The Royals appeared to ambush Cleveland starting pitcher Scott Kazmir. Hitters ambush pitchers by swinging early in the count when they expect to get a fastball for a strike. Alex Gordon started things by swinging at the first pitch of the gamea 90 MPH fastballand homered. The second hitter of the game, Emilio Bonifacio, swung at the first pitch he sawa 92 MPH fastballfouled it off an eventually tripled. Eric Hosmer also swung at the first pitch he sawa 94 MPH fastballand hit an RBI single.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Ballplayers tend to get suspicious when something happens three times in a row. Once: OK. Twice: maybe its a coincidence. Three times: maybe somethings going on.
No way to know for sureIm not in Cleveland and Scott Kazmir doesnt know me, so he probably wouldnt talk about it if I wasbut something got Kazmir to change his pattern. Billy Butler did not get a first-pitch fastball: he got a changeup for a called strike. But Billy did swing at the first fastball he saw, fouled it off and eventually struck out. Salvador Perez also did not get a first-pitch fastball; in his case it was a slider. But once again Sal swung at the first fastball he saw and flew out to right.
There are games within the game and everyone is looking for patterns. The Royals came up swinging at the first fastball they saw; Kazmir appeared to recognize that and started throwing off-speed pitches to begin at-bats. Once a pitcher establishes hell throw something other than a first-pitch fastball, he might be able to go back to throwing first-pitch fastballs. Thats what he did with Justin Maxwell and Lorenzo Cain, but the Royals were still in swing mode; both Cain and Maxwell swung at the first fastball strike they saw. Maxwell and Cain singled, the Royals picked up their third run of the inning and Jamey Carrollthe only guy who didnt swing at the first fastball strike he sawended the inning by popping up to second base.
An ambush looks great when it works . The pitcher hasnt had time to catch his breath and hes getting whacked all around the yard. When it doesnt workwhen the hitters pop up or line out or hit groundballs at somebodyit looks awful. The opposition pitcher is back in the dugout in less than ten pitches and fans are talking about the hitters lack of patience.
Fortunately for the Royals, this ambushif thats what it wasworked. Kansas City scored three in the first inning and never trailed, beating Cleveland 6-2 and taking another series.
The first time through the order every Royals hitterwith the exception of Jamey Carrollswung at the first fastball strike they saw. The second time through the order things changed; Alex Gordon took two fastballs for strikes to start his second at-bat.
So whats up with that?
I dont know, but Ill give you a guess: a guy hits a home run and comes up to the plate for his next at-bat thinking he wont get that same pitch again. The pitcher takes advantage of that by throwing the hitter the one pitch the hitter isnt looking forthe home-run pitch.
But a pitcher who wants to do this better know his hitter. A dumb hitter isnt thinking anything and hell whack that same pitch just like he did the first one. A smart hitter is looking for something else. A really smart hitter has studied video and read the scouting reports, and if the pitcher likes to do thisrepeat a home-run pitchthe really smart hitter will be ready for it.
A single game is being played on a variety of levels: youve got smart guys and guys who dont their own teams signs and guys somewhere in-between. The really smart guys know whos who and take advantage of that.
(By the way: when the teams on the road, I dont get to talk to any of the coaches and players so Im stuck theorizing: the Royals may have ambushed Kazmir and Kazmir may have repeated a home-run pitch to Gordonbut dont take any of that to the bank. But what I can tell you with complete certainty is that this kind of stuff happens. If it didnt happen in this game, it has happened in another.)
• James Shields: eight innings pitched, two earned runsanother quality start. He also went over 200 innings pitched, the seventh year in a row hes done that. Dayton Moore has said he wanted to get 1,000 innings out of his starting pitchers and Shields has done his part.
• Emilio Bonifacio tripled in the first inning, but it probably should have been a single. According to the guys on radioIm hearing the game the same way you areIndians right fielder Drew Stubbs went into a feet-first slide in an attempt to catch the ball. The baseball rule of thumb is that you try to prevent big innings early and single runs late: a play can be the wrong play in the first inning and the right play in the eighth. The way things worked out Bonifacio would have scored anyway, but Stubbs didnt know that; he probably shouldve pulled up and played the ball for a single.
