On Sunday afternoon, the Royals lost 4-2 to the Tigers. The game was tied 2-2 in the ninth, but three mistakes — one by an umpire, two by Royals players — led to a walk-off win for Detroit.
Let’s start by examining what happened in the third inning.
First mistake: the phantom balk call
Yordano Ventura had a good outing on Sunday: seven innings, two runs, one walk — but he ran into trouble in the third inning. After getting the first out, Ventura gave up three straight singles. Two were groundballs and as long as a pitcher is getting groundballs nobody worries too much; the pitches aren’t elevated and those groundballs could have been hit at somebody.
Nevertheless, the bases were loaded and Miguel Cabrera was at the plate.
Ventura jumped out in front of Cabrera and with the count 0-2, threw a bad pitch: a change-up at the top of the zone. The change-up was too high, but Cabrera took a very hittable pitch. Star players expect to get the close calls, but Cabrera didn’t get this one.
Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn called it strike three (and it did appear to be a strike) and Cabrera threw a tantrum.
Hitters are not supposed to make it obvious when they disagree with an umpire’s call; they can complain but are supposed to do it with their head down while walking away. Don’t let the crowd know there’s any disagreement, otherwise it’s “showing up” the umpire and the hitter is likely to get ejected — unless that hitter’s Miguel Cabrera.
Baseball frowns on umpires ejecting the players fans paid to see, so star players get to push the limits and Cabrera did; he let everyone know that he thought Reyburn screwed up.
After Cabrera was called out on strikes Ventura was two-thirds of the way through the inning and just had to get Victor Martinez out. With the count 0-1 Ventura tried to upset Martinez’ timing by using a slide step and if you don’t already know, here’s what that means:
When a pitcher slide-steps he barely pick his front foot off the ground and “slides” toward home plate. It was a move designed to get the ball to home plate more quickly and prevent base stealing, but some pitchers use it to disrupt a hitter’s timing and that’s what Ventura tried to do.
But Reyburn called it a balk and that allowed the runner on third to score. Whether Reyburn called the balk because Ventura’s delivery changed or because he was making a payback call after Cabrera’s tantrum (something Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre speculated on later in the game) it was a bad call.
Supposedly, Ventura did not come set, but watch the video and you’ll have plenty of time to say “one thousand, one” while Ventura was in the set position. No balk and the Royals are up 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth and Wade Davis is on the mound instead of Joakim Soria.
So the Royals have a good case when they claim Reyburn’s call changed the game, but the next three runs were on them.
Second mistake: a wild pitch
In the sixth inning with the count 1-1 and a runner on third, Salvador Perez called for a curve. Watch the video and you’ll see Salvy touch the ground with his mitt as he sets up. When a catcher pats the ground with his mitt he’s asking the pitcher to bounce the ball and he’ll block it.
In this case Perez might have been using his glove hand to keep his balance, but whether he called for it or not, Perez knew a curveball was on its way and curves can be spiked. (If a pitcher spikes a fastball, something is seriously wrong).
Whatever their intentions were, Ventura missed badly with the curve and the ball hit the dirt in the left-hand batter’s box. Perez tried to reach over and glove it, not block it.
It’s easy for me to say a guy who catches a billion innings a year should have been more energetic and gotten his body in front of the ball, but there’s a good chance that pitch couldn’t be blocked; it missed by too much. Even so, it still would have been nice to see Salvador Perez try, then we’d know for sure.
The pitch went to the screen, the runner on third scored and the game was tied, 2-2.
Third mistake: the walk-off home run
Joakim Soria came in to pitch the ninth inning and allowed a leadoff single to Tyler Collins; the Tigers had the winning run on base. Jarrod Saltalamacchia — a switch hitter — was at the plate batting from the left side.
The count was 1-0 when Perez called for a fastball and appeared to set a high target. Lefties tend to be low-ball hitters and they also tend to have down-and-in hot zones. Soria missed Perez’s mitt, threw a fastball down-and-in and Saltalamacchia hit it into another time zone; the Tigers were walk-off winners.
Later Soria said it was a good pitch, but when someone hits a ball over 400 feet, it wasn’t that good a pitch. Soria also said he wanted to go inside, but as Jeff Montgomery pointed out on the postgame show, going inside late in a game is dangerous; everyone’s looking to pull the ball and win the game with one swing. Better to make the other team beat you with three opposite field singles than one pulled home run.
On Sunday, the Royals came very close to a win, but three mistakes led to four runs and the Royals 45th loss of the season.