In the 13th inning of a 1-1 game against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, Salvador Perez hit a single to right field. Going to the opposite field was a good sign; when games go extra innings — especially on hot days — hitters are tempted to try to end things with one swing. Put a ball in the cheap seats, take a shower and go home.
That being the case, smart pitchers do not throw a hittable pitch on the inside part of the plate once a game goes to extra innings; make the other team beat you with singles the other way — don’t let a hitter looking to pull the ball beat you with a home run.
If a hitter insists on pulling the ball and tries to do it with an outside pitch, he’s very likely to hit a “rollover grounder” to the pull side of the field that results in an out.
The fact that Salvy was willing to hit an 0-1 pitch to the opposite field meant the Royals were sticking to their “keep the line moving” offensive philosophy; Salvy wasn’t trying to end things with a home run, Salvy was trying to get things started with a single.
With nobody out and the winning run on first base, Ned Yost sent Lorenzo Cain to pinch run for Perez. Cain had been given the day off, but now the Royals needed him; they were pushing their chips into the middle of the table and taking their shot at winning.
Tigers reliever Kyle Ryan went on high-alert. Ryan tried two pickoffs, hoping to catch Cain napping. Neither one worked, so Ryan turned his attention to the man at the plate, Kendrys Morales. The count ran to 3-1 and Ryan tried two more pickoffs and the second one went right past Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera; it wasn’t a bad throw, Cabrera just missed it.
According to some defensive metrics Cabrera is a better first baseman than Eric Hosmer; plays like this one are why some people don’t believe it.
Cain went to second base on Cabrera’s error and that set up the rest of the inning. With the count 3-1 on a guy hitting .344 from the right side and .474 over the last seven days, Ryan intentionally threw ball four, put Morales on first base and set up a double play.
The best laid plans of mice and men and left-handed relief pitchers oft’ go astray and it was no different on Sunday; the Royals stayed out of a double play when Paulo Orlando bunted.
Some people hate all bunts and other people think some bunts make sense. Orlando’s bunt put the winning run on third base with one out. That meant the Royals did not have to get a hit to win the game and that meant the Tigers could not play their infield defense all the way back on the edge of the grass — and that meant those infielders would have less range.
That would soon make a difference in the ballgame.
While Cain was moving up to third base on the bunt, Morales went to second. That once again opened up first base and the Tigers intentionally walked Brett Eibner. The walk to Eibner put the double play back in order and the Tigers played their middle infielders at double-play depth.
Here’s what that means:
The Detroit middle infielders had to be close enough to second base to turn two and that opened up a hole between shortstop Jose Iglesias and third baseman Nick Castellanos. And the hole on the left side of the field was made even bigger by playing the corners in.
Now here’s what that means:
In that defensive alignment — middle back, corners in — if the ball is hit up the middle, the defense tries to turn two and end the inning; if the ball is hit to a corner infielder playing in, he throws the ball home and cuts down the run at the plate.
OK, so the scene is set: the Royals had the bases loaded with one out — a fly ball to the outfield would win the game — meanwhile, the Tigers needed a ground ball hit at somebody.
On a 2-0 count the Tigers got what they wanted — Cheslor Cuthbert hit a ball on the ground — but it wasn’t hit at somebody. It was hit in-between third and short and having the infielders in killed any chance the Tigers could make a play on the ball; they didn’t have enough range left and right.
And the infield was in because Miguel Cabrera missed a routine pickoff throw and Paulo Orlando bunted Cain to third.
In the 13th inning of a tie ballgame the Royals avoided the temptation of trying to hit a home run; they played small ball, kept the line moving and won their 38th game of the season.