Judging the Royals

Paulo Orlando saves the day, and were the Tigers positioned correctly?

Paulo Orlando
Paulo Orlando jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Saturday afternoon the Detroit Tigers had a two-run lead going into the top of the ninth inning. The Royals had two outs, the tying runs on base and the go-ahead run at the plate. But that go-ahead run – Paulo Orlando – was down to his final strike; Detroit fans were on their feet, anticipating a Tigers win.

That’s when Orlando hit a baseball over center fielder Cameron Maybin’s head.

With the important runs at first base and home plate, the Tigers’ outfield should have been playing no doubles. When they want defenders to play no doubles, outfield coaches wave a hand behind their heads. The sign means: “Back up, don’t let anything go over your head.”

The Tigers could live with a single dropping in front of an outfielder, but not an extra-base hit. A single would score one run; extra bases would tie the game. So either Maybin wasn’t playing deep enough or that’s what no doubles looks like when your center field wall is 420 feet from home plate.

Orlando’s double bounced off the warning track, both runs scored and the game was tied.

Hosmer’s second-chance homer

Not long ago I offered Eric Hosmer some free hitting advice: I told him I thought he should swing harder. This was a joke (admittedly, not a good one) because nobody swings harder than Hosmer – when he really cuts it loose, Hosmer comes out of his shoes.

Hosmer had the good grace to laugh and replied: “You can’t get cheated, Lee.”

Coming into Saturday’s game Hosmer had 97 RBIs. He came to the plate in the fifth inning with two runners on and tried to get to 100 RBIs with one swing. Hosmer did not get cheated; he took a hack at anything close to the strike zone and several pitches that weren’t and wound up striking out.

After Orlando doubled, Detroit pitcher Francisco Rodriguez walked Cheslor Cuthbert and Hosmer had his second chance to get to 100 RBIs with one swing.

Three pitches into the at bat, that’s just what Hosmer did; he hit a pitch down out of the zone, but still had enough on the swing to get the ball over the right-field wall. The Royals took a 7-4 lead and never looked back.

See? Swinging harder worked.

Don’t get too worked up over those strike zones

We now have the technology to show the strike zone and where a pitch was located, assuming everything works right; and that’s a big assumption.

Hosmer bent his knees to reach the pitch he homered on, and Tigers catcher James McCann’s mitt dropped below his knees to receive the pitch. But the strike zone on MLB.com shows the pitch as being up in the zone.

Every once in a while things go ka-blooey (a technical term used by people in the broadcast industry) and a pitch doesn’t register correctly. So just remember those strike zones are an approximation and don’t always represent reality.

What happened to those big leg kicks?

Saturday’s game was a national broadcast, and the announcers were Aaron Goldsmith and Tom Verducci. If I have to listen to someone other than Ryan and Rex, I’d pick Verducci; he generally knows what he’s talking about.

After showing the Hal Newhouser statue – a statue that shows the pitcher with his front foot as high as his head – Goldsmith asked what had changed; why don’t pitchers use those big leg kicks anymore?

Verducci joked that they got some coaching; but there’s another reason pitchers don’t use those windups anymore, and it’s the stolen base.

Look up the top stolen base seasons of all-time and a bunch of them came in the 1880s. Despite rumors to the contrary I wasn’t around then, so I don’t know what pitchers did to stop base runners right after the Civil War.

100 years later base stealing had another surge; with one exception – Lou Brock in 1974 – the top-10 base-stealing seasons came in the 1880s or 1980s. According to the Yoda of Kansas City (that would be Royals base-running coach Rusty Kuntz) in the 1980s pitchers developed the slide step to slow down the track meet that was taking place on the base paths.

These days a pitcher had better deliver the ball to home plate in less than 1.4 seconds if he doesn’t want to get robbed blind by base stealers. According to Rusty those pitchers with big leg kicks were taking as much as 1.8 seconds to deliver the ball to home plate, so something had to change.

Whenever someone starts waxing poetic about the timeless, unchanging game of baseball, remember: the game has always been changing and it always will.

You just have to pay attention – or know Rusty Kuntz and he’ll pay attention for you.