Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Bruce Chen and the hot zone

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09/08/2013 6:18 PM

05/16/2014 10:10 AM

It was 99 degrees at game time and afterwards, an out-of-town reporter asked if this had been the hottest game of the year. I said I didn’t know, but it sure felt

like the hottest game of the year. When it gets that hot it’s tough on players, but tougher still on umpires—they don’t get to sit down every half inning.

And the hottest guy on the field has to be the home plate umpire: in this case, Ted Barrett.

The guy behind home plate wears all that equipment and can’t take a pitch off; he’s got to stay locked in every time the pitcher throws the ball. You might wonder if an umpire subconsciously expands the strike zone when it’s like a blast furnace on the field, and it appeared Barrett was giving some high strikes that you don’t normally see called. Nothing outrageous—just pitches at the top of the zone often called balls, but this time called strikes.

If Barrett wasn’t speeding the game along, it sure seemed like the Detroit Tigers were; they saw a total of seven pitches in the first inning and ten in the second. In fact, Bruce Chen got through seven innings on a total of 81 pitches. The game took two hours and twenty-two minutes. Blazing hot and a get-away day; if people

were

trying to move the game along, you couldn’t blame them. If the zone was a bit bigger than normal and the Tigers were hacking early, that helped Bruce Chen. Ned Yost said Bruce could have easily come back out for the eighth, but with the bullpen rested and a lead to protect, he went to Kelvin Herrera for the eighth inning and Greg Holland for the ninth.

The Royals beat the Tigers 5-2 and take the series.

Game notes

• To give Ted Barrett credit, I only saw one pitch that I thought he clearly missed. When an umpire misses a call, they often know it. A hitter who gets the benefit of a missed call probably shouldn’t assume that the same pitch will be called a ball a second time. Umpires generally won’t say they use "make-up calls"—but give them a second chance and the call often goes the pitcher’s way.

• George Kottaras was called out on a borderline pitch, but in the clubhouse after the game George said catchers can’t complain too much—you want your pitcher to get the same call.

• Salvador Perez got the day off, but it was mainly because it was a day game after night game and the day game was going to be hotter than hell. In his pre-game meeting with the media, Ned Yost said it might be Sal’s last day off of the year.

• In the fourth inning Emilio Bonifacio walked and Eric Hosmer followed with a single. Centerfielder Austin Jackson charged Hosmer’s sinking line drive and held his glove up as if he was going to make the catch. This is a

deke

—short for decoy. The idea is to make the base runner think the ball will get caught and prevent him from taking an extra ninety feet. Even if the deke causes the runner to slow for just a second, that might be enough to keep the runner from going first to third.

• With Bonifacio on second, Doug Fister wanted Billy Butler to pull the ball on the ground: hit it at somebody and it’s a double play. Fister went inside with a sinker and got what he wanted; Billy hit a groundball to the left side of the field—but Billy hit it in-between third and short. When that happened, the groundball that Fister wanted actually helped the Royals: if the ball is hit on a line, the runner has to hold—he’s not sure if it will be caught. If the ball is hit on the ground, the runner can take off right away. Bonifacio did and scored.

• Chen finished the inning on a pitch so slow it confused MLB.com. Originally it was called an

eephus pitch, but I checked back after the game and it’s currently called nothing—there’s just a blank space and the velocity—70 miles an hour. Whatever it was, it seemed like Prince Fielder had a hard time identifying it as well; he stood there and took it for a called strike three .

• Jarrod Dyson hit a curveball down the right field line and when a ball goes in the right field corner, fast guys think triple. Dyson was moving so fast his helmet couldn’t keep up—it came off as Jarrod was rounding first. Because Dyson made it to third, Alex Gordon got a hit and an RBI. Gordon hit a flare behind where the second baseman usually stands, but because the Tigers had their infield in—remember, Dyson was on third with less than two outs—the ball dropped in.

• Eric Hosmer had the key hit of the game, a three-run home run in the fifth inning. The pitch Hosmer hit was a fastball and Eric said he thought Fister would throw it because Hosmer had a good swing at an off-speed pitch earlier. Hos was right and hit the Fister fastball 414 feet.

In the final stretch of a long season

(In the fifth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Tigers, Detroit’s left fielder, Nick Castellanos, picked up a hit on a soft groundball to Kansas City second baseman, Emilio Bonifacio. Emilio charged the ball, flipped it to Eric Hosmer and Hosmer made the catch—temporarily. The ball trickled out of the end of Hosmer’s mitt. It was a bang-bang play and Castellano was awarded a hit. Sunday morning I talked to Eric Hosmer about the play. The following is an approximate version of that conversation.)

Me: Hos, what happened on that play at first last night?

Hosmer: You tell me.

Me: It looked like you caught the ball, your mitt touched the ground and the ball rolled out as you brought the mitt up. How old is that mitt? Is it too soft?

Hosmer: No, I like it that way. I don’t like a mitt that’s too stiff.

Me: But do they ever get too flexible?

Hosmer: Lee, you’re so much better than these questions right now.

Me: Apparently, I’m not. Get off my back—it’s a day game after a night game—I’m scuffling. Here I am, giving you the perfect excuse to blame your mitt, and I’m getting no help from you.

Hosmer: It’s not that complicated—just say I dropped the ball.

Me: Should I also say you have skillets for hands?

Hosmer: Just say I dropped the ball.

After giving it considerable thought, I’ve concluded Eric Hosmer dropped the ball. Everybody out here is tired. The players, coaches and baseball writers are entering the final stretch of a long season. The Royals are playing 44 games in 44 days and people are feeling it. I post stories and hope there are no misspellings or mistakes I’m too tired to register. And day games after might games are the worst. Everybody’s dragging and that includes me. So if I asked Eric Hosmer a bad question or a player misses a sign, it doesn’t make it OK, but there is an explanation: we’re in the final stretch of a long season.

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