If you didn’t stay up and watch the Royals finish playing the Cardinals on Wednesday night, here’s what you missed: 12 innings played, 97 at-bats, 10 walks, 12 pitching changes, 24 hits, 410 pitches, two blown saves and, after four hours and 28 minutes, one Royals win.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Edinson Volquez went from a horrific start against the Astros (one inning pitched and 11 earned runs) to a terrific start against the Cards (6 2/3 innings pitched, no earned runs). Volquez said he made an “adjustment” and whatever it was, it worked.
Unfortunately for the Royals, St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez was almost as good (six innings pitched, no earned runs). The Royals finally broke through with a single run in the eighth inning and Wade Davis came on to pitch the ninth.
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The ninth inning; Davis says don’t blame rust
Whenever a pitcher has a lengthy layoff and then comes out and pitches poorly, someone is likely to point out that the pitcher hasn’t been on the mound for a while. Wade Davis pitched on June 19 and five days later I asked about him about rust: Is it hard to stay sharp when you don’t get in a game?
Davis said he stays pretty sharp in the bullpen and if he ever went out and blew a save I shouldn’t think it was because he was rusty; he wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.
Davis pitched again on June 26 against the Astros and Wednesday night pitched against the Cards. He gave up two singles, but because Davis walked the leadoff hitter (something you pretty much never want to do) those two singles turned into a run and the game was tied 1-1 and went to extra innings.
The 10th inning: Another leadoff walk and a homer
The problem with leadoff walks in particular is they give the offense three outs to move the runner around the bases. Leadoff walks also means the pitcher might be in the stretch for the entire inning and might have to pitch out of a slide step. Both of those things can reduce a pitcher’s effectiveness.
And then there’s the matter of holding the runner close.
Cards pitcher Seung Hwan Oh decided to try and pick off the runner — Cheslor Cuthbert — and buried the throw. Unfortunately for Oh, he did not have the worst-fielding first baseman in the American League over there, because Eric Hosmer handles short hops all the time. Matt Adams was playing first, whiffed on Oh’s throw and Cuthbert motored all the way around to third base. Cuthbert scored on a Matt Carpenter error and the Royals once again had one-run lead.
Joakim Soria came out of the KC pen for a second chance at a save, but fell behind the first hitter he faced: Stephen Piscotty. When a hitter is ahead in the count 2-0 he looks for a fastball and if he gets it, he tees off.
That’s what Piscotty did and that Soria fastball turned into a Cardinals home run; the game was tied 2-2 and the Royals bullpen had blown its second save of the evening.
The 12th inning: “No doubles” backfires
When a team can’t afford to give up an extra-base hit, the outfield coach will wave his hand behind his head; this is the sign for “no doubles.” In a no-doubles alignment the outfielders are supposed to back up; they can’t afford to have a ball hit over their heads.
Whit Merrifield noticed the Cards were in no doubles so when he hit a one-out shot in the right-center gap, he took advantage.
Because the Cards outfielders were backed up, Merrifield knew they’d have a long run forward if the ball was hit in front of them. And because the ball was hit in a gap, both outfielders would have to move sideways to field the ball. And because the outfielders were moving sideways, they wouldn’t have much on a throw to second base.
Because Merrifield paid attention and busted hard out of the box, the Cards’ no-doubles defense allowed Merrifield to double — the Royals had the go-ahead run in scoring position.
The Cards make a mistake and lose the game
St. Louis reliever Seth Maness threw a wild pitch and that allowed Merrifield to move up 90 feet; the Royals had a runner on third base with one out. Alcides Escobar sliced a fly ball down the right-field line and that’s when Stephen Piscotty — the 10th inning hero — made a mistake:
Piscotty tried to catch the ball.
The ball was right on the foul line and Piscotty slid on the seat of his pants to make the catch, but missed. Had Piscotty caught the ball, sliding on the seat of his pants down the right-field line, Merrifield would have tagged and scored easily.
The only chance Piscotty had — and it was a slim one — was to play the ball for a single. Merrifield would have gone back to third base to tag up and the Cardinals right fielder could have fielded the ball moving forward, Piscotty would have had at least have some chance of throwing Merrifield out at the plate.
And let’s all be thankful he didn’t; after 12 innings, 97 at-bats, 10 walks, 12 pitching changes, 24 hits, 410 pitches, two blown saves, four hours and 28 minutes and one Royals win, most Royals fans (and at least one Royals baseball writer) were ready for bed.