Closer Greg Holland came into the ninth inning with the score 3-1. A two-run lead provides a closer with an “insurance run.” No matter what the first hitter does, he can’t tie the game. Holland was due to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Michael Young. The one thing Holland didn’t want to do was bring the tying run to the plate by walking Utley.
Holland walked Utley.
Holland also walked Howard (the tying run) and Young (the winning run). Clearly Holland was off his game, but home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg didn’t help much. Against the three National League stars, Holland could not get a call on a borderline pitch. Holland then struck out Dominic Brown swinging and John Mayberry looking on just the kind of borderline pitch Kellogg wasn’t calling earlier in the inning. With two down and a chance to escape with a scoreless inning and a save, Holland made his final mistake: a fastball up in the zone to pinch hitter, Kevin Frandsen. Frandsen doubled and three runs scored. The Phillies won 4-3.
Bottom line: Holland might have been getting squeezed by the home plate umpire, but he’s got to throw strikes in that situation. You can’t give up three runs on one hit.
(To give Holland credit, he stood by his locker after the game and said the exact same thing.)Game notes
Another good start from the rotation: Luis Mendoza threw six innings and gave up one run—also a guy that got walked.
Both starters were able to throw off-speed stuff in fastball counts. Once a pitcher shows he can do that, hitters can’t be sure of getting a fastball even though the count favors it. But if a hitter tries to cover fastballs and off-speed pitches, he can get his fastball and miss it. That’s why you’ll see a guy take a bad-looking hack in a fastball count: he knew there was a chance he was getting a slider or changeup, but still timed his swing for fastball—if he got it, he didn’t want to miss it.
With two strikes on Humberto Quintero, Salvador Perez wanted to end the at bat with a “chase pitch.” That’s a pitch that starts in the zone and then moves out of it—the pitcher wants the hitter to chase it. Fans can see the catcher call for one of these pitches: Perez tapped the ground with his glove before the ball was thrown—that’s the signal for the pitcher to bounce the pitch.
In the third inning Jimmy Rollins stole a base, but mainly stole it off Luis Mendoza. Luis used a full leg kick to deliver the ball to home plate and when that happens, a catcher doesn’t have much of a chance to throw out runner, no matter how good his arm is.
Michael Utley didn’t make things any easier for Salvador Perez, he faked a bunt and stuck his bat in the zone—just one more thing for Sal to deal with while he was trying to be quick getting the ball to second base.
In the fifth inning Lorenzo Cain was hit by a pitch and Jeff Francoeur followed with a double. With runners on second and third, Miguel Tejada did a professional job of hitting, putting the ball in play to the right side of the infield. That not only drove in Cain, but moved Francoeur to third base. Both pitchers were throwing well at that point, so the Phillies brought the infield in, trying to prevent Francoeur from scoring. That meant Elliot Johnson’s grounder up the middle got by the drawn in infield. Tejada’s good approach not only got him an rbi, it got Johnson one as well.
Later in the inning Luis Mendoza may have cost the Royals a run when he couldn’t get a bunt down. That meant Johnson was still at first instead of being on second base when Alex Gordon singled. Johnson got to third, but never crossed the plate.
In the seventh inning Francoeur doubled once again, this time in the right-field gap. Jeff pulled his first double down the line when he got an off-speed pitch, but went the other way—Jeff says that will be a key to his season—the next time he came to the plate.
Middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs and usually have a way of alerting the corner infielders if the pitch will be a fastball or off-speed. If Michael Young knew Francoeur was getting an off-speed pitch on that first double, I would’ve thought Young would be moving that way once the pitch was delivered. But Young still let the ball get between him and the line.
After Francoeur’s second double Tejada once again did the right thing and hit the ball to the right side—this time down the first-base line. Elliot Johnson bunted Tejada over, Chris Getz—an excellent situational hitter—pinch hit for Luis Mendoza, but Tejada got picked off third when he was caught too far down the line on a contact play.
Miguel Tejada did a great job with the bat and made an outstanding play on a soft roller earlier in the game, but his base-running mistake might have cost the Royals another run.The double play ball
In the fourth inning with Alex Gordon on first base, Alcides Escobar hit a grounder to Michael Young. When the double play is in order and the batter hits a grounder, pay attention to how hard the ball is hit. If the ball is hit softly—and this one was—the pivot man is in danger. The play is taking a long time to develop and a runner has time to get down to second and blow up the middle infielder.
If the double play is started by a hard shot, now the base runner has to watch out: the pivot man will get the ball quickly and may throw from a low-arm angle—the ball will be right at the runner’s head. This forces the runner to get down early and prevents him from taking out the pivot man.
In this case the play was developing slowly and Alex has a reputation for hustling. Chase Utley wisely chose to take one out and then get out of the way.
If a guy is known for loafing down to second, the pivot man might try to complete the double play.
Either way, if you pay attention to the ball that starts a double play, you’re about to see something interesting at second base.