When Salvador Perez walked to the plate in the ninth inning, closer Joaquin Benoit was on the mound and the score was Detroit 4, Kansas City 1. Talk to ballplayers who have been around a while and they’ll tell you if you can’t tie the game in the ninth inning, you need to take a strike. No matter how far you hit a ball, they will not let you run around the bases three times. This is one of those times when a walk truly is as good as a hit.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Salvy swung at the first pitch; a 92 MPH fastball on the outer half of the plate.
Perez didn’t even take it the other way; he hooked it to shortstop Jose Iglesias for an easy 6-3. Just like that the Royals were down to two outs and still needed three runs. Justin Maxwell was up next and had a much better approach. Maxwell took a fastball for a strike, another for a ball and a changeup to move the count to 2-1. As we’ve been seeing for much of the season, veteran pitchers have been throwing young KC hitters off-speed pitches in fastball counts. A lot of the young guys have been fooled into taking giant hacks at pitches that haven’t arrived yet. Maxwell didn’t.
Benoit threw Justin a 2-1 slider and Justin took it. Maxwell then allowed Benoit to do what you’re hoping a pitcher will do: get himself in trouble. Justin fouled off another fastball, took a changeup and then walked when Benoit tried to gas it up and threw a fastball up and out of the zone. That’s the kind of approach that gets you back in a game. The newly acquired Emilio Bonifacio had another good at-bat: he also took a called strike, worked the count to 2-2 and lined out to shortstop. The results weren’t there, but the approach was good.
So the Royals were down to their final out, they were still down by three runs and what’s Alcides Escobar do? Take a strike, work the count and try to get the tying run to the plate? Nope. He swung at the first pitch and hit another easy groundout to end the game.
This is one of the most talented Royals teams Kansas City fans have seen in a while, but it’s also one of the youngest. And that sometimes shows in the decisions they make: throwing three changeups in a row to Christian Yelich to lose Tuesday night’s game in the tenth inning, trying to pick off Shane Victorino when James Shields already has two outs in the first inning on Sunday and swinging at the first pitch when they’re down by three in the ninth on Thursday.
If you want to make it to the playoffs you’re going to have to beat good teams and good pitchers. That’s hard at the best of times, harder still if you’re making poor decisions.
• Chris Getz led off the game, saw nine pitches and hit a single the other way. Since Getz has been back up he’s been keeping his chin tucked in close to his front shoulder and that’s been helping him be more consistent when he takes his hands back: when the chin hits the shoulder it’s time to stop. Take the hands back even further and you can "wrap" the bat. You’re upper body turns, the bat gets wrapped behind you and you have a long, slow swing to make contact.
• Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and the guys with four hits was Andy Dirks. That sometimes happens when a pitcher is so intent on the big names that a lesser hitter sneaks up on him. Concentration has to be 100 percent on every hitter which is part of why the game is so damn hard.
• Catcher Brayan Pena had trouble with his throws tailing toward the right field side of second base when he was in Kansas City and now that he’s in Detroit the Royals hope to take advantage of that. Three stolen base attempts, three stolen bases. Look for the Royals to continue challenging Pena’s arm.
• When Jeremy Guthrie threw Prince Fielder that first inning slider, he put a little hesitation into his motion—a slight pause at the top of his delivery. It’s just one more Guthrie tries to disrupt a hitter’s timing, but it didn’t work; Prince homered to right center.
• If the game plan was to get Anibal Sanchez to throw a lot of pitches and leave the game early, the third inning didn’t help. The Royals saw a total of six pitches and put Guthrie right back on the mound.
• Jeremy started the bottom of the third by giving up a double to Dirks, but Torii Hunter let the Royals off the hook with some bad base running. Hunter hit the ball back to Guthrie and Jeremy turned and found Dirks off second. The Royals got him in a rundown and handled it so efficiently Hunter was caught off first base, probably because he was planning on getting to second while the Royals chased Dirks around for a while.
Bonifacio made a throw to Eric Hosmer at first base, Hosmer dropped the tag on Hunter and probably missed him, but Hos sold the play by holding the ball up to show the umpire. That’s what players do when they think a guy is out: they show the ball to the umpire. If they think they missed the tag and attempt a second tag, they’re much less likely to get the call. Better to act like everything went according to plan and see if you can get the umpire to go along.
• Hosmer may have missed because Torii Hunter tried a swim move on the tag. The runner reaches for the base with one hand, gets the defender to extend his glove toward that offered hand, then pulls that hand back and reaches around the tag with the other hand.
• Hosmer also showed good footwork around first base on a throw from Bonifacio to end the fourth inning. The throw was a bit off-line and Hos went back over the bag and made the catch in foul territory. That move back can buy a first baseman extra reach, but has to be done at the right time: you don’t want to go back over the bag just as the runner arrives.
• The Tigers scored a run when Jarrod Dyson took a step back on a Miguel Cabrera jam shot. It’s only natural for and outfielder to take a drop step when someone with that much power hits the ball in the air. The step back cost him, Dyson just missed catching the ball coming in.
• In the sixth inning with a runner on third base, Salvador Perez saved a run by blocking a pitch in the dirt. It was a two-strike slider Jeremy Guthrie threw to Jose Iglesias. Pitchers will intentionally bounce a ball with two strikes, but if there are runners on, they have to trust their catcher to do that.
Friday’s double header
Both starting pitchers went deep: Guthrie threw seven innings, Sanchez seven and a third. That’s a big deal when you have a double header the next day—it saves the pen and keeps everyone available. I haven’t decided how I’ll handle Friday’s double header yet: I may post two times, depending on the length of the first game. If it goes long or I run out of time it may be one post at the end of the day.
It’s come to this?
I was out of the loop all day and wondered who was moved to make room for Emilio Bonifacio. Turns out it was Elliot Johnson. The Royals utility player had struggled offensively and then to make matters worse, had a pivotal error in Wednesday’s game.
I read the Star’s story about Elliot and then—God help me—read some of the comments. No matter what you think of a guy’s play, he’s still a human being. Elliot looked stricken after the game, stood up and took his medicine with the media and then walked off with a 1,000 yard stare.
This is a guy who told me that if he wasn’t going to hit, he had to make the plays on defense. He probably knew what was coming and had to go tell his family why they were probably going to be moving shortly. Fair enough: it’s big league baseball—you get a lot of money if you play well and get designated for assignment if you don’t.
Here’s one of the comments a reader made after reading about Elliot being cut:
"I wish Elliot Johnson and his family the best of luck. Have a great off season and come back stronger next spring with a new team. Sorry it didn't work out for you in Kansas City."
And here’s what another reader had to say about the previous comment:
"What a touching comment. You are a real prince of a fellow. Nice job."
Really? It’s come to this? Ridiculing people for showing sympathy? Some of you may have noticed that I’m spending less time on comments in the past. Some of that is due to the workload; there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But some of it is not wanting to deal with people like the jerk that left that last comment. I’d like to think we’re better than that, but unfortunately the internet provides daily evidence that many of us aren’t. And I’m sure someone will have a snarky comment about that.