You see it all the time: a pitcher gets two quick outs, lets up mentally and the other team starts a rally. Or the pitcher gets the All-Star out, breathes a sigh of relief and then lets a guy hitting .260 beat him. You also see teams play a big series against a good team, do well and then let a losing team mop the floor with them.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
But you didn’t see that Monday night.
The Royals were well-aware of the tendency to let down after taking a series from the Red Sox over the weekend. They talked about it: Kauffman Stadium was packed for the Red Sox series—not hard to get up for a game in those conditions. Come Monday, against the Marlins with a smaller crowd, it would be easy to let up. But let Miami beat you and the big five-game series against Detroit might mean squat.
It’s difficult to stay focused from spring training until October. Difficult? Hell, it seems impossible. That’s why you hear all the "let’s-take-it-one game-at-a-time" talk. Ask someone to bear down for 162 games and it’s overwhelming; ask them to give a good effort tonight and it seems possible.
If you’re a Royals fan, you’re seeing good signs: when they lose, they bounce right back and win a game. If the other team takes a lead, they make a comeback. After beating one of the best teams in baseball, the Royals did not let up against a team 29 games under .500. Ask Ned Yost what his team needs to do next and he’ll probably say: "Win tonight."
Monday night his team did just that—Royals 6, Marlins 2.
*We know Alex Gordon is not afraid of the wall, he caught a foul pop fly and did a face plant into the left field wall over the weekend. Now we know Justin Maxwell is willing to do the same thing: Maxwell caught another foul pop—this one down the right field line—and banged into that wall. The effort had Wade Davis applauding.
*In the third inning Jarrod Dyson walked and Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler attempted three pickoffs in a row. I’ve been told that any time a pitcher goes over to first base three times in a row, watch the quality of the pitch when it’s finally delivered; it’ll often be a ball or get whacked by the hitter. In this case it was a ball to David Lough. With Dyson on first, Koehler was trying to be quick to the plate and struggled with his control. David Lough walked, that pushed Dyson to second base and then—with little worry that Dyson would try to steal third with two outs—Koehler could get back to throwing strikes and got Eric Hosmer on three pitches.
*In the fourth inning Mike Moustakas sniffed a hit and beat out an infield single. Justin Maxwell then tripled to right and Moose scored, but in the process felt some tightness in his left calf. Mike was limping around the clubhouse after the game, but assured anyone who asked that he was going to be OK.
*With Maxwell on third Chris Getz came to the plate and Koehler threw him two curves; one missed, one didn’t. At that point I figured Chris would get a fastball and after the game I asked him if he was thinking the same thing. Chris said on some level you know it’s unlikely the pitcher will throw three curves in a row, but you don’t want to start assuming things. At that point—1-1—Getz said he "backed up the field" meaning he was moving his contact zone back. If he got a fastball he could handle it by taking it the other way or up the middle, if Getz got a curve, he could pull it. Chris got the fastball and singled up the middle.
*Koehler can be quick to the plate—1.3 to 1.4—so I wondered if Getz would try to steal and he took off on the first pitch. Alcides Escobar was at the plate and he served the ball into right field. Getz went first to third. Was it a hit and run?
Getz said Esky loves to hit the ball with runners in motion: there’s usually a giant hole on the right side. When Chris took off for second base he opened up that part of the field and Alcides took advantage. They pulled the same trick in the sixth: Chris took off on a 3-2 count and Alcides tripled down the right field line.
*David Lough got another infield single in the fifth when he hit the ball to first baseman Logan Morrison. The Marlins first baseman flipped the ball late to Koehler who was coming over to cover first. When pitchers cover first base they don’t run right to the bag; they go to a spot up the line and then run parallel with the base path—that way they don’t collide with the runner. Between the time they get to the line and hit the base, they need to get the ball. That way they catch the ball and then find the base. Get them the ball late and they’re catching the ball while they find the base and that usually doesn’t work so hot.
*In the sixth inning Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball into centerfield. I believe the exit speed was something like a billion miles an hour. I may have that wrong, but however fast it came off the bat, it ate up Jarrod Dyson in centerfield. Jarrod came into the dugout and promised to get that run back. That’s what good teams do; if something goes wrong they figure out a way to even things out—and Dyson did. He drove in a run by hitting a ball straight down and then running like a bat out of hell while the ball bounced in the air. He then stole second base and scored when David Lough singled.
That’s what speed did.
*Chris Getz ended the night with three hits and afterwards was asked about the home run he hit in Omaha; would it have the same effect his home run in Atlanta had? (He didn’t hit squat after that.) Chris said he was well aware of the danger of hitting balls in the air for a guy like him and was determined to keep every ball on the ground after the homer.
*Ned Yost said Wade Davis threw great: six innings pitched, two earned runs and those runs didn’t come until the end of his outing. Pay attention to the third time through the order: by that time the hitters may have seen everything a starter has and they start to get comfortable.
*Here’s another thing you can watch: the catcher’s mitt. Billy Butler got a 2-1 fastball and hit it 419 feet. The pitch was supposed to be away, but you could see the catcher’s mitt move inside—right into Billy’s nitro zone.
*I’m not a lip reader and I don’t even play one on TV, but—I’d be willing to bet that Jake Marisnick said: "Sorry about that" to home plate umpire, Brian Knight. In the eighth inning Marisnick thought strike two was ball four, flipped his bat and started down to first. Umpires don’t like that; they feel like they’ve been shown up by the hitter. The hitter has made everyone aware that he disagrees with the umpire’s call. Smart hitters come back to the plate and apologize.
A very smart catcher once told me that if the hitter doesn’t apologize, set up off the plate and see if you get the call. When I asked a former umpire if he would stick it to a hitter who did that, he said: "Just give me a pitch I can work with." If it’s a foot outside, it’s going to be a ball. If it’s just off the plate, maybe not.
I haven’t talked to Jamey Carroll yet; new guys get swamped by the media and I generally leave them alone for a while. But here’s what I’ve heard: he’s known as a good teammate, a guy who has a variety of skills and knows the game. The kind of guy who will go one for four, but the one hurts you and one of the other at-bats moved a runner over. Guys like Carroll tend to stay around a while; they may not put up eye-catching numbers, but teams appreciate the things they do to help them win. Carroll’s in his 12th season.
Why Shane Victorino was laughing
If you watched Sunday’s game you probably saw Shane Victorino get hit on the elbow (he made no effort to get out of the way) and then start laughing while he was standing on first base. I asked Eric Hosmer what was up with that and he said Victorino saw James Shields move second baseman Elliot Johnson. (Some pitchers like to move their fielders; a lot of pitchers hide the fact that they’re doing so, Shields doesn’t.) Anyway, Shane I asked Hosmer if Shields had just moved Johnson and Hos said: "Yeah, he’s like Peyton Manning out there."
That’s when Victorino cracked up.
After the game I walked by the Royals clubhouse and heard an explosion of noise; baseball players going nuts. Once they opened the doors to the media I walked up to Eric Hosmer and asked: "Is this the most fun you’ve ever had playing baseball?"
Eric looked up, grinned and said: "It’s sick."
When you’re on losing teams—and I have had some experience at that—you know intellectually that winning is better. But you don’t know how much better until you win. Chris Getz said he watched the games while he was on rehab assignment, saw how much fun people were having and wanted to get back to Kansas City to be a part of it. As Nuke LaLoosh once said: "I love winning, man. I love winning, it’s like—better than losing."
You might even say it’s sick.