Judging the Royals

Bad decision by Almonte costs the Mariners against Royals

Updated: 2013-09-04T15:41:27Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

The score was 3-3 with two outs in the eighth inning when Abraham Almonte made a bad decision. Mike Moustakas hit what should have been a single to right-center field. When the guy at the plate represents the tying or go-ahead run late in the game; teams play no doubles. The no doubles defense is just what it sounds like; the outfielders back up and do everything they can to keep the ball in front of them. Hold the guy at the plate to a single and the other team is still two singles away from scoring. Let the guy at the plate get to second base and the other team is one hit away from scoring.

The signal for no doubles is a hand behind the head. When outfielders see this sign they back up, but they also have to play conservatively; if they’re not sure of making the catch, they have to back off and keep the hit to a single. Almonte, the Mariners centerfielder, didn’t do that—he tried to make a sliding catch of Mike Moustakas’ sinking line drive.

It didn’t work.

Almonte did not get there in time and did not knock the ball down. It skipped past him and Moustakas wound up on second base—one hit away from scoring. And that one hit came from Salvador Perez. When baseball fans think of good hitters we often think they’re good because they have good swings; probably true, but what they swing at is just as important.

With the winning run on second base and Greg Holland waiting in the bullpen, Salvador Perez saw four curveballs from Seattle reliever Yoervis Medina. Two of the curveballs were in the dirt and two were called strikes, but the important thing about this 2-2 count was this: Perez did not swing the bat. Pitchers want hitters to swing at everything: fast, slow, in, out, straight and breaking pitches. Hitters who do that screw up their timing; they might get a hittable pitch, but miss it because the swung at some unhittable pitches earlier in the at-bat. Perez did not do that—he waited until he got a fastball and when he got, he smoked it. Mike Moustakas came around to score and the Royals had a 4-3 lead and Greg Holland was coming into close.

The Royals are 60-2 when they have a lead after eight innings and Greg Holland is a big reason why. Holland picked up his 38th save, the Royals went six games over .500 and matched their win total—72—from last year.

And Abraham Almonte’s bad decision helped make it happen.

Game notes

• Alex Gordon opened the game by ambushing Seattle starting pitcher, Erasmo Ramirez. Here’s how that works: leadoff hitters usually take a strike—the rest of their team wants to see some pitches. They’ve all read the scouting reports and watched video, but they want to see the pitcher live. Coming into the game the only Royal with a plate appearance against Ramirez was George Kottaras, so taking a pitch or two would make sense.

Pitchers can take advantage of that by grooving a fastball and getting ahead in the count. Hitters can take advantage of that by jumping on the first pitch—and that’s what Gordon did. Alex will sometimes do that just to change the scouting report. Make pitchers aware they can’t just pump one in there; they might get ambushed. Gordon got a 91 MPH fastball and hit it out of the park.

• Apparently Erasmo Ramirez is quick-quick. That means quick to the plate and quick over to first base. And that means it’s hard to steal a base with him on the mound. When the pitcher-catcher combination shuts down the stolen base, teams will look to hit and run instead.

Pitchers prevent the hit and run by staying out of hit and run counts. 2-0 and 2-1 are popular, but you’ll also see it 1-0 and 0-0—it just depends on when the guy on the mound tends to throw a fastball for a strike. If a pitcher gets ahead in the count, it’s hard to hit and run—the pitcher might throw a breaking pitch and then you’re looking at a swing and a miss, along with a thrown-out base runner.

• In the first inning with Eric Hosmer on first base, the Mariners were clearly looking for a double play ball from Billy Butler. They played their infield for Billy to pull the ball and threw him nothing but sliders—they wanted him to rollover and hit a groundball to third or short. Before the game was over Billy did hit into two double plays; one in the third inning and another in the eighth.

• Butler played first base and Hosmer was the designated hitter. Billy struggled with short-hop throw from Chris Getz and the ball got past him for an error. Eric Hosmer’s ability to handle short hops and knock bad throws down allows his teammates to try plays they wouldn’t attempt with a lesser first baseman. If they believe a tough throw is going to get past the guy at first, infielders will just hold onto the ball rather than attempt a difficult play.

• Outfield arms are rated from 20 to 80 and a 50 arm is considered average. The Mariners Franklin Gutierrez has a 65 in right and Salvador Perez did not challenge it by tagging up at second base when Alcides Escobar hit a fly ball to Gutierrez in the second inning. Endy Chavez has a 50 arm in left field and that’s the guy Mike Moustakas scored on.

• In the third inning Bruce Chen fell behind Kyle Seager 2-1. That’s a fastball count and you’ll often see young pitchers gas it up at that point; they’ll try to throw a fastball by someone. Bruce Chen went the other way and threw a 77 MPH changeup and got a swing and a miss. Once Chen had slowed Seager’s bat down, he could then throw an 88 MPH fastball past him.

• Kelvin Herrera replaced Chen and Tim Collins replaced Herrera. The end result was Luke Hochevar on the mound in the top of the eighth with runners at second and third and one down. Luke struck out Mike Zunino and got an inning-ending fly ball out of Endy Chavez.

After the game Ned Yost said Hochevar was key—he came in with the game on the line and got just what the Royals needed. Yost also said when people were complaining about Hochevar last year; the Royals knew he had this in him.

• And finally: Greg Holland got the save, but Salvador Perez made a hell of block on a slider bounced well out in front of the plate. Nick Franklin swung and missed for strike three, but without Sal’s block, Franklin would have been on first base.

Alex Gordon’s third Gold Glove

How do you win a Gold Glove? Do something impressive against every team you face. If that’s the case, Alex Gordon should have the Toronto vote sewn up. Gordon put on an exhibition over the weekend, turning doubles into singles and throwing out a couple guys who decided to challenge his arm.

Most of the time left fielders are the worst defenders in the outfield. Teams often put them there to hide weak arms—left fielders have the shortest throws—and being in left can also cover up bad technique. Because they have those shorter throws, left fielders can play a more conservative style of ball: right fielders have to charge the ball and shorten their throws to third base, left fielders can lay back and be conservative. Gordon plays left field like an ex-third baseman: he charges the ball, has a quick release and a strong arm.

Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz said the best centerfielder he ever saw was Ken Griffey, Jr. The best left fielder he’s ever seen is Alex Gordon. Much of what Gordon does goes unnoticed by the average baseball fan, but if you know what to look for, you can see what makes him special. Kansas City fans should enjoy the show.

Correction

After Monday’s game I wrote about Eric Hosmer going first to third in the fourth inning and setting up the Royals first run of the game. Here’s what I said:

"Hosmer made it to third and scored on a Mike Moustakas single to right. Eric might have still scored if he stayed at second, but being on third base made sure of it."

After Tuesday’s game a player who read what I wrote pointed out that if Hosmer had not gone first to third, there would have been no Mike Moustakas single. By taking the extra base, Hosmer opened up second and that made the Mariners hold Billy Butler on first base. Mike’s hit went through the hole on the right side and if the first baseman had been playing back—because second was occupied—there would have been no hole.

Fair point.

Tuesday afternoon Rusty Kuntz said Hosmer’s base running was the play of the game; he thought Eric’s base running got the team pumped up and gave them the energy they needed to press it on the base paths and beat Felix Hernandez. The most surprising thing about all this is finding out a ball player reads my stuff.

That’s a lot of pressure I don’t need.

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