Jon Lester’s first-inning blowup

08/09/2013 8:26 AM

08/09/2013 8:26 AM

Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester started the bottom of the first by going 2-1 on Lorenzo Cain. 2-1 is a fastball count and Cain got one: 94 miles an hour’s worth. Lorenzo turned it around and doubled over left fielder Jonny Gomes head. Nobody out, score 0-0, runner on second; it was Eric Hosmer’s job to make sure Lorenzo moved from second to third base by the time Hosmer’s AB was over—Hosmer got the job done.

Lester tried to prevent that by pitching the left-handed Hosmer away, hoping Eric would hit the ball to the left side of the field, freezing Cain at second base. Hosmer wanted to pull the ball to the right side of the field so Cain could advance 90 feet. Hosmer took some ugly "ass-out" swings (when a hitter tries to reach out and hook the outside half of the ball his rear end tends to stick out), but those ugly hacks were taken in a good cause. Hosmer grounded out to first and Cain advanced to third. One down, runner on third and Billy Butler’s job was to get a ball in play: preferably a fly ball to the outfield so Cain could tag and score or—since the infield was back—a groundball up the middle would do the trick.

But Lester had other ideas.

He clearly wasn’t that interested in having Billy Butler hit the ball

anywhere

and walked Billy on five pitches. That set up a double play situation and brought lefty Alex Gordon to the plate. By the way: did I mention Lester is left-handed? Well he is--and Gordon had hit .133 off Lester in the past so that was a better matchup than pitching to Billy. Get Gordon to hit a grounder and Billy probably isn’t fast enough to get to the pivot man—bang—you got yourself an inning-ending double play.

But Gordon had other ideas.

He hit a fly ball to left fielder Jonny Gomes. Cain went back to tag and Gomes started backing up. If an outfielder can get behind the spot where a fly ball will land, he can catch the ball coming forward. That will put more on his throw to home plate—but Gomes misjudged the distance or the wind caught the ball or there was a shift in the space-time continuum, because Gomes was too deep, and the ball hit the ground before he could get there. (Gomes says he simply slipped, but I like my space-time continuum theory better.) It was scored an error at the time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets changed.

So now one run was in, Butler was on second and Gordon was on first and there was one out. Miguel Tejada popped out to Dustin Pedroia, that made two outs and Lester was almost out of the inning with one run scored—not a bad deal all-in-all. Then Lester walked Justin Maxwell on four pitches to get to the left-handed Mike Moustakas. Maxwell later hit a ball to hell and gone—a solo shot to right—so maybe that part of the plan was OK, but the walk pushed Butler to third and Gordon to second. Then Lester fell behind Moustakas. If Mike could drive in a couple runs and Bruce Chen could continue to pitch the way he’s been pitching recently—this might be the ball game.

It was.

Moose got another one of those 2-1 94 MPH fastballs and singled to right field. Two runs scored and the Royals had all they’d need to beat the Red Sox.

In the first inning Jon Lester fell behind Cain and Moustakas, threw the fastballs they were hoping to get and paid the price. From that point on Lester started getting ahead of hitters and pitched six scoreless innings. They say you better get the good pitchers early and the Royals did.

Kansas City 5, Boston 1.

Bruce Chen, sharp as a tack

Phenomenal. That was the word Ned Yost used to describe Bruce Chen’s performance. Ned said Bruce commanded the ball up and down in the zone, stayed ahead in the count and changed speeds. Bruce Chen shows you don’t have to possess incredible stuff if you know how to pitch. Throw strikes, add and subtract velocity, change arm angles and pitch smart.

Here’s an example:

Chen had two outs and a runner on first, Daniel Nava at the plate. Nava came into the game hitting .282 with 10 bombs and 53 RBIs—a genuine threat to do some damage. Chen fell behind 2-1 and now Nava was

really

a threat; put something straight down the middle and you might find the score 3-2. So Bruce threw him what looked like a fastball down the middle, but it was a cutter and it just kept running in on Nava’s hands. Get the ball to the skinny part of the bat and take away Nava’s power—he hit a weak grounder to Mike Moustakas to end the inning. An old pro used a hitter’s aggressiveness against him.

Game notes

• I’ve been told Bruce Chen is a reader. A reader is a left-handed pitcher who can pick up his foot, look at the runner on first and read his intentions. In the first inning Jacoby Ellsbury tried to steal second and was picked off.

• I’ve also been told Chen’s cutter is the pitch that allows him to have success against righties; he doesn’t throw that hard, but the pitch just keeps riding in on their hands. That allows a guy who rarely throws 90 to pitch inside to right-handed hitters.

• Chen was pulled in the eighth inning for a couple reasons: the tying run had come to the plate and Ned Yost did not want to give the Red Sox lineup a fourth look at Chen.

• As we’ve seen before, when a pitcher has a long inning, his hitters will take pitches to allow him to rest. Smart pitchers know that’s what the hitters will do and pound the zone. After Lester’s long first inning every Red Sox hitter took a called first strike in the next half-inning.

Luke Hochevar gets a save

When Chen came out of the game in the eighth, Luke Hochevar replaced him. There were two runners on and Shane Victorino was at the plate. Hochevar had never faced Victorino before, so I asked Luke if he felt that was an advantage and Luke said yes. Just look at what happens when some kid no one has ever seen before comes in and shuts down an offense. Second time around they may get him, but the first time can be difficult.

Hochevar got Victorino to finish the eighth and came back out for the ninth. He gave up an earned run and I pointed out how long it had been since that happened; Hoch has gone a while without giving up a run and, typical for a pitcher, he was still mad about giving up this one. He had Jonny Gomes 1-2 and left a fastball out over the plate. That led to a double and later Gomes was driven in by Stephen Drew.

Hochevar has been so outstanding as a reliever I wondered if there was anything he’d learned in the pen that he’d take with him if he ever went back to being a starter.

"I’d air it out a little more."

As a reliever Luke can throw the best stuff he has right now and not worry about saving anything. Luke said it was hard to maintain pitches as a reliever—you just don’t throw enough to have five pitches. You’ll never get to the fifth one. He’s throwing a fastball, curve and cutter now, mixes in a change on occasion and would add the change permanently if he were starting.

In the past Hoch thought his slider and cutter "blended." Two pitches that were too similar. The slider does the same thing every time (it has more drop than the cutter), but now that he’s had more time to play with it, Luke can make the cutter do some different things; one version has less movement and he’ll throw it when he’s trying to hit a spot and another version has more movement and Luke throws it when the required location isn’t as precise.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working—Luke Hochevar ended the evening with a 1.80 ERA.

The Red Sox series

The Royals have been playing some sub-.500 teams lately and that partially accounts for their winning streak. The Red Sox are currently 70-47, so this series will tell fans something about how good Kansas City really is. After the game Mike Moustakas said it was great to win the first game of a series, but the runs don’t carry over to the next day. You beat the Red Sox once and that’s fine, but tomorrow you’ve got to do the whole thing over again.

Pay attention to the next three games—they’ll tell you something.

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