Nori Aoki wins the Kansas City marathon

Just before this game started I ate dinner with John Wathan. The former Royals manager said you should never think you’d seen it all; no matter how long you played, coached or watched, the game of baseball could still surprise you.

Seven and a third innings later, Duke proved prophetic.

When Mike Moustakas came to the plate in the eighth inning, the Royals had a total of one hit. Moose flared a ball down the left field line and outfielder Ryan Raburn tried to make a sliding catch. The ball hit Raburn in the wrist and bounced way while Mike was pulling into second with a stand up double.

Then Raburn tried to throw the ball back to the infield.

The Indians left fielder had chased the ball to the left field wall, picked it up and tried to make what should have been a routine throw. I don’t know if his arm hit the wall on its backswing—I never saw a definitive replay—or Raburn just spiked it on his own.

Either way the Indians left fielder threw the ball straight down into the dirt. It trickled out into left center field while the Indians gave chase. Moustakas circled the bases and scored standing up. That gave the Royals a one-run lead going into the ninth inning and that meant closer Greg Holland was coming out of the pen.

Coming into Thursday’s game against the Indians the Royals were 42-1 when leading after eight innings. They’re now 43-1, but it didn’t go smoothly. Holland gave up the tying run, the game went to extra innings and didn’t end until Nori Aoki drove in the winning run in the fourteenth inning.

The Royals beat the Indians and won a marathon, 2-1.

The better the pitcher, the more aggressive hitters need to be

I vaguely remember Danny Duffy and Corey Kluber starting this game and, as I recall, both of them pitched great. Duffy didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning; Kluber gave up his first hit in the seventh. When pitchers are dealing, they’re not walking a lot of people and they’re not missing spots. So if you get a pitch to hit, you better swing—you may not see another.

When you’re facing a pitcher who’s off his game, you can take a marginal pitch and count on getting something better later in the at-bat—that wasn’t the case Thursday night.

You also get more aggressive on the bases

Take the seventh inning: Omar Infante singled with one out and tried to steal second base. Alex Gordon struck out swinging and Omar was thrown out at second. But if Infante stayed at first base you’re betting that you’ll get two more hits in the inning when you’ve only managed one all game.

When a pitcher is dealing you push it on the base paths; you can’t count on getting hits.

The same philosophy worked successfully in the fourteenth inning. The only reason Nori Aoki’s hit won the game was because Lorenzo Cain had stolen second base and was in scoring position when Aoki singled to left.

How not running cost the Indians a run

Wade Davis was pitching the eighth inning and had runners at first and second with one down. The count went to 3-2 on pinch-hitter David Murphy. When the count is full and there’s a force on, you might think about starting the runners—it can help you stay out of a double play.

The Indians chose not to do that and when Murphy singled to left, the runner on second—Jose Ramirez—could only make it to third base. Alex Gordon was playing shallow and the Indians did not challenge his arm.

That saved a run when Davis got Michael Brantley to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Unintended consequences

Go back to that pinch hit by David Murphy: he got a hit so the pinch hit worked out—but Murphy replaced Mike Aviles in the lineup and Aviles had been playing left field. When Murphy went out to play defense he went to right field and that moved Raburn over to left. Without the Murphy pinch-hit, Raburn would not have been in left field making the play on the Moustakas double.

But the unintended consequences don’t end there.

After lefties David Murphy and Chris Dickerson replaced righties Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, the Indians had a lineup with only one right handed hitter—and that was Jan Gomes. Everyone else was left-handed or a switch hitter. The only right-handed hitter left on the Indians bench was back-up catcher Roberto Perez.

So when Ned Yost brought in reliever Francisley Bueno he got favorable matchups for an inning and two-thirds. That’s when Gomes came up and Ned brought right-handed reliever Jason Frasor in to face him. Frasor struck him out and when the game continued into the twelfth inning, Yost could bring in another lefty—Scott Downs—and have him pitch two more innings before Gomes came up again and by then Aaron Crow was in the game.

The bullpen on Friday

Wade Davis and Greg Holland have now pitched on three consecutive days and that makes it unlikely that they’ll be available for Friday night’s game.

Clint Hurdle once told me you take care of the problem you have, not the problem you might have. Ned Yost knew he needed Davis and Holland on Thursday night, he doesn’t know if he’ll need them Friday. The Royals might win by 10, they might lose by 10 or maybe it’ll rain.

Who knows?

But if you have a chance to win in the big leagues, you take it and worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow.

The stuff I got wrong last week

As usual, the team comes off a road trip and I get a chance to talk to people and realize I didn’t have all the necessary information before I wrote something. For instance:

During the Boston series Jarrod Dyson got doubled off first base when he tried to steal second and Omar Infante lined out to centerfield. Dyson did not pick up the ball in time to make it back to first. I said unless Infante had the take sign, Dyson needed to know where the ball was.

Turns out it’s a little more complicated than that.

If Jarrod is on first base the Royals do not bunt, they don’t hit and run. If Dyson takes off it’s a straight steal. If the hitter does not have the take sign it’s up to him to recognize when Jarrod gets a great jump and take the pitch. If the hitter has two strikes he can’t take the pitch, so Jarrod needs to peek in at the plate—the ball might be put in play.

So Dyson didn’t do anything wrong on that play except get too good a jump.

The other play I wanted to ask about was Infante’s sacrifice bunt in the first inning of yesterday’s game against the White Sox: did he do it on his own or did he get the bunt sign? And if he did it on his own, was that the right move?

Infante did it on his own and it’s up to him as to whether it was the right move. Lorenzo Cain led off the game with a double and if Omar thinks he can hit the ball to the right side, he can attempt that. If he thinks he’ll have a hard time getting that done—and it might depend on the pitcher or how he’s feeling physically—Omar can lay down a bunt and that’s what he did.

Ultimately, it was the right move.

Coming into Thursday’s game, the Royals are 36-15 when they score first. Cain advanced to second and Eric Hosmer followed up with a sacrifice fly. That was the only run the Royals scored for the first eight innings in game they eventually won, 2-1.

How the field changes as the game progresses

During this last road trip we saw Dyson do a face plant on his way back to first base and Alcides Escobar slip and almost get picked off base. As if the game weren’t hard enough:

Apparently, the infield dirt is softer at the beginning of games than the end. Right before the game starts they spray the infield and if the home team wants to stop the visiting team from running, they spray it a lot.

That means a runner has to wait to start his slide when he gets closer to a base; otherwise he’s likely to hit and stick where he is. In the later innings the ground dries out and a runner has to start his slide earlier; otherwise he might slide right past a base. A couple seasons ago I saw this happen to Jarrod Dyson: he started his slide late in the final innings of a day game. The infield surface was baked hard and Dyson slide past second base and was tagged out.

So runners not only need to know how long it takes the pitcher to throw the ball to home plate and how long it takes the catcher to get the ball down to second, smart runners also need to know what inning it is and how hard or soft the infield dirt is.

There’s a lot going on out there.

OK, it’s almost 2AM and I’m smoked—I’ll reread this in the morning and see what I screwed up and try to fix it before you guys get on the web site.

Good night.