Judging the Royals

Hey Rusty Kuntz: Did Royals win because of a missed sign?

Updated: 2013-09-27T18:34:28Z

By LEE JUDGE The Kansas City Star

When I watch a game and have a question about what I’ve seen, I usually go find first-base coach, Rusty Kuntz. When the Royals play at home, Rusty and I talk just about every day; but now the Royals are on the road, Rusty isn’t available and I have a question:

Did the Royals win this game because of a missed sign?

Look back at the seventh inning: the game was tied 2-2 when Justin Maxwell led off with a single. David Lough was asked to bunt Maxwell into scoring position and squared around a couple times, but didn’t get the ball in play. On the fourth pitch of Lough’s at-bat, Maxwell broke for second like he was going to steal the base — he took off before Lough bunted the ball. But Lough did bunt and this time he got the ball down.

When the guy at the plate is bunting, the runner waits to see the ball come down off the bat before breaking for the next base; take off too soon and a popped up bunt is an easy double play. Had Lough popped the ball up, this would have been a really easy double play.

Lough’s bunt was fielded by Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko and somehow Konerko missed that Maxwell had taken off early. Konerko came up like he was going to throw the ball to second base, but he had no play, Maxwell was already there. By the time Konerko turned back to first base, Lough was safe. The Royals were then playing with house money and asked George Kottaras to lay down a bunt, moving two runs into scoring position.

Kottaras got a good one down and Chicago catcher Bryan Anderson picked the ball up and chucked it down the right field line. Maxwell scored, Lough and Kottaras moved up the second and third. Three batters later the inning ended with Lough and Kottaras still at second and third. So would the Royals have scored the game-winning run if Maxwell hadn’t been running early and Lough hadn’t been bunting?

Konerko thought Lough’s bunt was hard enough that he had a play on Maxwell at second. If Maxwell weren’t running early and Konerko had gotten the first out of the inning there, Lough would have been safe on a fielder’s choice at first, Kottaras wouldn’t have been asked to bunt, wouldn’t have forced an error and Germany would have won World War II. (OK, I made that last bit up, but you can see what happen when you start playing “what-if?” games.) Bottom line: Maxwell was off and running while Lough was bunting — it’s usually not done that way. So did the Royals score the winning run because someone missed a sign?

Rusty, Bob Dutton has my number; give me a call.

The Royals beat the White Sox, 3-2.

Game notes

• Jeremy Guthrie started the game with a 10-pitch first inning and at this point of the season, it’s not uncommon to see guys at the plate hacking early. The season’s almost over and everybody’s ready to go home. At this time of year you’ll hear players say, “In four days, I get to pick my own friends.” Boxes are packed; if they’re not going to the playoffs, players are ready to go home.

• Once their team is eliminated, it’s also not uncommon to see guys playing for their numbers. They might have been doing it all along — they better, putting up numbers is how you stay in the league — but now it’s OK to talk about it. Guthrie got his 15th win and Greg Holland got his 46th save. A career best for Guthrie, a team record for Holland.

• In the second inning Chicago catcher Bryan Anderson saved a run. He blocked a pitch with Mike Moustakas on second base and then the White Sox pitcher, Andre Rienzo, threw a wild pitch that moved Mike up to third. No blocked pitch and the wild pitch scores Moose.

• Adam Dunn walked in his first plate appearance and his third trip to the plate might give fans a clue why: Dunn hit a ball pretty much all the way to the top of general admission in right field. When guys have monster power, pitchers try to be careful with them and that can mean walks. Dunn was hitting .216 when he came into the game, but had 32 home runs and 82 RBIs. That’s why a guy hitting .216 also had 75 walks. You can now make that 33 home runs, 83 RBIs and 76 walks.

• David Lough hit a two-run homer on a pitch down and in — a part of the zone a lot of lefties hit well. The count was 2-0 and it got that way on two curveballs. If you’re David Lough you might have figured on getting a fastball after two off-speed pitches missed. Lough got a 93-MPH four-seamer and hit it out to right field.

• In the fifth inning Guthrie got two outs on two pitches — a pair of groundballs to second base. Jeremy then did exactly what he should have done; he threw a fastball right down the pipe to the third hitter, Marcus Semien. The White Sox shortstop had to take the pitch; he couldn’t let Guthrie off the mound in three pitches. Ahead 0-1 Guthrie then had the luxury of throwing a couple sliders and the second one caught the plate. Down 1-2 Semien had to protect the plate and chased a borderline fastball.

When a hitter is taking, the pitcher can jump ahead with an 0-0 fastball. Miss with a breaking pitch 0-0 and a hitter will look fastball 1-0 and might whack it. That’s how two-out rallies get started.

• In the sixth inning a pitch bounced in the dirt, then came up and nailed the home plate umpire, Gary Darling. When that happens the umpire might say he needs a minute and someone will make sure he gets it. Mike Moustakas was at the plate and took a walk over to the on-deck circle. Moose looked back at the plate and then nodded — probably because Darling said he was OK and ready to get back to work.

Team spirits

The Royals were eliminated Wednesday night. Before Thursday night’s game the team could be seen making some kind of toast and drinking a shot of something out of red plastic cups — I’m sure it was Gatorade or Nyquil. Maybe the flu is going around.

Whatever it was, a team toasting the end of a good run at the playoffs is part of what makes a team a team. Before the Royals went on the road Luke Hochevar talked about the bond this particular team has and thought it was something special. I asked if bonding mainly took place on the road — guys going out for dinner or a beer — and Luke said the bonding mainly takes place in the clubhouse. That’s where the team spends most of its time.

These guys have their own thing going: when they win they’ve got a neon sign they light up. They also have a strobe light and a fog machine. They get those going and the music is cranked up to high volume. Small wonder it feels like the media is spoiling the party when we walk in the room.

Two-strike approach

Ask Rusty Kuntz, about two-strike approaches (and I did), and he’ll tell a lot of hitters don’t have one; they continue to approach an at-bat the same way they did before they got to two strikes. For some guys — Adam Dunn for example — swinging for the fences with two strikes might make sense. Last season Dunn hit .204 and struck 222 times. But he also hit 41 home runs and had 96 RBIs. Adam Dunn doesn’t have to adjust with two strikes if he can make a swing-for-fences approach work. But a lot of baseball players and coaches will tell you there are too many guys without Dunn’s power that make no adjustment with two strikes.

When a hitter gets into a two-strike count, check his hands: if he has his pinkie hanging off the end of the bat, he’s still swinging for the fences. Smart pitchers and catchers will notice that — the hitter will have a hard time controlling the bat. Throw a chase pitch and you might get a check-swing strikeout; the hitter can’t stop the bat head. If the hitter is choked up, the pitcher knows he’s less likely to hit a bomb (Barry Bonds being a notable exception), but more likely to get the ball in play.

Pay attention and you’ll see which hitters have a two-strike approach and which hitters are still hacking.

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