walked, Ronny Cedeno bunted him into scoring position and Matt Dominguez singled to left field. Outfielders who are good athletes tend to play shallow because they can go back on a fly ball well. Outfielders who have trouble going back on the ball—and Royals fans saw the Twins Josh Willingham struggle with an Eric Hosmer double Thursday night—tend to play deep so they can spend most of their time going forward. Because Alex Gordon is a good athlete he can play shallow. Because Gordon was playing shallow, Carter could not score from second on a single to left.
Outfield positioning saved a run.
Third inning: Brandon Barnes singled and Trevor Crowe tripled. With Crowe standing on third base, needing only a fly ball to score him, Shields struck out the side—and by my count, Salvador Perez blocked at least three pitches in the dirt to help strand Crowe.
Fourth inning: Hustle and a great route helped Alex Gordon hold Chris Carter to a single on a ball hit into left center. Because Gordon held Carter to one base, Carter only made it to second on Ronny Cedeno’s infield single. Because Carter was on second and not third, he didn’t score when Lorenzo Cain dropped a fly ball. After Cain missed the catch the Royals got a force out at second—so no error—but Carter was standing on third instead of sitting in the dugout. A double play followed and the Astros did not score—all because Alex Gordon ran a good route on a single to start the inning.
(The other day Alex and I were talking and I asked him about turning doubles into singles with good routes. As you might imagine, Alex takes great pride in that. He especially likes it when he keeps a guy at first and the Royals follow with a double play. It’s one of those little things that go unnoticed, but shouldn’t.)
In the bottom of the inning Eric Hosmer had his first of two singles up the middle—the significance of that will become apparent later in this article. Salvador Perez crushed a ball 403 feet and the score was 2-1. Billy Butler doubled and someone at the visiting end of the press box said it was the baseball gods punishing the Astros for leaving runners in scoring position in the first three innings. To an Astros fan it was poor hitting, to a Royals fan it was good pitching.
Sixth inning: James Shields threw a cutter to Carlos Pena and the ball came back at Shields faster than he threw it at Pena. Shields ducked and suffered no damage, but it reminded me of a story: some pitcher—I can’t remember who—had a theory about pitching to George Brett. He said you needed to pitch George inside. When I asked why, he said: "That way the line drives won’t hit you."
With Pena on second and Carter on first, Matt Dominguez hit a line shot into the right-center gap. Off the bat, it looked like two runs; but David Lough ran it down and made a diving catch. When the Royals came into this season, defense was supposed to be one of their strengths and in this game we saw what it can do: Lough’s catch saved two runs, Gordon’s general excellence in left saved a couple more, Salvador Perez saved one run at least three times and Miguel Tejada made a great play on Ronny Cedeno’s sac bunt in the second. If the Royals can continue to play defense like this, things will get a little easier on the offense—they won’t need as many runs for a win.
Seventh inning: A wild pitch probably cost James Shields run, because it took the double play out of order. If Marwin Gonzalez had still been on first base when Trevor Crowe hit a groundball to Chris Getz, it’s possible the Royals could have turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. There’s a reason keeping the double play in order is considered such a big deal.
Eighth inning: With Eric Hosmer on first base, Billy Butler pulled a fastball down the left field line. Before he did it Ned Yost apparently said if Billy could hit one down the line, Hosmer could score. That’s because the Astros were playing away from the line and more toward the opposite field. That meant a long run for Houston’s left fielder, J.D. Martinez, and that gave Hosmer time to get all the way around the bases.
P.S. If you’ve ever booed a third base coach for being wrong, cheer one when he gets it right: Eddie Rodriguez sent Hosmer and Eric was safe, but not by much. I’ll try to find Eddie tomorrow and have him run through his decision-making process on the play.
Charlie Lau; George Brett’s hitting coach
There seemed to be a lot of interest in what George Brett had to say about hitting home runs, so I went down in my basement and dug out Charlie Lau’s hitting manual—it’s called "The Art of Hitting.300." What Lau had to say about hitting home runs seems just as relevant today as it did back then. I transcribed it by hand, so if I dropped a word here or there, don’t be surprised—but you should still get the gist of what Charlie had to say.
How homers can hurt you
"Not everyone who can hit is cut out to be a home-run hitter. And generally, players who force themselves in that direction when hitting home runs is not one of their talents cause themselves nothing but grief. But then, it isn't always the individual who does the forcing. Sometimes it's the team management.
The problem is that if every time you come up to bat you're looking to belt one out of the park, you're not going to be able to hit consistently. To pull the ball and hit home runs, your bat head has got to meet the ball at least two feet out in front of the plate—which means you've got to be exceptionally quick. Your bat head must travel a greater distance to meet the ball out there and it's got to get there sooner than with any other kind of hit. In addition, since bat and ball must come together in one small area, you have almost no margin for error. This is why pull hitters are rarely consistent hitters. They either hit it or miss it completely.
It's an all or nothing proposition. By trying to hit the ball so far out in front of the plate, a pull hitter automatically eliminates any possibility of making contact closer in. His bat speed, his timing and his whole body are geared to hit the ball at the earliest possible moment. Once he's committed, there's no way he can hit the ball at any other point."
Lau goes on to say:
"You're chances of getting a hit are much better if you meet the ball some place between two feet in front of the plate and directly above it. Your margin for error is much greater. You don't have to rush, and you can be more selective about what you swing at. You can also be more consistent. Compare this with the gamble involved in trying to pull the ball for a home run and taking a chance on ending up with nothing but a strikeout.
There are times when you have to take that gamble. But if you do it every at-bat, you're almost sure to ruin your average and destroy your chances for hitting consistently, which can significantly reduce your value to the team. Yet this is something even major-league team management doesn't always understand."
What's it worth?
"I believe that 99 percent of the time a good hitter should concentrate on hitting, and if he happens to accidently hit a home run in the process, so much the better.
If you will try 100 percent of the time—every pitch, every at-bat—to hit the pitcher right in the forehead, you'll hit .300."
Or, as Charlie says later in this section, you’ll "come damn close".
"The trouble is, you can't do it. Or, more correctly, you won't do it. It's too simple. Human nature being what it is, a man's ego enters the picture and he decides that hitting "just" .300 isn't dramatic enough. It may win ball games and produce a steady flow of runs, but it doesn't necessarily bring the fans to their feet cheering and shouting his name. So he begins to try for home runs, and before you know it, his average begins to drop.
A player's ego and emotion—the "hero complex"—and the tension they create can make hitting twice as difficult as it really is. The batter becomes his own worst enemy. Others don't create the tension— he does. And that's the biggest single mistake a batter can make in any league."
This sounds a lot like what George is currently saying to Royals hitters: home runs will come as a product of good swings—and every player is capable of taking a good swing.