Umpires make calls at first base not only using their eyes, they also use their ears. They focus on the base — so they can see when the runner’s foot hits the bag — and listen for the pop of the ball in the first baseman’s mitt. If the pop comes first, the runner is out; if the pop comes second, the runner is safe.
First basemen can do the same thing, but they use feel. I once asked Eric Hosmer how hard Alcides Escobar was throwing the ball to first base when he really cut one loose, and Hosmer said it was in the mid-90s. So Eric can definitely feel when the ball hits his mitt, and he can sometimes feel when the runner hits the base.
Tuesday night in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Cleveland Indians, there was a bang-bang play at first base. Wade Davis walked the first batter of the inning, Michael Bourn. The next hitter, Jose Ramirez, hit a ground ball to second baseman Omar Infante and Omar started a double play. Escobar was handling the pivot, got the first out at second base, then threw the ball to first base to complete the double play — but first base umpire Bob Davidson ruled Ramirez safe.
The Royals challenged the call, and once the replay was shown on the scoreboard, pretty much everyone in the stadium thought that Ramirez would be called out. But the replay gurus in New York allowed the call to stand.
Whenever possible I try to talk to players one-on-one. If you have a good relationship with a player he might tell you something he won’t say in front of media members he doesn’t know. In this case Hosmer told me Ramirez was out 100 percent, and once the rest of the media gathered around, Eric never changed his story.
Here’s what Hosmer had to say for the record: “As a first baseman, most of the times you can feel it, the ball hit the glove before the foot hits the bag. Sometime you can’t really tell, but this was definitely one where I felt he was out.” Eric’s not talking about an emotional feeling here; he’s saying he physically felt that Ramirez was out — the ball hit his glove before he felt Ramirez’ foot hit first base.
With super-slow motion, high-definition replays, umpires now want to know when the ball hits the back of a first baseman’s mitt; it’s no longer enough to have the ball within the mitt. But until they get an overhead angle that looks straight down on the play, they’re never going to know for sure. So when in doubt, pass the buck; let the field umpire’s call stand.
In this case, one look at the photo of the ball in Hosmer’s mitt, with Ramirez foot still off the bag, ought to be enough; common sense should prevail. But Monday night, common sense didn’t prevail, so the Indians did.
Wade Davis and the pitch that cost him a run
Since moving to the pen Wade Davis has simplified his pitch repertoire (and my computer is telling me I spelled that right on the first go — no one is more surprised than me — or I — my computer has no opinion on that). Anyway: Wade now throws a fastball which can be in the mid-to-upper 90s, a cutter which is thrown in the low 90s and a curve in the mid-80s.
He started the eighth inning by throwing eight pitches to Bourn, two of them curves, neither for strikes. Wade then got that double-play ball out of Ramirez on a curve. He got another double-play ball out of Jason Kipnis on another curve, but Omar Infante bobbled the ball and the Royals once again only got one out.
With Wade concentrating on the hitter — Carlos Santana — Kipnis stole second base. Santana walked and that brought Michael Brantley to the plate with two outs and the winning run in scoring position.
Davis threw Brantley six pitches; four fastballs and two cutters. At that point I was wondering where the curve was and if Wade was reluctant to throw it to Brantley. After the game I asked Wade about his curve and he said he was fine with it; Wade wanted a ball put in play by Brantley, but Brantley kept fouling off pitches. With the count 1-2, Salvador Perez and Davis decided it was time for a curve in the dirt — maybe Brantley would chase it out of the zone for a swing and miss.
When the catcher wants a pitch bounced in the dirt he taps his mitt on the ground, but Wade told me he missed his spot by about 7 inches; the curve was knee-high, not bounced and Brantley had an RBI line-drive single up the middle — and Wade Davis had finally given up a run in 2014.
So what happened to the Royals offense?
It’s kinda hard to win when you only score one run: your pitching and defense need to be perfect. And when you don’t score, you might wonder if it was your offense or their pitcher.
The Indians’ Carlos Carrasco came into Tuesday’s game with a 6-4 record and an ERA of 4.24 — nothing that would strike fear in the hearts of men. But in his previous two starts Carrasco had thrown 14 innings and given up a total of three earned runs; so he was coming in hotter than his overall numbers would indicate.
Watching the game, the pitch that seemed befuddle the Royals was a two-seam fastball or splitter that had good, late movement; Kansas City hitters were swinging and missing in good hitting counts.
After the game, Hosmer told me it wasn’t a sinker or splitter; it was actually a change-up and Carrasco was keeping them off balance by throwing it in neutral counts — 0-0, 1-1, 2-2 — and hitters counts like 2-0 and 2-1. Go back and look at the game pitch-by-pitch and it looked like Carrasco was throwing it when he was in a neutral count, behind in the count or ahead in the count.
Royals hitters were gearing up for fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s and getting a change-up, with movement, between 88-90 mph. Kansas City hitters deserve part of the blame — they only had five hits and scored one run — but Carrasco also deserves part of the credit.
Keep an eye on where hitters set up in the batter’s box
With a right-handed pitcher on the mound, the Indians can send a lineup to the plate filled with lefties or switch-hitters. As a matter of fact, on Tuesday night the only member of the Indians in the starting lineup hitting from the right side was Yan Gomes. Apparently they like to have the lefties stand on top of the plate, make the outside corner the middle of the hitting zone and dare the pitcher to come inside.
That’s what happened on the Brandon Moss home run.
Watch the replay and you’ll see Brandon’s back foot very close to home plate. Catcher Salvador Perez set up an inside target and Guthrie misses out over the plate; Moss turns around a 94-mph fastball and it winds up in the right field bullpen.
Tonight the Royals pitcher is lefty Jason Vargas, so the lineup will probably be different, but the tactic might be the same — especially with a guy whose fastball tops out in the high 80s: crowd the plate, dare the pitcher to beat you inside and whack the heck out of any pitch that doesn’t make it all the way in.