Nothing is more exciting than a bottom of the ninth, come from behind win—mainly because they don’t happen very often. So far this season, when the Royals trail after eight innings their record is 2-31. It works the other way as well: when the Royals lead after eight innings their record is 23-2. Some of these games were blowouts, but even when a game is close, it’s clear that it’s hard to come from behind and win a game in the ninth inning. Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Tigers was no exception.
Detroit took a one-run lead in the top of the eighth inning. That meant they could hand the ball to their set-up man, Joaquin Benoit, in the bottom of the eighth, and—when the Royals did not score—their closer, Jose Valverde for the ninth. Let a team hand the ball to their closer for the final three outs and you’re in trouble.
Even so, the ninth inning started well for the Royals. Catcher Salvador Perez singled and pinch-runner Elliot Johnson replaced him on first base. Stealing second base was pretty much inevitable: Valverde is slow to the plate and catcher Alex Avila is apparently a tick slower than average when it comes to getting the ball down to second base. Johnson stole the bag with Billy Butler at the plate. With nobody down and the Royals needing one to tie and two to win, Butler needed to hit the ball to the right side of the field—at a minimum—to make sure Johnson wound up at third with one down. If Billy could drive Johnson in while hitting the ball to the right side, so much the better.
Instead, Billy struck out looking on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. Billy disagreed with home plate umpire Jordan Baker’s call and let him know. Billy walked back to the dugout, but the disagreement didn’t end there. There’s a TV just outside the dugout and players can watch a replay of what just happened. That’s why you see guys come back out and yell at the umpire from the bench; they thought the call was bad at the time, not they’ve seen the replay and they’re convinced they just got screwed. Billy got tossed and came back on the field to get his money’s worth. Arguing with an umpire doesn’t change anything except your bank account. Ned Yost came out to intercede, Billy went back to the dugout and the Royals finished the ninth inning with a pop-up to short by Lorenzo Cain and a weak dribbler out in front of the plate by David Lough.
There’s a moral to the story: when your odds of winning are 2 out of 33, score early—avoid the other team’s closer.
First inning: In the bottom of the first inning Alex Gordon stole his second base of the season. Like I said in the opening, catcher Alex Avila is not that quick about getting the ball down to second base and Max Scherzer was using a big leg kick to deliver the ball home from the set position.
Second inning: In the top of the second Wade Davis threw 25 pitches—15 is about average. David Lough led off the bottom of the second and did the right thing: he took a strike. Hitters have to be aware that their pitcher just had a tough inning and needs a chance to rest. The smart ones do what they can to slow things down.
Smart pitchers on the other side know that hitters are probably trying to slow things down and will take at least one strike. So the pitcher might just pour a fastball down the middle, knowing the hitter is unlikely to swing—and that’s just what happened. Scherzer threw a 92 MPH fastball down the middle and Lough watched it go by. If a pitcher gets aggressive about throwing strikes, he’ll force hitters out of their passive mode and that’s what happened here: Lough swung at the second pitch—his one shot at a hittable pitch—fouled it off and took strike three looking.
Third inning: The good defense continued: Mike Moustakas made an extremely tough catch of pop fly down the left field line, Alex Gordon had another assist back in the second inning and Eric Hosmer made a highlight-reel play in the seventh.
A nine-pitch third inning and a seven-pitch fourth helped Wade Davis go deeper in this ballgame. After his last start Ned Yost said Wade sometimes struggled with command and consistency. He has it, then loses it and then finds it again. Meanwhile his pitch count’s climbing and he’d be out after five innings. In this game Wade threw 100 pitches and made it through six and two thirds.
Fifth inning: With Omar Infante on first base, the Tigers put on a hit and run. On the hit and run play the runner takes off and looks in to home plate after a few strides—he needs to know where the ball has been hit. If he can’t find the ball, he might take visual cues from the middle infielders; which is why Chris Getz pretended to catch a ball and start a double play—Getz was hoping Infante would buy the deke and slide into second to break up the non-existent play. Unfortunately, Infante didn’t buy the deke, went first to third and later scored on a fielder’s choice.
In the bottom of the fifth, Scherzer gave up his first hit when David Lough hit his first home run. Next, Mike Moustakas singled and Chris Getz laid down a bunt. It’ll show up in the scorebook as a sacrifice, but it appeared Getz was bunting for a hit. If Chris can get the ball past the pitcher’s mound, it’s very tough to get him. Scherzer made the play, but the bunt paid off when Moustakas scored on an Alcides Escobar single.
Sixth inning: The Royals outfielders are playing Prince Fielder to hit the ball the other way. Prince drove a ball to the warning track in left and Alex Gordon was right there.
Seventh inning: When Wade Davis left the game he had no chance to win, but his team did. Tim Collins came into face two lefties; the number nine hitter Don Kelly and lead-off hitter Andy Dirks. Detroit manager Jim Leyland countered with two pinch hitters; Avisail Garcia and Matt Tuiasosopo. Tim didn’t get either of them. Aaron Crow came in and struck out Torii Hunter to end the inning and the threat.
Eighth inning: Things didn’t go nearly so well for Aaron Crow: he hit Miguel Cabrera with a slider to start the inning. With Prince Fielder at the plate the count went to 3-2 and that allowed Leyland to put Cabrera in motion (that assumes the batter is either going to walk or put the ball in play and the runner being in motion will avoid a double play). Fielder singled sharply to right and because he was in motion, Cabrera was sure to make it to third. Victor Martinez hit a sac fly to Gordon and Cabrera scored. That run allowed the Tigers to bring in their set-up man, Benoit, in the eighth, and their closer, Valverde in the ninth. And you now know how bad the Royals odds were if the Tigers gave the ball to Valverde. Tigers win, 3-2.
Different stadium, different results
The Tigers had 18 fly ball outs Monday night and several were caught right in front of the Sprint scoreboard sign, just to the left of centerfield. I asked Rusty Kuntz and he speculated that the fence is about 390 feet from home plate at that point. He also said that the fence in Detroit’s Comerica Park is about 375 feet away from home plate at the same point. So several of those fly balls might have been home runs had Monday night’s game been played in the Tiger’s home park. That means the Royals would have probably lost and may have even been blown out had the same game taken place in a different park. But you build your team to play 81 games in your home park—you should have an advantage there.
Monday night the range of the Royals outfield was apparent—they were making catches all over the place. The range of the Tigers outfield was also apparent—most noticeably on a ball Salvador Perez hit into right center that neither Avisail Garcia (considered a corner outfielder, not a centerfielder) and Torii Hunter (who has lost range) could get to; the ball dropped for a triple and that changed the game.
Wednesday’s game should be something special: Justin Verlander vs. James Shields. Watch the depth of the Detroit outfield--they play deep--and see how it changes the game.