This game had more twists than a pretzel factory. (I was going to go with a Chubby Checker concert, but I figured that would date me.)
When the back end of your bullpen is lights out—and Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been very good—all you have to do is get to the eighth inning with a lead. Turn the ball over to your set-up man and closer, then sit back and relax. (I’m pretty sure you don’t really relax, but you get the picture.)
But when your starting pitcher doesn’t make it through the fifth inning, the back end of your bullpen seems further away than Outer Mongolia. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie only made it through four and two-third innings and there was a long ways to go to reach Davis and Holland. It appeared that Guthrie left a lot of stuff in the middle of the zone and the Mariners made him pay with eight hits and seven earned runs.
Kelvin Herrera replaced him and started things off by throwing seven straight balls—the situation was bad, it seemed like it was about to get worse—but Herrera pulled it together and got out of the fifth. The score remained 7-5.
Next, Louis Coleman pitched the sixth, gave up a single, but erased it with a 1-6-3 double play.
Then, in the top of the seventh, Eric Hosmer hit a double, moved to third when Danny Valencia and Alex Gordon walked, then scored on a Lorenzo Cain sac fly. With two down, Johnny Giavotella hit a three-run home run and the Royals took a 9-7 lead.
Get through the seventh inning without giving the lead back and Ned Yost could give the ball to Davis and Holland. Yost called on Aaron Crow to build a bridge to the back end of the pen and Aaron got it done: Crow got two outs, then gave up a single to Robinson Cano before getting the third out of the inning. After that, Davis pitched a scoreless eighth and Holland got his ninth save in the ninth.
Middle relievers complain that they’re like offensive linemen: no one notices them until they screw up. But in Sunday’s game they were hard to miss. Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman and Aaron Crow saved the day.
Royals 9, Mariners 7.
How Danny Farquhar screwed himself
In the top of the seventh with one down and Eric Hosmer on second base, Seattle reliever Danny Farquhar thought he’d struck out Royals third baseman, Danny Valencia. Home plate umpire Marcus Patillo did not give Farquhar the call. Farquhar was frustrated and threw his hands in the air in a "Are you kidding me?"
Showing up the umpire is on baseball’s list of bad ideas.
If you think you’re going to get a borderline call to go your way after that, you’re kidding yourself. Valencia wound up walking and so did the next hitter, Alex Gordon. Forced to come into the zone to get a call, Farquhar grooved a cutter to Johnny Giavotella and the Royals second baseman hit it over the left field fence. The Royals took a two-run lead and never gave it back.
Johnny Giavotella made an error in the first inning and that highlights the concerns about Giavotella: second base is a crucial defensive position and Johnny needs to hit extremely well to overcome his defense.
In the seventh inning, he did.
GM Dayton Moore has talked about Royals hitters being too aggressive in RBI situations and Giavotella’s second inning at-bat demonstrated the problem: with the bases loaded, nobody out and needing to stay out of a double play, Gio took the first pitch for a strike, then chased two breaking pitches down. In that situation Giavotella needed a pitch up in the zone—something he could drive to the outfield. He didn’t get that pitch and struck out.
After that, Alcides Escobar picked Johnny up by hitting a grand slam.
For most hitters, getting a hittable fastball defines their at-bat. Get it and miss it and things won’t go well. Get it and hit it and you’ve got something going. Sometimes the most hittable fastball comes on the first pitch of the at-bat and, with runners in scoring position, there’s no reason to wait. Esky didn’t; he hammered the 0-0 pitch over the left field wall.
Eric Hosmer opened with a double—he now leads the American League in that category—but Billy Butler failed to move him over to third base. It might not be Butler’s fault: as I’ve mentioned before, middle of the order guys are sometimes encouraged to drive the run in—forget hitting a 14-hopper to the right side to move the runner.
In the bottom of the third, down 4-0, the Mariners got right back in the game: Dustin Ackley homered and Brad Miller drove in two more runs with a double. Miller, hitting .165, got himself into a 3-2 count and, with Robinson Cano on deck, could assume he’d get a pitch to hit. He did.
It’s not necessarily fastballs or breaking pitches that get pitchers in trouble, it’s being predictable.
With nobody out and Giavotella on second base and Escobar on first, Ned Yost asked Brett Hayes to bunt. Hayes missed the ball with his bunt attempt and that’s always a good time for a catcher to attempt a pickoff; runners may have wandered too far off the bag.
That’s what happened at second base.
Giavotella was too far off second and compounded that error by going back in standing. Had catcher Mike Zunino’s throw been accurate, Giavotella would have been out. Instead, Zunino bounced the ball, it went into centerfield, Gio advanced to third and scored later in the inning.
Robinson Cano was due up fourth and if you made a list of Seattle Mariners you don’t want to beat you, Cano would probably be at the top. Fortunately, closer Greg Holland went 1-2-3 and Cano never came to the plate.
Aroldis Chapman is back
I was in the second row behind home plate when Aroldis Chapman got hit in the face by a Salvador Perez line drive. That was about as ugly a scene as you ever want to witness; a guy down on the mound with blood pouring out of his head. At that moment if you’d told me Chapman would never play baseball again, I would have believed you.
Sunday afternoon Chapman returned to the big leagues and got a save.
Baseball fans everywhere ought to be happy about that and I’m guessing no one’s happier than Salvador Perez.