• At one point Clevelands catcher, Yan Gomes, got up and walked away from home plate, thinking Justin Maxwell had just struck out to end an inningbut he hadnt. Hitters walking toward first because they think they just saw ball four is bad enough, catchers walking away from home plate because they think they just saw strike three is worse: catchers have to work with umpires all day. Showing them up and getting on their bad side is not smart. When that happens the player needs to come back to the plate and make it right with the umpire.
• James Shields made an error when he covered first base and missed a throw from Eric Hosmer . I never saw the playremember, the game was on radiobut when that happens its usually because the pitcher is late covering or the first baseman is late throwing the ball: the pitcher is trying to catch the ball and find first base with his foot at the same time. Concentration gets split and bad things happen.
• In the fifth inning with runners on first and third and nobody down, Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in Bryan Shaw to pitch to Billy Butler. It seems likely the Indians were looking for a double play ball and got one, a 5-4-3. The score was 3-2 when Billy hit the ball and playing for two at that point indicates Cleveland thought they could make up a two-run deficit. The runner on third, Emilio Bonifacio, scored while the Indians turned the double play. If Cleveland thought stopping the run was crucial, the throw would have come home.
• With runners on first and third with nobody out, youre going to see the runner on third base break for home on a groundball. If the other team turns a double play while you watch, you now have a runner on third and two outs. If the runner goes home and gets thrown out, you probably have runners on first and second with one out.
• In the seventh inning with Alex Gordon on first base, Emilio Bonifacio hit a groundball into centerfield after Gordon took off for second. The radio guys described it as a perfect hit and run, but it probably wasnt. On a hit and run the Royals want the guy at the plate to hit the ball toward the shortstop or second baseman. Hit the ball up the middle and the runner will take an infielder in that direction. If the infielder arrives at the right time, its a perfect double-play ball.
• The Cleveland pitchers made a couple bad pickoff throws and it cost them at least one run. In the fifth inning Bonifacio advanced to second on a bad throw, went to third on an Eric Hosmer single to left and scored on that Billy Butler double play ball. Its unlikely Emilio would have been able to go first to third on Hosmers single to left field, so the error probably made the run possible. Bad pickoff throws are another benefit of the stolen base; if you dont run, they dont worry about you.
• After eight innings Shields had thrown 102 pitches, but hadnt given up a hit since the first. Ned Yost sent him back out for the ninth with a four-run lead. The first two batters reached and thenwith the tying run on deckit became a save situation. Greg Holland got the call and picked up his 42nd save. It might have been nice to not use Holland, but the Royals have a day off tomorrow so Holland will get his rest and be available for the Detroit series.
A readers question
Lee, I'm reading more articles about how the Royals should trade Greg Holland while his value is so high. I think he's the team's MVP. A lot of writers seem to feel that great closers are a dime-a-dozen (ok, maybe I'm exaggerating) and rarely do they have successful back-to-back years.
If closers are a dime-a-dozen, why would anyone give the Royals much for Greg Holland? Either closers are rare people that have the pitches and personality to take the mound in tight ball games and succeed under incredible pressure, or theyre easily replaceable, interchangeable cogs in a machine. If its rare for closers to be successful in back-to-back years, why is Hollands trade value high?
Hes either very valuable or he isntyou cant have it both ways.
A day off
The Royals have now finished the 44-games-in-44 days stretch and tomorrow they have a day offbut its not quite as good as it sounds. Talk to players and theyll tell you a day off in their world either means travel, a day off in a strange town or day off at home; and the day off at home may be the least restful of all.
If they get a day off at home the players family probably has big plans; dad hasnt been around much and they want to spend time with him. Or it may mean getting to a list of chores thats been piling up while the players been earning his living. It can also mean attending a charity event thats been wedged into the schedule. The players may get a day off, but its rarely restful.
P.S. And its worse for the writers: I asked Star beat writer Bob Dutton about getting a day off and he pointed out that he still has to write a Royals story, but he doesnt have a game to write about. Hed just as soon the team played a game.)