Over 21,000 Royals fans gave their team a standing ovation for making a mistake. Here’s how that happened:
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
With one down and Alcides Escobar on first base, Alex Gordon singled on a groundball to right field. Despite the fact that Esky had to avoid getting hit by the ball, he still went first to third and that set up everything that followed. With one down and runners on first and third, the offense has a bunch of options. For instance; they can double steal, they can put on a contact play, they can let the batter hit away or they can try a hit and run.
The Royals tried a hit and run.
Unfortunately, the guy at the plate—Emilio Bonifacio—didn’t know the Royals were trying a hit and run because he missed the sign. In a hit and run the runner on first—in this case Alex Gordon—gets a lousy jump. The runner’s job it to make sure the pitcher goes home with the ball—the runner cannot get picked off. So if the batter misses the sign and doesn’t swing, the runner on first is probably going to get thrown out. But Gordon’s pretty smart, so he stopped between bases—that’s when the circus began.
The Cleveland Indians started throwing the ball around while Gordon scurried back and forth. Over at third base Alcides Escobar was creeping toward home like a cat burglar who just realized the people he’s robbing are actually home. The Indians were chasing Gordon around, but keeping one eye on Esky. Once Alcides got far enough off third, they threw the ball in that direction and Alcides was caught between third and home.
After the game Ned Yost was asked what he was thinking while all this was going on and here’s his answer: "Does Boni know the signs?"
Meanwhile, Esky went from cat burglar to contortionist and somehow slipped past the attempted tag by Cleveland’s catcher, Yan Gomes. You could say the glove missed Esky by inches, but that’s way too much space—it was a lot less than that. Escobar ducked the tag and dove for home plate. Esky touched it before they touched him and the score was 4-2.
The fans who got to watch this near-disaster rose and gave the Royals a prolonged standing ovation. Former Royals base coach Doug Sisson once told me the one place a baseball team can show its energy is on the bases. You can’t do it at the plate or while playing defense, you do it while running the base paths.
Wednesday night the Royals showed their energy on the bases: Billy Butler scored from first base on a Salvador Perez double, Perez then scored on a wild pitch. Chris Getz pinch ran in the ninth, attempted to steal and had to do some hustling to make it to second when Salvador Perez hit a pop up which was dropped. Lorenzo Cain scored from second on a ninth-inning Alcides Escobar single and both Esky and Jarrod Dyson moved up 90 feet on the throw home. The Royals were hustling and taking the extra 90 feet whether it was available or not. The crowd was loving it and showing their appreciation; it felt like post-season baseball. The Royals have three regular season home games left; they play the Texas Rangers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you want to see a Royals team play meaningful games in September, there’s your chance.
The Royals win Wednesday night’s game 7-2 and take the series from the Cleveland Indians.
• In the post-game press conference Ned Yost was asked about his team resiliency and he said good teams bounce back. At the beginning of the season a loss might send his team into a stretch of three, four or five losses; now they know how to recover. They believe they’re a good team and any loss is an aberration—they’ll win the next one.
• Ned said his goal was to get starter Bruce Chen through the Cleveland lineup two times, then—if necessary—go to the pen and look for good matchups until he could get the ball to Greg Holland. Yost planned to use Holland no matter what; the Royals have a day off tomorrow and they’ve reached the point in the year where it’s pedal to the metal—they need to win right now.
• And don’t miss the work of the middle relievers; they’re like third base coaches—nobody notices them unless they screw up. Francisley Bueno, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins and Will Smith came in and threw zeros on the board—three innings of shutout baseball to get the game to Greg Holland.
• The Royals are now 68-2 when leading after eight innings. That’s part of why the rest of the guys in the pen want to "get it to this guy"—Greg Holland.
• In the seventh inning Emilio Bonifacio slashed the ball past Cleveland third baseman Mike Aviles for a single. Credit past bunt attempts for this hit; Aviles was playing in and didn’t have enough time to react to the ball.
• Bottom of the eighth, bases loaded, one down, lefty Nick Hagadone on the mound and Jarrod Dyson due up. If you were thinking who might pinch hit for Dyson in that situation, you were barking up the wrong tree. The Royals were up 4-2; Ned Yost was not going to weaken his defense in hopes of scoring a run—he already had the runs he needed to win. When a team is leading, defense is more important than offense. When they’re behind it works the other way.
• Small but cool moment: Dyson walked on a 3-2 pitch, but ball four came on a check swing. Chris Getz was the runner on third and Chris was smart enough not to start jogging toward home. He saw the check swing and came back to third and stared at Fieldin Culbreth, the third base umpire. Getz figured the Indians would appeal the call and if Culbreth called Dyson out, Chris did not want to get caught halfway between third base and home plate.
• In the clubhouse after the game Jamey Carroll talked about what Getz had done and said it was the kind of thing most people don’t notice, but it’s also the kind of thing that explains why some guys are on the team. If you put up big numbers, your mistakes will be excused. If you don’t have that kind of offensive talent you better do the small stuff right.
• This one was from Tuesday night and I didn’t get to it: Yordano Ventura threw a 101 mile an hour fastball in the dirt— and Salvador Perez picked it. Most of the time when a catcher picks a pitch in the dirt it’s off-speed. Perez reached over and picked the short hop out of the dirt on a ball moving over 100 miles an hour; that takes great hands.
• Speaking of Tuesday night: here’s something I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me—the Indians came out taking pitches to see if Ventura would throw strikes. Actually, I did notice that part, but here’s the part I missed: once Ventura established that he’d throw his fastball for a strike, the fear was that the Indians would start ambushing—looking for a first-pitch fastball and swinging when they got it.
That’s when Salvador Perez started mixing in first-pitch curves. It started with Lonnie Chisenhall’s first AB and continued as they went through the order for a second time. Even if Ventura didn’t throw his curveball for a strike, he established the fact that he’d throw something other than a fastball to start an at-bat. Once you do that, you don’t have to do it every time—you’ve already let everyone know you might do it and that makes hitting a lot more complicated.
The other night the Royals were playing a left-handed shift against the Indians and the third baseman, Jamey Carroll, was the only one on the left side if the field. I wondered about his positioning because he was playing in and more toward the left field line until the hitter had two strikes—then Carroll moved back and over toward the shortstop position. Wasn’t the hitter more likely to hit the ball the other way with two strikes?
And if so, why play him to pull?
Infield coach Eddie Rodriguez cleared it up: the hitter was probably Carlos Santana (frankly, I couldn’t remember—the whole season is a blur at this point). Apparently, Santana will sometimes bunt against left-handed shifts and try to push the ball toward third base. Once he gets to two strikes, Santana swings away. So Carroll was in for the bunt, then played back and over once Santana had two strikes.
The left-handed shift is designed to take left-handed power hitters out of their game. They can take the single the other way if they like, but Eddie said left fielder Alex Gordon will almost always be able to hold them to a single. These lefty-power hitters usually can’t run, so the Royals are willing to give up a single, then let the slow guy clog the bases.
If the lefty tries to stay with his game—pulling the ball—the Royals are probably going to pitch him away, let him reach out and try to hook the ball; most of the time that will result in a chopping groundball, not a home run swing.
The shift can work too well on occasion; say the infielders on the right side are playing back and the guy at the plate pulls a weak groundball. Even though the hitter can’t run, if the ball makes it past the pitcher’s mound, it’s trouble—the infielders have a long way to go to field the ball.
So next time you see a left-handed shift, pay attention to where the ball is hit and you’ll have a better idea of who won that particular battle.