They have a saying in baseball: check the scoreboard, it will tell you everything you need to know. It’ll tell you where to stand, what pitch to throw, when to steal a base, and it might even tell you what happened to Jeremy Guthrie in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox. Even though he’d thrown a lot of pitches, Guthrie went into the fourth with the score 0-0. By the time the inning was over, the Red Sox had four runs—enough to win the third game of the series. OK, so what’s the scoreboard tell us about that fourth inning?
Guthrie fell behind in the count.
He started the fourth by walking Mike Carp. Jeremy got ahead of Mike Napoli and struck him out, then gave up a 1-1 single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. That’s when Guthrie fell behind in the count to three straight hitters—and those hitters made him pay the price. Stephen Drew was 2-1 and got a 94 MPH fastball; he hit it for a double. Will Middlebrook was 2-0 and got a 93 MPH fastball; he hit it for a single. Jacoby Ellsbury was 2-0 and got a 93 MPH fastball; he hitthat
for a double.
When big league hitters get into a fastball count and get a fastball they’re expecting, bad things can happen. Saturday night they did—Red Sox 5, Royals 3.
• Drew’s double fell in front of right fielder, Justin Maxwell. After the game Ned Yost said it was a case of Maxwell playing in an unfamiliar stadium, picking up the ball late and not getting there in time. Ned thinks that if Maxwell has the same play in the future, he’ll make it—after he play here a while, Justin will have a better grip on how the ball comes out of the lights and the crowd.
• Miguel Tejada overran a Dustin Pedroia pop up in foul ground and it fell untouched. It looks bad when it happens, but there is a reason pop ups can be hard to catch: "infield drift." Pop ups tend to drift back toward the pitching mound and you have to take that into account while you’re waiting for them to come down. If you’re right under a pop up at its highest point, you’re probably in the wrong place. Major leaguers usually make this play look easy—in this case Miguel Tejada made it look about as hard as it really is.
• In the first inning Eric Hosmer got a 2-2 curve up in the zone and singled. It just so happened that Hos and I discussed his two-strike approach earlier in the afternoon. I wanted to know if he would look to take the ball the other way once he was down in the count, but Eric said he was more focused on getting a pitch up in the zone.
If the pitch is low in the zone and a fastball, it’ll be tough to handle and you do the best you can. If it’s low in the zone and a breaking pitch, it’ll wind up out of the zone. Hos likes his chances better if he gets something up, even though pitchers will try to goway
up above the zone and get a hitter swinging through a high fastball.
Friday night Eric had another two-strike hit and I asked if that pitch had been up in the zone. He said he didn’t know: "I think I blacked out." He swung through two fastballs and decided that wasn’t working, he wasn’t seeing the ball well, so he focused on clearing his mind and seeing the ball. As a result, he doesn’t know how he hit that pitch and concluded baseball is a pretty messed up game—it’ll play with your mind.
• The Red Sox did what the Red Sox do: make pitchers work. Jeremy Guthrie said at one point he looked at the scoreboard thinking he was at 50 to 60 pitches and his pitch count was 84. I’ve heard complaints about how slowly the Boston hitters work—stepping out and adjusting batting gloves and so on—but that can be strategy: any time you can get a pitcher upset or irritated, you’ve taken him out of his game. It may be a pain in the rear to watch, but it works.
• When Tim Bogar was bench coach for the Red Sox he told me that any time the Sox could get the other team’s starter out of the game after five innings, they felt like they’d done their job: get the starter out early and then attack the pen.
• You can tell how likely it is for the hitter to attempt a bunt by looking at the third baseman: if he’s in on the grass, he thinks the guy at the plate might lay one down. Once a guy gets one strike, some third basemen will back up, but Boston played Will Middlebrooks in on Jarrod Dyson until he got two strikes. Middlebrooks was playing in on Dyson even in a 3-1 hitter’s count.
• In the sixth inning Jacoby Ellsbury made the third out at third base and it was not a good play. It’s OK to do that if you’re drawing a throw away from home plate in order to ensure a run scoring, but Middlebrooks was in safely and Ellsbury should have stayed at second.
• Middlebrooks was on base because of an infield single; Mike Moustakas took an extra shuffle step and that was enough for Middlebrooks to get down the line. I didn’t see Moose after the game, but in the past he’s told me he sometimes has to wait for Eric Hosmer to get to first base before letting go of the ball.
• Miguel Tejada dove for a ball and then had to come out of the game with right-calf tightness. People have questioned whether Miggy is still an everyday player at 39—this may be where we find out.
• Luke Hochevar hit 98 on the gun against Mike Napoli for an inning-ending strikeout in the seventh. As a reliever, Hoch can use fewer pitches and air it out when he needs to. That helps account for his 1.76 ERA.
• Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa has one funky delivery; appearing to pause twice before delivering the ball home. If you’ve never seen it before it’s probably distracting and nobody on the Royals had more than two at-bats against him. Going into the game the only Royal to have a hit against him was Eric Hosmer and you could see why: Tazawa has a forkball in the mid-eighties, but can still gas it up to 95 when he needs to. Try to get the bat head out in front to catch the fastball and if you get a forkball instead, you can look pretty silly.
Billy Butler doubled in the seventh and Brett Hayes doubled in the eighth, but Tazawa never let the Royals get anything going beyond those two hits.
• Let the other team get to the ninth inning with a lead in a close game and you may have trouble. The Red Sox brought in Koji Uehara—1.38 ERA—for the ninth inning and he got the Royals 1-2-3. We tend to focus on the ninth inning, but many times the game is virtually over by the time it gets there. The key moments in this game came much earlier.
• The Royals still have a chance to bounce back and win the series. Good teams avoid long losing streaks and the Royals haven’t lost two in a row since July 21st and 22nd. Let’s see what happens on Sunday.
Eddie Rodriguez gets an assist
Saturday afternoon everyone I talked to thought a key moment in Friday night’s win was the eighth inning double play turned by Mike Moustakas. Well, give some credit to infield coach Eddie Rodriguez; he moved Moustakas into the right position just before the play happened.
Here’s what was going on: there were no outs, the Royals were up by three and Tim Collins had walked two batters. Dustin Pedroia was at the plate representing the tying run. Eddie thought Pedroia was going to pull the ball, so he moved Moose a step closer to the line.
The runners were on first and second. If Pedroia hit the ball between Mike and the left field line for a double, two runs might score and the tying run might be on second base with nobody out. If Pedroia hit the ball to Mike’s left for a single, one run would score and Alex Gordon would make sure the double play stayed in order; the runner on first would be unlikely to try making it to third with Gordo in left. That would keep the tying run at first base.
When these guys explain the thought process behind the plays we see I usually think; "Oh, right—that’s logical." But I don’t think as far ahead as they do—these guys aren’t dopes.
Remember that game in New York when anyone on the right side of the field was struggling with the sun? David Lough, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon hit balls in the air that normally would have been caught, but because of the sun, weren’t. Lough’s ball was scored a hit, but Gordon’s and Cain’s were scored errors—which seemed inconsistent.
Turns out it was inconsistent and the scoring has been changed; now all three have been scored hits.