If you’re a Royals fan you’re going to like this story. It has a good guy and a bad guy, and the good guy wins in the end.
Let’s start with the bad guy: Jose Bautista. The bad guy pretends to throw baseballs to kids, but then doesn’t. He has a fit at the plate when an umpire’s call doesn’t go his way. He showboats home runs. When a ball falls between him and a teammate, the bad guy’s happy to let the teammate take the blame.
The only reason anyone puts up with the bad guy is because he is extremely talented.
Oh, and one more thing: the bad guy has the habit of throwing to the wrong base on occasion. Apparently, when you’re a big star, throwing to the right base is a detail that’s beneath you.
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Now let’s talk about the good guy: Mike Jirschele. Mike is a third base coach, not a star. He works hard, but he’s most famous for not sending Alex Gordon home in the 2014 World Series. It was the right decision — Gordon would have been out by a long way — but that doesn’t stop fans from speculating on what might have happened had Jirschele waved Gordon home.
So the good guy has to pay attention to what’s going on; it’s how he makes his living — attention to detail. And the good guy notices that the bad guy sometimes throws to the wrong base and puts that in his data bank. If the right occasion arises, the good guy can use that flaw in the bad guy’s game.
On Friday night in a tie game with the American League pennant on the line, the bad guy makes the same mistake he’s made before — and the good guy takes advantage of it.
Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer make the play work
The score is 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. If the Royals can score here, the best reliever on the planet — Wade Davis — is going to pitch the top of the ninth. Cain leads off and walks on eight pitches; Eric Hosmer is next.
On the fifth pitch of his at-bat Hosmer hits an 87-mph slider into the right field corner. Jose Bautista — our villain — gives chase.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Cain is planning on going first to third. But unlike Bautista, Cain pays attention to the details; he’s been told to come into third base hot; do not come in jogging because then the coach can’t send you home if the opportunity arises. Come in at full speed and the coach can always stop you if he needs to.
The other guy who pays attention to detail is Eric Hosmer. Lots of guys see that they’ve hit safely and throw out a parachute on their way to first base. They slow down as they approach the bag. Hosmer always makes a good, aggressive turn at first base; even on a single. That puts him in a position to take an extra 90 feet if something goes wrong for the defense.
And something does.
Bautista screws up
When Hosmer hits his single, Jose Bautista already has hit two homers and driven in every run the Blue Jays have scored. If Toronto wins the game, Bautista will be the hero because he did some big things at home plate — but then he screws up a small thing in right field.
When Hosmer hits the ball down into the right field corner, Bautista goes to his left, fields the ball, spins and throws — to the wrong base.
The run that matters is Lorenzo Cain. The Blue Jays defense lines up for a play at the plate. The second baseman runs over toward the right field line, the first baseman backs up toward the middle of the infield and the catcher gets ready for a play at home plate.
But Bautista throws the ball to second base.
This is what Mike Jirschele had noticed earlier in the series: with a runner on first heading to third on a single, Bautista would throw the ball to second base. He’s done it once before in this series, but the runner coming into third was Kendrys Morales and Mike couldn’t take advantage of Bautista’s mistake — Kendrys isn’t fast enough.
So Jirsch puts that play in his back pocket and thinks: “If Bautista does that again when I have a fast runner coming into third, I’m going to send the runner and burn him.”
Had Bautista thrown the ball toward home plate, the second baseman or first baseman would have cut the ball and Jirschele would have stopped Cain at third; cutting the ball would also freeze Hosmer at first.
But by throwing the ball to second base, Bautista made for two long throws; his throw to second base had to be redirected to home plate by Troy Tulowitzki and the throw was late, short and off-line.
Cain scored, the Royals took the lead and Wade Davis walked a ninth-inning tightrope to give the Royals their second consecutive American League championship and send them back to the World Series.
The good guy wins
Mike Jirschele has taken a fair amount of grief over not sending Alex Gordon in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series; but he never has complained. Mike knows he was right not to send Gordon and simply has decided to put up with the doubters and haters — people who have never played the game; but still think they know better.
Friday night Mike won a game by paying attention to detail and waiting for the right opportunity to arise — when it did, he was ready.
The good guy won.
And the bad guy? He had a long flight back to Toronto to think about his mistake, but being a bad guy, probably didn’t.