The slider that changed the game came in the sixth inning. Let’s set the scene: the Indians had taken a two-run lead on a fourth inning home run by Michael Brantley. Coming into the game Brantley had hit .211 off Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and had grounded out in his first at-bat. With a runner on second base Guthrie fell behind Brantley 2-1; a fastball count. Instead of throwing a fastball, Guthrie threw a changeup. But the changeup was elevated in the zone and then elevated into the right field seats—Indians up 2-0. The Royals took the lead right back in the top of the fifth, 3-2 (more on that below).
Now back to the sixth inning:
Nick Swisher led off the inning with a double and the left-handed Jason Kipnis stepped to the plate. Kipnis is a 3-hole hitter and teams don’t always ask 3-hole hitters to give themselves up and move runners over to third. Teams often want their 3-hole hitters to drive the runner all the way in.
I’m not a pitcher and I don’t play one on TV, but I figured Guthrie and Perez mightshow
off-speed to Kipnis, but try to get him out hard, down and away. A groundball to the left side of the infield would freeze Swisher at second base. As always, there may be factors I’m unaware of, but that’s what I thought Perez and Guthrie would try to do.
Guthrie threw a first-pitch get-me-over curve to Kipnis. If Kipnis just wanted to move the runner over to third he might swing at curve, pull it to the right side and be happy with a 14-hopper to second base. If Kipnis wanted to drive Swisherin
he might spit on a first-pitch curve and look for something better on the next pitch. Kipnis got it—a very hittable slider.
Most of the time an 81-MPH pitch will get pulled in the big leagues and pulling the pitch got it into the seats in right center. That made the score 4-3 and that’s the way it ended. In the sixth inning in a 0-1 count Jeremy Guthrie threw the slider that changed the game.
*Eric Hosmer smoked two balls, but had no hits. Nights like that are why most—maybe all—big league teams keep some record of "Quality At-Bats." They may call it something else, but the idea is to keep track of good at-bats that don’t result in a hit. Long at-bats, like the one Mike Moustakas put up in the second inning, line outs, at-bats where the hitter moves a runner over—all those qualify as a quality at-bat. A guy can be doing a great job and the plate and have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
*Salvador Perez hit into a 6-4-3 double play in the second inning and the throw from second baseman Jason Kipnis to first baseman Nick Swisher pulled Swisher off the bag. I never saw a replay, but it did not appear Perez was busting a gut getting down the line or he might have been safe. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to say Sal should run hard—I’m not the one doing all the catching.
*That play reminded me: the one time you’re actually supposed to slide into first base is when the first baseman comes off the bag and has to make a tag play. A slide away from the tag makes sense.
*In the third inning David Murphy singled on a ground ball to Eric Hosmer when Hos tried to flip the ball to Jeremy Guthrie covering first. Eric’s flip was a bit behind Guthrie and that meant Jeremy had to try to look back, catch the ball and then find first base. If the flip is out in front of the guy covering first, he can catch it and see the base without turning his head.
*Later in the inning Murphy tried to score when Swisher doubled off the left-center wall. Jarrod Dyson played it perfectly; he caught the carom on his glove side and that allowed him to turn and throw in one motion. Alcides Escobar took the relay in shallow centerfield and threw a laser beam to home plate—an 8-6-2 putout.
Baseball rates skills on a 20-80 scale (50 if average) and Rusty Kuntz says the outfield’s goal is to get the ball into the hands of the guy with the 70 arm; that’s Escobar.
*The Royals had several outstanding defensive plays besides the one I just described. A Nori Aoki catch, another by Alex Gordon and Esky’s sprint into foul territory to catch a pop-up.
*The Royals temporarily took the lead in the fifth inning when a bunch of people did their job: Mike Moustakas doubled the other way and Alcides Escobar did what he was supposed to do—hit the ball to the right side. The ball was almost caught, but Esky wound up with a double. Jarrod Dyson did his job and laid down a bunt that was thrown away; Escobar scored, Dyson wound up on second. Nori Aoki was unable to move Dyson over, but Omar Infante picked him up with an RBI single.
*After the Indians took a one-run lead in the sixth, Alcides Escobar led off the seventh with a walk. Justin Maxwell pinch hit for Dyson and wasn’t up there to bunt the tying run into scoring position. Maxwell swung away, hit into a fielder’s choice and was then picked off while trying to steal. Turned out Maxwell was the Royals last base runner and their last chance.
The easiest pitch to hit for a home run
(I’ve been holding onto this one and after tonight’s game, it seemed like a good time to post it.)
Former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery thinks the easiest pitch to hit for a home run is a hung slider. If a home run could beat him, Monty wouldn’t throw a slider in the strike zone. The slider is especially hittable because a bad one is just a so-so fastball. Throw a bad curve and at least you’ve got change of speed in your favor. And if it’s early in the count a hitter might take a hung curve because he just wasn’t looking for it. But the slider is too close in velocity to a fastball to get the same reaction. Hang a slider and the hitter has to wait just a beat and then unload. When a ball leaves the yard pay attention to the pitch and don’t be surprised if it was a slider.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.