Anibal Sanchez versus James Shields. The guy with the best ERA in the league versus the guy who leads the league in quality starts and innings pitched. If you were expecting a pitcher’s duel, you weren’t the only one. Over his last five starts James Shields had put up a sub-2.00, so when the Royals played for one run in the bottom of the first inning, it made sense.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Managers will let you know what they’re thinking by the way they play the game. Gordon hit a double to start the first and Emilio Bonifacio bunted him to third. With one out Eric Hosmer hit a high chopper to first base and Gordon broke for home. If the Royals were wrong to think this would be a low-scoring, tight ballgame, the Tigers were right there with them: first baseman Prince Fielder caught Hosmer’s chopper and made a high-risk throw home to get him. Everybody thought one run was going to matter—everybody turned out to be wrong.
The Royals lost by two touchdowns, 16-2.
Trying to recap a game in which the other team had 26 hits can be a daunting task: the Tigers scored multiple runs in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings and added a single run in the ninth, so you’d need a Tolstoy-sized novel to explain everything that went on. So let’s just look at one inning—the fourth:
The inning started with a Torii Hunter double. James Shields then threw a wild pitch and Hunter moved to third. Miguel Cabrera walked. Prince Fielder singled, Hunter scored and Cabrera went to second. Victor Martinez hit a fly ball to centerfield. Andy Dirks singled, everyone moved up 90 feet and the bases were loaded. Alex Avila struck out. Omar Infante singled, Cabrera scored, everyone else moved up 90 feet. Luis Mendoza replaced James Shields. Ramon Santiago walked; Fielder scored, everyone else moved up 90 feet. Austin Jackson singled, Dirks and Infante scored, Santiago went to second. Finally, Torii Hunter came to the plate again and struck out—the inning was over. Detroit sent 10 batters to the plate, got five hits, walked twice, scored five runs and saw 37 pitches in the process.
In the bottom of the fourth, how did the Royals answer?
Three batters came to the plate, saw six pitches and made outs on a groundball, a fly ball and a strikeout. That’s the recap of one inning; multiply that by nine and you get some idea of how this game went.
The Royals played one of the best games of the year Thursday afternoon—13 innings with a walk-off home run—and followed it with one of their worst games of the year; losing by 14 runs to the Detroit Tigers. Kansas City has been streaky all year and Ned Yost has said that’s what you get with a young team. The Royals have shown they can beat anybody when they’re playing well and lose to anybody when they aren’t. Saturday night they face Justin Verlander.
They need to play well.
• After the game Ned Yost said James Shields had a very good fastball Friday night, but struggled with control—it was catching too much of the plate. Ned said that at times the Tigers seemed to be "sitting soft" and that’s baseball for looking for an off-speed pitch. Shields gave up fourteen hits and, if I counted right, four of them were on fastballs, five came on changeups, four on cutters and one hit came off a curve; so it appears they were hitting just about everything Shields threw up there. Later, Shields said a lot of those hits" found holes" and he was right—Friday night a lot of those hits came on groundballs that were just out of an infielder’s reach.
• Take the fourth inning single by Austin Jackson. Luis Mendoza had just replaced Shields and faced a bases-loaded situation. Mendoza throws a sinker that moves down and in on right-handed batters, so he gets a lot of groundballs to short and third. Luis threw one of those sinkers to Jackson and got what he wanted; a groundball to Mike Moustakas. Unfortunately, the ground ball was moving at about a billion miles an hour and Mike Moustakas dove, got a glove on it, but couldn’t keep it from going on into left field. That scored two more runs and the Royals were down 10-1.
• It was just one of those nights: in the second inning with two outs, Austin Jackson on second base, first open and Miguel Cabrera at the plate, you might wonder if Shields would walk Cabrera. The Royals went after him a few times when they were in Detroit and Miggy made them pay. It appeared that Shields was at least working carefully to Cabrera: he threw Miguel three balls in a row. Then came a cutter, which Cabrera took. With the count 3-1 Shields threw a changeup inside, off the plate: ball four, right?
