On Monday night against the Tigers, Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss went 0-for-3. He struck out twice and after his second strikeout, scattered boos were heard.
Brandon Moss is one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet and the fact that he hasn’t played well in a Royals uniform weighs heavily on him.
When the Royals lose a close game and Moss feels like he did nothing to change that outcome, he feels responsible. Moss says he doesn’t need to have the greatest year ever, he just wants to contribute.
On Wednesday night, he did.
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To understand how and why Moss had a big night on Wednesday, we have to go back to June 27.
That night Justin Verlander pitched against the Royals and Moss went 0-for-3 against him. Verlander threw Moss eight pitches in those three at-bats; only one was a fastball and it was not a hittable pitch.
Throwing breaking pitches worked on June 27, so Moss figured Verlander would throw more breaking pitches on Wednesday night.
Verlander did and, in his first at-bat, Moss hit a slider and homered.
In his second at-bat, Moss hit a curve and singled.
Two hits in two at-bats on two breaking pitches made Verlander adjust; in Brandon’s third at-bat Verlander threw nothing but heat. Most hitters want to hit fastballs, but not high fastballs in the upper 90s; Moss struck out.
It didn’t look like Moss was going to get a fourth at-bat until Kelvin Herrera gave up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning; the Royals went from being up 2-1 to being down 3-2.
When a team takes a lead into the ninth inning and have their closer on the mound, most of the time it’s a done deal; when the closer gives that lead up, it can be devastating.
Before coming to the Royals, Moss played for six different big-league teams. He says all those teams tried hard for nine innings, but when a team was losing a lot and that team took a body shot — like their closer giving up a two-run homer — it was easy to think “Here-we-go-again.”
Those teams still played hard, but they’d lost enough games to think losing another one was inevitable.
But Wednesday night, after Herrera gave up the lead and left the game, Moss said the Royals weren’t defeated or deflated; they’d been through this before.
When Eric Hosmer came into the dugout in the bottom of the ninth, he said if they could find a way to score just one run and tie the game, the Royals would eventually win.
And that’s what the Royals did.
The bottom of the ninth
With one out Detroit pitcher Justin Wilson walked Alcides Escobar on four pitches; the tying run was on first base and Moss came to the plate.
Wilson did not want to fall behind another hitter, so he split the plate with a fastball and Moss swung. Afterward, Moss said he didn’t get all of it and to hit a ball out of Kauffman Stadium in that part of the park, a hitter needs to hit the ball perfectly.
The ball hit the scoreboard in right center and the Royals were off to the races.
A sure double, but Moss kept his eye on Escobar; if third-base coach Mike Jirschele sent Escobar home, there would be a play at the plate and Moss figured he could take third base while that was happening.
Get to third base with one out and a sacrifice fly would win the game.
Escobar beat the throw home and tied the game, but catcher Alex Avila saw what Moss was up to; if Avila handled the ball cleanly, Moss would be out.
But part of the Royals’ philosophy is to run the bases like their hair’s on fire; that forces the other team to make plays under pressure and pressure does weird things to human beings. When Avila took the ball out of his mitt, he dropped it.
Moss was safe at third and three pitches later, Alex Gordon hit a fly ball to center field.
Moss is not the fastest guy in the world, or the second fastest or the third fastest … OK, let’s just agree Moss isn’t fast … but once again he challenged the Tigers’ defense.
Detroit’s centerfield Mikie Mahtook caught Gordon’s fly ball, made a throw to the plate and would have thrown out Moss, but the throw was off-line. Moss pressured Detroit’s defense two times in a row and both time the Tigers failed to make the play.
Moss scored and the Royals had a very improbable 4-3 walk-off win.
It’s easy to miss, but Moss is heating up
Players want to start the season well because once they get enough at-bats, it’s hard to move the numbers. If a guy has a good April he can slump in May and it won’t be as noticeable.
And if a guy has a rough April, May and June, he can get hot in July and his overall numbers won’t look that much different.
Brandon Moss got off to a lousy start and at the end of June he was hitting .177.
Ned Yost, who can be loyal to a fault, has repeatedly said Moss is a streaky hitter, but when he gets hot, he can carry a team.
On Wednesday night, Moss was hot — a single, a double, a homer, two runs scored and two runs batted in — and he did what Ned predicted he would; Moss carried the Royals to a win.
Because of his bad start it’s easy to miss, but since July 1, Moss has hit .323 and slugged .613. It’s not a huge sample size — 33 plate appearances — but when you’re wandering the desert, dying of thirst, are you really going to complain about the size of the oasis?
Baseball is unpredictable; did anyone look at the Tigers series and figure the game the Royals would win would be the game Justin Verlander pitched?
At least for now it appears Brandon Moss is heating up.