When a starting pitcher thinks he’ll face a lineup three times, he might be tempted to hold a pitch back, saving a pitch the hitters haven’t seen, for that third trip through the order.
Playoff games are different. Starting pitchers will get pulled early if they show any sign of faltering.
In a do-or-die situation, the manager will go to the pen right away, meaning a starting pitcher has no reason to save pitches for later at-bats.
Johnny Cueto and Salvador Perez went to Cueto’s secondary pitches right away and Johnny had one of his best outings as a Royal. Cueto threw change-ups, cutters and a slider in the first inning and went eight innings while giving up two runs on two hits.
Astros’ first hit off Cueto
In the second inning, Evan Gattis hit a ground ball to Mike Moustakas and it pulled Moose into foul territory down the third-base line. Mike made a throw that pulled Eric Hosmer into foul territory down the first-base line.
Hosmer caught the ball and made the tag, but Gattis ran into Hosmer’s mitt and knocked the ball out. Hosmer uses an old, flexible first-baseman’s mitt that is great for picking short hops, but not so good for holding onto the ball when a base runner hits it.
Rawlings giveth and Rawlings taketh away.
Some people on Twitter were dumping on Moustakas for not making an accurate throw, but it was a throw Mike had to make while moving sideways and away from first base — a throw from foul territory. And Gattis runs better than you might think after putting him on a bathroom scale. Difficult play that was correctly ruled a hit.
(Feel free to disagree.)
Astros’ second hit off Cueto
Unfortunately the second hit off Johnny Cueto came right after the first one and the second hit was a home run. Despite being down in the zone it was not a good pitch; Luis Valbuena is left handed and lefties tend to crush down-and-in pitches.
You can go up-and-in and try to get on a lefty’s hands, but down-and-in is a hot zone for most left-handed hitters. TV analyst A.J. Pierzynski called it a bad pitch to a lefty; down-and-in is their “happy” zone.
Royals get on the board
If you didn’t watch the game — and if you didn’t, what the hell’s wrong with you? — wondering how the Royals scored their first run might be natural. How does a runner score from first base on a single?
Because the runner went in motion before the pitch was thrown.
The count was 3-2 to Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain took off from first base as Colin McHugh started his motion home. Houston centerfielder Carlos Gomez slipped as he fielded Hosmer’s soft line drive and Cain never stopped. Third-base coach Mike Jirschele waved Cain home and the Royals were on the board.
With runners on base, Colin McHugh was using a pitching motion sometimes called a “quickstep” — not quite a slide step, but not a full leg kick either. Probably not enough to stop a Terrance Gore or Jarrod Dyson from stealing, but fast enough to stop Alex Rios.
You could tell the speed of the runner by how high McHugh was lifting his front foot when he threw the ball home. And with Salvador Perez on first base, it was pretty dang high.
Alcides Escobar bunted Alex Rios over to third in the fifth inning.
If Esky did it on his own, it wouldn’t be the first time. Big-league players have a lot of freedom, and Escobar takes advantage of it; bunt the guy over, and you gain 90 feet and get a sacrifice. But if you’re lucky, you can pick up a bunt single at the same time. Escobar’s bunt paid off when Ben Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly to drive Rios home.
Get an early lead
The Royals did not want to face Dallas Keuchel out of the pen if they were behind.
I put that out there on Twitter and some Internet smart-aleck pointed out (and you know how I hate smart-aleck humor) that there are few situations in which the Royals wouldn’t want to be ahead — but some of them matter more than others.
If I’m coming out of the pen, I’m pretty sure the Royals wouldn’t be too worried about being down a run; that situation would change in a hurry. But if it’s a top-notch pitcher coming out of the pen, you better be ahead when it happens.
Keuchel did not have it Wednesday night and allowed three runs in one inning pitched, but as the postseason progresses, watch for teams doing what they can — including playing for one run — to grab a lead before a pitcher like Wade Davis makes it to the mound.
After that, you might be toast.
Ask a manager about home-field advantage, and how he answers probably depends on whether he has it.
If his team does not have home-field advantage, the manager will probably downplay its importance. If he has it, the manager will probably say how important it is to play in front of your home crowd. And if you were there Wednesday night, it’s not hard to imagine Royals players being energized by the Kansas City fans and the noise they were making.
But home-field also comes into play in more measurable ways: Kendrys Morales probably lost a home run when he sent Colby Rasmus to the warning track in left center. Hit that same ball in Houston and it’s probably out.
Same thing on the final out of the game: George Springer pinned Paulo Orlando to the bullpen gate with a long drive to right, but the ball stayed in the park — another fly ball that’s probably a home run in the Astros’ park.
When the Blue Jays play in KC, pay attention to warning-track outs; those might be home runs if the game were played in Toronto.
Kansas City has it, so I guess home-field advantage now matters.