On Tuesday, White Sox pitcher Dylan Covey started the bottom of the first inning by walking Whit Merrifield. Covey then did what he could to erase that leadoff walk: he got Melky Cabrera to hit a double-play grounder, but Chicago second baseman Yoan Moncada did not catch the ball cleanly.
And that changed everything.
Moncada knocked the ball down, picked it up and threw it to second base to force out Merrifield, but the throw to first base wasn’t in time to complete the double play. Cabrera was safe by a step.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know there are recurring themes, and one of those recurring themes is you have to watch the game if you really want to know what happened. Some important moments never show up in a box score, and Moncada failing to catch the ball cleanly on that double-play grounder is one of them.
Walking Eric Hosmer was smart
Before every game the catcher and starting pitcher get together and go over the other team’s lineup. One of the things they talk about is who’s hot and who’s not.
Eric Hosmer came into the game hitting .328, but the number we saw on the scoreboard didn’t tell the whole story. According to Baseball Reference, over the last 28 days Hosmer had hit .407, over the last 14 days it was .425 and over the last seven days Eric Hosmer had hit a smoking-hot .591.
In that pregame meeting the pitcher and catcher want to identify hitters they will not let beat them. With the game on the line, they’ll simply walk the hot hitter and go after somebody else.
Even though it would push Melky Cabrera into scoring position, Hosmer walked on four pitches.
But walking Salvador Perez was a mistake
The walk to Hosmer brought Salvador Perez to the plate and Perez has not been hot lately.
Perez was hitting .261 overall, but over the past 28 days his average had been .167, over the past 14 days it was .182 and over the past seven Perez had hit .217. Also, Perez had hit into 20 double plays.
Walking Hosmer to get to Perez was smart, but then Covey walked Perez to get to Brandon Moss and that wasn’t such a good idea.
Brandon Moss has been hot, but there was no place to put him
Moss came into the game hitting .205, but over his last 11 at-bats Moss had hit .364 and slugged 1.000. Moss hit a home run on Sunday, another home run on Monday and now Dylan Covey faced Moss with the bases loaded.
Covey had no place to put a hot hitter. He would have to throw strikes to Moss.
After three pitches, Moss was down in the count 1-2. Moss fouled off a change-up and then declined to chase two fastballs down out of the zone. That brought the count full and Covey kept throwing fastballs because he didn’t want to risk missing with an off-speed pitch and walking Moss with the bases loaded.
And that meant Moss saw five fastballs in a row, all between 93.2 and 94.5 mph.
Throw enough fastballs in a row and hitters will time one. Moss fouled two off, but was getting the fastball timed. So when Covey threw one in the middle of the zone, Moss crushed it — a grand slam that provided all the runs the Royals would need to win the game 4-3.
If Moncada had not bobbled the ball, Covey would have had three open bases to work with and he could have pitched around a hot hitter.
Small things can lead to big things and that’s how a bobbled ground ball led to Brandon Moss hitting a grand slam.