Judging the Royals

Three reasons the Rays beat the Royals

Updated: 2013-06-16T15:15:30Z

In the bottom of the first inning umpire Laz Diaz missed two calls. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman, Ben Zobrist, was on first base and got picked off by Jeremy Guthrie—but Diaz called him safe. Replays revealed it was close, but Zobrist was out. Zobrist then advanced to second base on an E3 (another pickoff attempt that got away from Eric Hosmer). Zobrist then moved over to third on Diaz’ second missed call of the inning—Luke Scott was called safe at first on an infield hit, but replays showed he was out and it wasn’t that close. Evan Longoria then drove Zobrist home with a sacrifice fly. Longoria would not have been at the plate except for the missed calls by Diaz. Had the calls been made correctly, Ben Zobrist would have never scored.

In the sixth inning Alcides Escobar tripled with one out. With a runner on third and one out, the man at the plate has to find a way to get the ball in play; a routine fly ball or groundball—hit to the right spot—will drive in a run. Alex Gordon struck out looking. (Granted, the guy on the mound, Jake McGee, was getting the ball to the plate at 97 miles an hour—when he backed off, it was 96.) But the Royals had to find a way to get the ball in play with one out.

And here’s the biggest reason: Jeremy Guthrie gave up three home runs. In his last start Guthrie got 14 fly ball outs, but he was pitching in Kauffman Stadium—a bigger, more forgiving ballpark. Guthrie has now had six multi-home run games, but four of them have come on the road. Bottom line: if you’re going to leave a ball up in the zone, do it in Kansas City. Rays win, 5-3.

Game notes

First inning: Alex Gordon struck out on a changeup that went down, out of the zone. That’s where changeups are supposed to finish. A changeup that finishes in the zone has a good chance of getting whacked.

Salvador Perez hit a ball into the right center gap, but Tampa Bay’s turf is slow and the ball did not skip through to the wall. The turf being slow also came into play in the bottom of the inning: the Royals had a left-handed shift on for Luke Scott and that shift had Elliot Johnson back on the outfield surface. Scott hit a weak ground ball and the slow turf made it a bang-bang play, but Johnson got him anyway—Laz Diaz disagreed and it cost the Royals a run.

Second inning: With Mike Moustakas on first base, pitcher Alex Cobb and catcher Jose Lobaton made a bad call: they threw Elliot Johnson a changeup. With the first baseman holding the runner, a changeup to a left-handed hitter is not a smart pitch—the hitter will pull it right through the open hole on the right side. That’s just what Elliot did and Cobb eventually paid by giving up two runs in the inning.

The second inning also featured a bases loaded walk to Alex Gordon. This was probably not as big a mistake as the Johnson changeup. With the count 3-2 I’m assuming Cobb figured it was better to try to paint a corner, possibly miss and walk in a run, than throw a fastball down the middle and give Gordon the chance to do some real damage. The second run came when Eric Hosmer hit his second line drive out of the game, this one to centerfield. Had the ball been hit in either gap Hosmer might have cleared the bases. (More on Hosmer’s third line drive momentarily.)

Third inning: Luke Scott homered on fastball down. Lefties tend to be low ball hitters (there’s a long, complicated reason why), so a pitch that would be a good pitch to a right hander can be a bad one to a lefty.

Fourth inning: With Desmond Jennings on first base, Jose Lobaton hit a ball into right-center field. The Rays third base coach sent Jennings and even though Jennings was out, it was probably the right call. There were two down at the time so if the third-base coach held up Jennings, the on-deck hitter, Yunel Escobar, would have to drive him in. Escobar ended the day at .241 and, even worse, has hit .158 off Jeremy Guthrie. So hold the runner up and you have about a 15 percent chance of scoring him.

There are times coaches send runners knowing that if the throws are on target, the runner will be out, but that still represents a better chance than letting the guy on deck try to do the job. Jennings made the play look even worse by stopping dead in his tracks and letting Salvador Perez tag him. Jennings didn’t do his coach any favors by his poor effort.

Fifth inning: Everyone who watched the game knows what happened when Eric Hosmer hit his third line drive: it was measured coming off the bat at 102 miles an hour and struck pitcher Alex Cobb in the side of the head. Cobb was carried off the field on a stretcher, but initial reports said that he was OK; he’d been to the hospital, had a mild concussion and all tests were normal.

In the bottom of the inning Matt Joyce homered on a 3-1 fastball from Guthrie; fastballs in fastball counts can hurt you.

Sixth inning: Evan Longoria homered on a 1-1 fastball; apparently fastballs in non-fastball counts can also hurt you. Here’s the deal: pitchers throw fastballs in fastball counts all the time and they don’t always get whacked. But if you’re going to throw the hard stuff 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and maybe 3-2; you need to locate it well or set it up with another pitch or sequence. But if a pitcher always throws fastballs in fastball counts, he won’t last long—unless he’s got a hell of a fastball.

Eighth inning: It appeared Salvador Perez ambushed reliever Joel Peralta; when pitchers first come into the game they might throw a first-pitch fastball just to get comfortable and ahead in the count. If that was Peralta’s plan, Perez had one of his own: jump on that first pitch. Perez homered to left-center, but it wasn’t enough, the Royals lost by two.

It’s only sports

A while back Chris Getz and I were talking about sports in general and he told me he was a huge Detroit Red Wings fan (he’s from Grosse Point, Michigan). Detroit had a playoff game coming up and Chris said he’d be in front of his TV, screaming every time the Red Wings came down the ice. He’d enjoy every moment of the game—he’d go nuts—but if the Red Wings lost, he didn’t plan on losing one second’s sleep over it. He was a fan, he loved to watch, he enjoyed the games as much as possible, but it wasn’t a reflection of who he was or his self-worth.

Every once in a while we get reminded that it’s just sports—it’s just entertainment.

When Alex Cobb got hit in the head with Eric Hosmer’s line drive, we got reminded. Everybody in the park looked stunned. Suddenly, a young athlete was on the ground, seriously injured—at that point, nobody knew for sure how serious it would be—suddenly, people started praying. Kansas City’s first base coach, Rusty Kuntz, kneeled next to Tampa Bay’s left fielder, Luke Scott—suddenly they weren’t enemies, they were two people concerned for an injured athlete.

Suddenly the game didn’t seem that important.

And in comparison, it’s not. I know many of our readers coach youth baseball. Here’s what I hope you do: teach your pitchers to finish in a good fielding position. When they’re done delivering a pitch, their feet should be square to home plate, their glove should be up and so should their head. They should be ready to field a ball hit back through the box.

You see a lot of pitchers finish falling off to one side, in no position to defend themselves if someone hits a bullet their way. If finishing in a good fielding position hurts a young pitcher’s stuff, so be it. They may not wind up in the major leagues, but they also won’t wind up in a hospital. Nothing is worth seeing someone get a serious head injury.

It’s only sports.

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