afternoon Rusty Kuntz and I talked about the Royals 9-6 comeback win on Friday night. Rusty said it was the best game since he’s been here in terms of where the Royals are. What he meant was this:
You find out how good you are by playing good teams. You mightthink you’re good, but until you start beating teams you know
are good, you just aren’t sure. Friday night’s game showed the Royals are starting to trust each other; Rusty said there was no panic when they went down 6-3. The bullpen came in and picked up Ervin Santana, the defense then picked up the bullpen and the offense picked up everybody. Rusty said Friday night’s game was the kind of game that makes you believe. The Royals are now in that frame of mind where they believe that somehow, someway, they’re going to win.
Even though the score was lower, Sunday afternoon was the same kind of win as Friday: the defense was picking up James Shields, the offense did just enough to win and the bullpen came in and slammed the door.
You want to know if the Royals are for real?
Try asking the Boston Red Sox.
Ya gotta like their odds
Coming into Sunday’s game against the Red Sox, the Royals were 48-2 when leading after eight innings. I’m no good at math and even I can figure out that’s 96 percent of the time. (It is, isn’t it?) And the odds improved after Sunday’s game. Bottom line: get the ball into Greg Holland’s hands with a lead and you’re chances aren’t just good, they’re overwhelming.
So the innings between the time the starter leaves and the ball is given to Holland are key. Ned Yost said this one wasn’t too bad: he had one inning to get through—James Shields pitched seven—and all three of his best set-up guys were available. Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera were rested and ready. Collins came in and got David Ortiz, Aaron Crow came in and did what he does: walked the first guy, then buckled down and struck out the next two. Holland came in for the ninth and the game was pretty much over.
Good relievers make managers look smart.
• First inning: with lefty David Ortiz at the plate and the Royals shifted around to the right side of the field, Shane Victorino stole third base. Mike Moustakas never moved to cover. If Moose had moved to cover third base, the entire left side of the field would have been open. The pitch was 94 miles an hour and Ortiz would have an easy time serving something that speed to the left side. If the pitch had been a changeup, maybe Moose covers third.
• With Victorino on third base, Salvador Perez tried to pick him off. The throw hit Victorino, went into left field and Shane scored. It was a case of good base running more than poor throwing. Runners on third take their lead in foul territory—if a batted ball hits them they won’t be out—and then return to third base by running on the base line. If there’s a pickoff throw, the runner heads for the third baseman’s glove, which blocks the throw from ever reaching its intended target. Give credit to Victorino for good base running.
• The Red Sox scored in the top of the first and the Royals came right back and scored a run of their own in the bottom of the inning—that’s huge. It’s the equivalent of getting knocked down in a boxing match and getting right back up and knocking your opponent to the canvas. It lets everybody know you’re still in this and beating you ain’t gonna be easy.
• In the second inning the Royals turned a 5-4-3 double play and Elliot Johnson was the guy in the middle. These days Elliot must feel like he walks to the plate and they automatically put 0-2 on the score board. Johnson’s survived by playing defense and once told me if he isn’t going to hit, he better makes the defensive plays. Sunday afternoon the Royals acquired Jamey Carroll, so you might assume he’s going to be playing some second base and that might affect Johnson. The Royals will have to make a roster move, so stay tuned.
• In the second inning David Lough stole second base on a 3-0 count. I don’t know if John Lackey is one of those guys—I didn’t have a stopwatch on him—but some pitchers slow down their delivery on a 3-0 count; they’re worried about throwing a strike. It can be a great time to grab a free bag, especially if the pitcher is a guy likely to come back from 3-0.
• In the third inning Victorino appeared to lean in and took a pitch off the elbow. The rule book says you have to make an effort to get out of the way and there didn’t appear to be one. That stuff usually gets paid back; pitchers figure if you like to get hit with pitches, they can accommodate you.
• You can tell outfielders that are afraid of the wall; when they hit the warning track, they’ll slow up. Alex Gordon is not afraid of the wall. In the fifth inning Jacoby Ellsbury came to the plate with two on and hit a pop fly down the left field line. After the game Ned Yost said he had no idea how Gordon made the catch; he had so little room between the ball and the wall. Alex made the catch, immediately did a face plant, got knocked off his feet and came up throwing. When a guy does that, it can inspire teammates to do the same kind of thing.
• Ryan Lavarnway pulled a rocket between Mike Moustakas and the left field line, scoring two runs. When that happens check the pitch; it will likely be something off-speed that was left up in the zone. In this case it was a change-up.
• In the post-game press conference Ned Yost said James Shields had made an adjustment that was helping him keep the ball down in the zone. I asked what the adjustment was and the short version goes like this: Shields’ arm motion had gotten long and he was getting his body out in front of his arm. That makes the ball stay up. Shorten the motion and the arm is on time and the ball stays down.
Next up: Miami
After the game Billy Butler said that it must be fun to write about the Royals now. I said it was always fun, but it wasmore
fun when the team played well. We talked about the team’s ability to bounce back after a loss—good teams avoid long losing streaks.
They also don’t play a big game or series and then let down. Billy said the Miami Marlins might look bad on paper, but the three pitchers that will throw for them in the upcoming series aren’t pushovers. It’s big league baseball, anyone can beat you. Just because you beat the Red Sox, you can’t ease up on the Marlins.