Coming into this season the Royals appeared to have Gold Glove candidates at catcher, third base, shortstop, first base, left field and possibly right field. Coming into this game the Royals had the worst fielding percentage in the American League.
When you’re in a pitching duel, the game will often turn on a single mistake; this game turned on two—and one of them was an error by third baseman Mike Moustakas. In the second inning with two down and the Yankees’ Chris Nelson on second base, Robinson Cano hit a chopper to Mike’s left. Mike caught the ball cleanly, but had to do a full 360 to get his body turned back toward first base. They call them throwing errors, but they often start with your feet. Mike’s feet never got set and he threw the ball high and wide of first base. Ned Yost—who has a better eye for this kind stuff than I do—said Moose never got closed up again. Essentially that means Mike never got his feet and shoulders squared up and on a line with first base before letting go of the ball. The throw sailed past Eric Hosmer and by the time Hos collected the ball, Nelson had scored and the Yankees had their first run.
The other mistake
Letting Vernon Wells hit a home run was not the other mistake. Wells is a good hitter and he did what good hitters do with 3-1 fastballs. After the game James Shields said it wasn’t even that bad a pitch. The other mistake was hitting the number-nine hitterbefore
giving up the home run to Wells. Shields called it "unacceptable" and said he was much more disappointed in the pitch that hit Chris Stewart than the pitch hit by Wells. Two mistakes in a tight ballgame meant the Royals lost to the Yankees, 3-2.
It’s still early
If you’ve been following Mike Moustakas’ career you know he worked hard to improve his defense last season and impressed everybody with his progress. Mike improved so much that people thought he’d have a shot at winning a Gold Glove, sooner rather than later. Royals fans have seen Mike make much harder plays than the one that blew up on him Saturday night. The Royals defense was expected to be much better than it’s been so far in 2013. There are 129 ball games left for them to get it right—most people who follow the team closely will be surprised if the defense doesn’t improve dramatically.
It needs to.
When two aces are throwing you’re more likely to see managers play small ball; they figure a big inning is not right around the corner and they better play for one. That’s just what the Royals did after Elliot Johnson got on with a swinging bunt. Johnson stole second—more on that in a moment—advanced to third on another swinging bunt and came home on a grounder to short.
Stealing off lefty Andy Pettitte is a chore; he’s got a "B" move over to first base that he shows the runner until the runner thinks he’s got it figured out—then Pettitte drops the "A" move on the poor guy. Pettitte’s best move looks like he’s going home and all the "B" move attempts are made to lure the runner in to taking the bait and a step toward second. And as if that’s not enough, Andy has another move where he makes a snap throw from the sidearm position.
So give Elliot Johnson credit for stealing the base. Maybe he just guessed right, but the steal turned into a run.
James Shields also has a quick pickoff move, but doesn’t have the advantage of being left handed. Shields was holding runners by holding the ball in the set position. That pause makes the runner’s legs go dead—it’s like a sprinter being in the starting blocks too long. Holding the ball in the set is irritating to some fans because it makes the game drag, but it’s better to have a slow game than a runner in scoring position.
With Jayson Nix on first base a double play ball was hit to Elliot Johnson at second base and shortstop Alcides Escobar temporarily stepped in front of him. That caused some confusion; Johnson tried to tag the runner coming into second instead of taking the sure out at first and everybody was safe. On the other hand, Elliot’s mistake kept the double play in order and they turned it on the next pitch. When you screw up and the pitcher bails you out of it, it’s an incredible relief. Probably the same thing a pitcher feels when he makes a bad pitch and someone makes a diving catch.
Mariano Rivera, the Yankee closer, was waiting down in the bullpen with about a billion saves lifetime and another 13 he’s tacked on this year. Rivera also had a 1.88 ERA going, so the Royals probably needed to get something done in the eighth inning, before Mariano got the call. The score was 3-2, the Yankees pitcher was reliever David Robertson and the Royals had the top of the order due up for the fourth time, they needed to score before Rivera got in the game—it seemed like now or never.
It was never.
Robertson struck out the side.
Rivera and his cutter came into the game and got two quick outs before Salvador Perez doubled. Jarrod Dyson came out to run and Mike Moustakas stepped to the plate with a chance to redeem himself—and Moose came close.
He hit a rocket down the right field line that was just foul and would have tied the game up, but then flew out to the right center gap for the final out. Vernon Wells, the Yankee left fielder that plays deep, just barely got there to make the catch. Had Vernon been even a couple steps in, the game would have been tied with Moose standing on second. As it was, the crowd at least got to see the best closer of all time add to his save total.
Thursday night Alex Gordon did something unusual: he crushed a home run (nope, that’s not the unusual bit). And after he hit the home run, Alexposed (there it is—the posing is the unusual part). Alex is a very low-key guy and people who saw him pose thought it was out of character. Saturday afternoon Alex told me he didn’t plan it, but he knew
he crushed the ball and he knew the ball was going out—after all, they were playing in Baltimore and the right-field foul pole is only 318 feet away.
After hammering the pitch, Gordon dropped the bat, paused dramatically and thenrealized
he was pausing dramatically. Alex said he’d never walk on his way to first base, so he immediately started running—but in the back of his mind he was wondering if he was going to pay for that momentary lapse. If pitcher Freddy Garcia saw the pose and took exception to it, Gordo would not have been surprised if he’d gotten drilled the next time he came to the plate. In fact, Alex would have understood: he made a mistake and was willing to accept the consequences. But if Garcia wanted revenge, he had to do it the right way: throw the ball behind Gordon’s back and below the shoulders. When a pitch is behind a hitter, the natural instinct is to back up—the hitter backs right into the pitch. Gordon would have gotten hit in the back or backside; no real damage done. But throw up around the head and now you’re risking a hitter’s career and health—Alex would not be OK with that.
Gordon said he led off the inning in his next at-bat, so the chances of Garcia wanting to hit him and start the inning with a runner on base were slim, but if he had gotten drilled, Alex would have accepted his punishment and trotted down to first. Gordon’s an old-school ballplayer who thinks the game ought to be played the right way and was willing to pay for a mistake.
And that’s no pose.