Nope. Miguel Cabrera is a master at pulling his hands in close to his body and getting the bat head to pitches that are inside—pitches that jam most hitters, pitches that most hitters pull foul at best. Cabrera singled to left and picked up another RBI. The next time Cabrera came to the plate and Shields wanted to work around him, all the pitches were away. Of course, Aaron Crow was working Cabrera away when Miguel hit that walk-off home run back in Detroit. When you can’t pitch a guy in or away, you got problems.
• Back to the second inning: the Tigers scored five runs in the top of the inning and James Shields threw 41 pitches. That’s about three innings worth of pitches without a rest. When that happens, don’t expect much out of the pitcher’s offense in the next half inning; they should be taking pitches so their guy can rest.
Salvador Perez led off and took a called strike, but every other guy who came to the plate—David Lough, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon—swung at the first strike they saw. At least Dyson and Escobar extended the inning by getting hits, and Gordon was hitting with a runner in scoring position. He probably didn’t want to pass up a chance to drive in a run and make the score 5-2, but swinging at the first strike you see puts your pitcher right back on the mound.
Shields had a difficult third inning and didn’t make it out of the fourth.
• Down 5-1 in the second inning, the Royals kept running. Dyson was on the move when Escobar singled, which is why Jarrod was able to go first to third on a ball hit to left. In the third inning Emilio Bonifacio got picked off first base. Why were the Royals taking chances on the base paths down by four?
Probably because it was still early in the game; if you’re a running team and you shut that down, you’re now in a hitting contest with the Detroit Tigers. They’re the best-hitting team in the league and you’re unlikely to win that contest. You’re only down by four with eight innings left to play. Once the Tigers scored five more in the fourth, the Royals cooled it on the base paths.
• Speaking of getting picked off: Shields got Andy Dirks in the third inning. Dirks was on third and Mike Moustakas snuck in behind him. Shields lifted his leg and acted like he was going home—the same move lefties use with a runner on first. From the replay it appeared Dirks looked into home plate too soon. You can watch the pitcher closely, but once he delivers the ball to home plate, a runner better swivel his head and pick up the hitter—you don’t want to get hit by a line drive. Dirks looked home and that’s when Shields picked him off.
• In the fifth inning Luis Mendoza loaded the bases by walking Alex Avila and pitching coach Dave Eiland came out to the mound. When a coach visits the mound after a walk, the hitter might want to look fastball. The coach will probably tell the pitcher to throw strikes and that usually means the hard stuff. The guy at the plate—Omar Infante—got two fastball and hit the second one to the wall for a bases-clearing double.
• I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating—the rule of thumb when scoring in a blowout goes this way: the runner better score standing up. If there’s a play at the plate the offense was pushing it too hard in a lop-sided game. But third base coaches don’t want to cost their hitters RBIs. If one of your guys winds up with 99 RBIs because you didn’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings, that’s not a good situation.
• Even blowouts matter. Both teams were substituting pretty freely and some of those guys don’t get to play much. Fans may not care if Jamey Carroll gets an eighth-inning hit in a blowout, but it matters to Jamey Carroll. Getting to play in a lop-sided loss is still an opportunity to show what you can do.
• Plenty of fans were on Ned Yost for not pulling James Shields or Luis Mendoza sooner than he did, but Ned’s got to think about the next day’s game. Burning up your pen in a game you’re going to lose is not good managing. Ned said he went as far as he could with Shields and then did the same with Mendoza. It was ugly—they gave up 15 earned runs between them—but at least the bullpen didn’t get torched. The Royals have two more games against the Tigers and they’re going to need those relievers.
That’s baseball for anything done just because it looks good. The owner’s in town? Let’s take extra BP in September. My job’s on the line? Let’s go out and run the bases. It’s may be a good sign that the Royals cancelled most of their on-field pregame activities on Friday afternoon.
Thursday the Royals played 13 innings and they’re currently in a stretch of 44 games in 44 days—these guys are tired. Acknowledging that and realizing extra work may be counter-productive is probably a good thing. There was some individual pre-game work and guys were getting ready in their own way, but Friday afternoon there was no eyewash.