West Coast game, 9:10 start and the Royals play extra innings—are you kidding me? This one took four hours and 12 minutes and had more parts than a Swiss watch. (Actually, I was hoping to come up with a much better metaphor than that, but right now it’s the best I got.) Ned Yost called this one a roller coaster ride and he was right.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
For the most part this game turned on walks and errors—16 walks, four errors—and walks and errors continued to play a major role in the final inning. Let’s start there: Seattle reliever Lucas Luetge started the twelfth inning by walking Alex Gordon. Walking the leadoff batter is usually trouble and that proved to be the case here.
Emilio Bonifacio bunted Gordon to second, Eric Hosmer popped up to third and Johnny Giavotella also walked—two outs and Salvador Perez at the plate. Luetge threw a first-pitch slider to Perez that did pretty much nothing before leaving home plate at a high-rate of speed. Being an off-speed pitch, Perez pulled it down into the left-field corner for a double and Gordon scored. Giavotella tried to score, but was thrown out at the plate—but that’s not a bad play; there were two outs and if Gio stops at third, you’re asking for another two-out hit.
The Royals had the lead late and that means Greg Holland. Holland came in for his 45th save, but it wasn’t easy. Holland started things by walking the first two hitters and was missing the strike zone on his arm side. When that happens, it’s often a sign the pitcher is opening up his front side too soon, the arm is late to the release point and the pitches miss up and off the plate to the pitcher’s arm side. Pitching coach Dave Eiland came out for a visit and Greg got back in the zone. A fly ball and two strikeouts later and the roller coaster ride was over—the Royals beat the Mariners 6-5.
Back to that final strike out: Michael Saunders was called out on strikes to end the game and appeared to go temporarily insane—probably with good reason. Saunders threw his bat and hopped around in frustration and if you watch the final pitch in slow motion you see why; it was a slider and Perez caught the ball below the strike zone and pulled it back up. If Perez thought the pitch was a strike, he wouldn’t need to pull the ball back into the zone. The Royals got the call and histrionics ensued.
The Royals are now 83-73 and have gone 14-7 in September. They’re doing it by the skin of their teeth, but they continue to hang in there.
A single pitch changes the game
If you want to know where things started to get out of control for starting pitcher Yordano Ventura and the Royals, go back to a single pitch in the sixth inning:
Ventura had thrown a shutout for five innings and got two more quick outs in the sixth; Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin each hit fly balls to Alex Gordon and Ventura’s pitch count was 66—a pitcher pretty much in total control of the situation.
Brad Miller stepped to the plate and was probably planning on taking a strike. Ventura had only thrown eight pitches to get the first two outs, Mariners starting pitcher Brandon Maurer was still in the game and Miller wouldn’t—or at least shouldn’t—want his starting pitcher to be back on the mound in less than ten pitches.
So what does Ventura want to do?
Throw strikes, get ahead in the count, go right after Miller; the hitter’s probably going to watch at least one fastball strike go right past—but Ventura didn’t throw a fastball strike. Whether it was what Salvador Perez wanted or Ventura’s call—and it never appeared that Ventura shook off Perez—they started Miller with a curveball and it missed.
So did the next five fastballs. Miller was taking and never swung the bat. A hitter, who should have been buried in the count and defensive, was ahead in the count (until he got to 3-2) and taking. A guy who should have had a bad at-bat walked, and that set up everything else that followed.
Ventura threw a wild pitch, Miller went to second and scored on an Abraham Almonte single. Kyle Seager also walked and Ventura was out of the game after 81 pitches. A pitcher in control of the situation may have given that control away in a single pitch—a first pitch curveball to a guy who probably had no intention of swinging the bat.
• The home plate umpire on the game’s final strike call was Vic Carapazza. Umpires generally don’t like it when players make it clear that they think the umpire screwed up, so keep an eye on Carapazza in the next two games. If I were Michael Saunders, I wouldn’t expect too many calls to go my way.
• With runners at first and second in the twelfth inning, Salvador Perez blocked two pitches in the dirt. Do the math and you see he saved the game.
• In no particular order: Lorenzo Cain did not take charge on a fly ball that dropped in foul territory. Cain was coming in—it’s his call—Emilio Bonifacio was going back. The outfielder has priority on those plays.
Alcides Escobar tried to bunt Justin Maxwell over to third base in the eighth inning, but bunted the ball back to the mound. I’ve heard a couple theories on this—make the third baseman field the ball and open up the bag, or bunt it down the first-base line and force the pitcher to move away from third. Bunting the ball back to the mound is not a workable option.
Seattle’s starting pitcher Brandon Maurer did not back up third base when he was supposed to and that cost his right fielder a throwing error and his team the game. Eric Hosmer was coming into third, the throw was wild, Maurer wasn’t there backing up and Hosmer scored. There are no little things in a close ball game—everything is important.
• Jarrod Dyson missed a catch in the seventh inning on a Mike Zunino line drive and it looked awful—and that ought to tell you something. When a good defender like Jarrod Dyson looks bad on a play, it’s likely that something happened that made him look bad; in this case the ball was knuckling on its way to the outfield.
Swinging bats put spin on baseballs; that’s why balls curve and hook after they leave home plate. Hit a baseball just right—dead square—and there is no spin on the ball. It leaves home plate like a knuckle ball; bouncing all over the place. That’s why Dyson ran to one spot and suddenly had to reach back to another. It didn’t work and the ball got past him for a three-base error.
• In the tenth inning Alex Gordon threw out another runner and it saved the ballgame. With one down, Kyle Seager on third and Endy Chavez at the plate; Chavez hit a line drive to Gordon and Seager tagged up. If Seager scored the game was over.
Gordon’s throw home came in on the infield side of the plate and Salvador Perez had to leave the dish to catch it. Afterwards, Perez said he concentrated on catching Gordon’s one-hop throw and while that seems obvious, how many times do we see catchers get more concerned about the tag and miss catching the ball? Perez had his priorities in order.
Sal caught the ball and dove back toward home and stuck out his glove and Seager ran into it while attempting to touch home—and that’s another point worth examining: you see defenders reach for the runner all the time. The tag is made high on the body and the umpire has to decide if the tag was made before the hand or foot touched the bag. Put the glove on the bag—or in this case home plate—and let the runner tag himself out; that way the umpire has only one focal point. Seager was called out and the game continued.
Six games to go and they’re still in it
Whatever you thought of the Wil Myers-James Shields trade at the time, it seems to have worked out pretty well: the Royals have had their first winning season in a decade. And while a shot at the playoffs is still a pretty long shot, Kansas City is still playing meaningful baseball with six games left in the season.
Maybe it’s time to admit Dayton Moore did OK.
Give me a moment to whine
I knew these Seattle games were going to be brutal, but I didn’t know how brutal until Monday night. Like I said at the beginning: extra-innings? Really?
I gave up after midnight and watched the rest of the game this morning. I was running on fumes before I got up at 6AM and things haven’t improved no matter how much coffee I pour down my throat. Once the cobwebs clear I’ll probably think of other things I should have written about and if so, I’ll stick them on the next set of game notes.