Tuesday night against the Oakland A’s, Ned Yost wanted a right-handed pitcher to protect a lead and get the final out of the eighth inning. Wade Davis wasn’t available that night, so Kelvin Herrera was set to pitch the ninth. Ned brought in Joakim Soria to finish the eighth and as Royals fans know, that didn’t work out so well.
And that brings us to Friday night’s game against the White Sox.
This time Wade Davis was available to pitch the ninth inning, which meant Kelvin Herrera had the eighth. This time the Royals were protecting a lead in the seventh inning and Ned wanted a right-hander to get the final out. This time Ned asked Herrera for four outs.
Herrera threw one pitch in the seventh inning and got Jose Abreu to ground out to Alcides Escobar; the Royals went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh and took a 4-2 lead into the top of the eighth.
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Old school versus new school
Timeout for a story that will soon seem relevant; for years I ran a local men’s amateur baseball team and one year I convinced Russ Morman — a former big-leaguer — to play with us. Russ did a lot of amazing things that year (turns out even former big-leaguers are waaay better than amateurs) and in the process taught us how attitude can help you win; Russ refused to talk to anyone on another team.
I asked him about it — after all, it was a pretty relaxed league — and Russ said he already had friends and didn’t need any more. Russ believed there was a right way to play the game whether you were playing in the big leagues or a beer league and he wasn’t going to change his approach.
Russ was old school.
So was Danny Jackson. The former Royals pitcher also played for our team and he wasn’t above drilling anybody who did something to displease him. Yell at one of his teammates and Danny was going to put one in your ribs when you came to the plate. Jeff Montgomery played for another team and Monty was the same way; he drilled people left and right and most of us were smart enough to be scared of him — which is just what Monty wanted.
These guys were old school.
But today’s players are different. Watch a hitter the first time he comes to the plate and he’ll reach out and tap the catcher’s shin guards with his bat; it’s how players say hi. If a batter reaches first base, watch the first baseman tap him on the hip with his mitt; it’s another friendly greeting. These days you can see base runners and infielders talking and laughing between pitches.
Old-school guys wouldn’t acknowledge an opponent’s existence; Salvador Perez has gone so far as to actually applaud a defensive play by someone on the other team.
But enough background, let’s get back to Friday night’s game.
Royals lose an advantage in the eighth
The Royals had that two-run lead and Melky Cabrera started things by lining out to right field. Next up: Todd Frazier.
The first pitch to Frazier was a 97 mph fastball that almost took his head off; Frazier spun out of the box and glared at the mound. TV announcers Ryan Lefebvre (old school) and Rex Hudler (old school) commended Herrera for his reaction, which was no reaction at all.
Even if the up-and-in pitch was unintentional, a pitcher can use that; let the hitter think maybe you did it on purpose — don’t apologize, don’t tap your chest and say “my fault.”
But Herrera did not need to apologize to Frazier because it appeared Perez was doing it for him. Perez appeared to be assuring Frazier that pitching up-and-in was unintentional and to back up his claim, Perez called for a slider down-and-away on the next pitch. After buzzing Frazier’s tower, every subsequent pitch was thrown down in the zone.
An uncomfortable hitter was allowed to get comfortable again and Frazier doubled.
Next, Alex Avila — a guy who was 0 for 11 with five punchouts against Herrera — got nothing but pitches middle away and singled on the sixth pitch. The first three pitches were outside the strike zone and away from Avila. If the Royals wanted to send the message that the White Sox hitters didn’t need to worry about Herrera coming inside, it appeared the White Sox got the message.
Avila singled, Frazier scored and the Royals lead was cut in half. Guys who should have been thinking about diving out of the way were allowed to get comfortable and concentrate on hitting.
After that, Herrera threw four pitches to Avisail Garcia and didn’t come up and in again until the fifth pitch of the at-bat. Herrera’s control was erratic and he walked Garcia on eight pitches.
Carlos Sanchez came into his at bat 1 for 6 off Herrera and he got three pitches away before Herrera and Perez came inside. But when they finally threw middle-in, they did it three times in a row. Sanchez fouled the fifth pitch back and when pitch six was another fastball in just about the same location as the previous pitch, Sanchez was ready for it and homered.
The White Sox took a lead and never gave it back.
Being nice can backfire
I don’t know them very well, but Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera appear to be nice guys. I do know Russ Morman, Danny Jackson and Jeff Montgomery pretty well and they’re nice guys, too — off the field.
But put those guys between the white lines and they intend to win. Once they beat you they’ll buy you a beer, but they do intend on beating you first.
After Kelvin Herrera went up-and-in on Todd Frazier, Salvador Perez did everything he could to assure the White Sox it wasn’t intentional and that meant the Royals lost an advantage they could have exploited.