Judging the Royals

So you think Alex Gordon’s walk-off homer beat the Twins?

Alex Gordon watched as his game-winning two-run home run headed for the wall in the ninth inning for a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Alex Gordon watched as his game-winning two-run home run headed for the wall in the ninth inning for a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

It actually was Rusty Kuntz’s lucky pullover. Let me explain: About 3 p.m. on a smoking-hot Tuesday afternoon, the Royals’ first-base coach walked on the field wearing a shirt and a nylon pullover. A member of the grounds crew asked Rusty what the heck he was doing. Kuntz rolled his eyes and said, “We’re 18-5 since I started wearing this.”

Rusty then confessed he hadn’t worn the pullover Monday night. It was just too hot, and he was thinking that this superstition stuff was getting out of hand. The Royals lost to the New York Yankees 8-1 on Monday, so on Tuesday afternoon, guess who had to wear his lucky pullover?

Tuesday night against the Twins, with Minnesota leading 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Gordon hit a walk-off two-run home run. In baseball terminology, if you have to endure something, you “wear” it. No matter how hot it gets Wednesday, Rusty Kuntz will be “wearing” it.

Because a lucky pullover beat the Twins 2-1.

OK, Gordon’s home run had something to do with it

After the game, Gordon said he wasn’t trying to do too much with the pitch. Twins closer Glen Perkins is a “fastball-slider” guy, and he left a slider in the middle of the plate. Gordon was asked whether he thought the hit was a “no-doubter,” and he said no. He wasn’t sure whether the ball was gone, so he was running hard.

Had the Royals lost three games in a row, the doubters would have started to show up in droves. With one swing, Gordon put the Royals back in the win column.

Paul’s take on the game …

Tuesday night’s game between the Twins and the Royals was a thriller. Both Twins starter Ricky Nolasco and Royals starter Danny Duffy dominated with a razor-thin margin for error on either side. Both were throwing two-hitters through the first five innings.

This is what playoff baseball looks like. It was a game that was going to come down to capitalizing on mistakes and opportunities, and though Alex Gordon was able to save the victory with his walk-off blast, throughout the game the Royals missed out on a few key chances to spark rallies.

In the bottom of the fourth, Gordon had another beauty of an at-bat. It’s been said many times before, but Alex always deserves credit for his excellent plate approach. Gordon came to bat to face Nolasco and worked into a 3-1 count, taking borderline pitches to get Nolasco in trouble.

Alex fouled off two pitches, then got a belt-high 3-2 fastball, which he drove back up the middle for a lead-off single. Gordon was able to put a seven-pitch dent in Nolasco’s pitch count, which is always important when an opposing starter is throwing as well as Nolasco was Tuesday night. This is how offense has to come for the Royals, especially in playoff-type games. Rallies of hits and walks. Getting guys on, over, and in.

Billy Butler came to bat next and had the right idea: Look to be aggressive, and find a pitch to drive. Billy ripped a liner on a first-pitch inside fastball, but he hit it right at Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar for the first out of the inning.

Sal Perez came up next and tried to be aggressive, but he got a fastball on the outside corner, a pitch that he has to take to the opposite field. Sal didn’t. He tried to pull it and hooked it, flying out to left field for out No. 2.

Josh Willingham came to the plate next and fouled off a couple hittable fastballs, then got locked up by a nasty 1-2 curveball from Nolasco to strike out looking.

The Royals needed to capitalize on their best offensive opportunity of the game up until that point, with their lead-off hitter getting on base and the heart of their order coming to the plate. But through some bad luck, a mistake, and some great pitching by Nolasco, the Royals let the Twins get out of the fourth inning unscathed.

The sixth inning

The Royals had another opportunity to start a rally and take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Jarrod Dyson led off with a nice at-bat, getting ahead in the count 2-1 and slapping an outside fastball to deep short. Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar had no chance at getting Dyson, who got on with a lead-off infield single. Again, the Royals had their lead-off man on base and had an opportunity to take the lead.

With Dyson’s speed, he always is a threat to run. And when he gets a lead-off single, most of the time it means he can get into scoring position for the next hitter to drive him in. Nolasco kept close watch on Dyson at first to keep him from running, throwing over three times during Alcides Escobar’s at-bat. On the third pickoff attempt, Dyson guessed wrong and took an initial step towards second base — just enough time for Nolasco to fire a strike over to first baseman Joe Mauer, who tagged Dyson out. For the second time in as many games, Dyson got picked off first after a lead-off single.

This helped kill a potential rally in the bottom of the sixth. Escobar, who has had excellent at-bats lately with runners in scoring position, started to hack as soon as Dyson got picked off, chasing and fouling off a 1-1 fastball in the other batter’s box before grounding out to second.

Alex Gordon came to the plate next, and, as always, had a solid plate approach, letting Nolasco fall behind 3-0. But then Nolasco got a lucky call on a borderline outside fastball, which turned the at-bat around in his favor. Alex swung over the top of a sinking fastball to get into a 3-2 count, forcing him to defend the plate and swing at another outside fastball, and he grounded out to second.

An inning that began with an opportunity for a rally again ended with the Royals left empty-handed.

To focus on these two missed opportunities may seem like nitpicking to some, especially considering that the Royals won the game, but it’s important to do so. Fans and the media are always results-oriented. If you won, you played well. If you lost, you didn’t.

But by focusing on the process, recognizing missed opportunities in wins and good efforts/approaches in losses, you start to recognize why your team wins or loses. By doing this, you can improve your team’s strategy so that the next time you’re in one of these tightly-contested pitchers’ duels, you won’t make the same mistakes, and you will be able to capitalize on these same opportunities.

Of course, all of Kansas City is extremely hopeful for the Royals to make it to the playoffs this year, and if they do, Tuesday night’s game is what the playoffs will look like. Excellent pitching. Low-scoring. Razor-thin margin of error. The Royals were saved tonight by a mistake from Glen Perkins and a walk-off homer from Alex Gordon, but to consistently win these tight playoff-type games, the Royals will need to take advantage of opportunities like these going forward.

— Paul Judge

The fans and Ned Yost

After games, manager Ned Yost meets with the news media in a conference room, and when that’s over, we all trudge back to the clubhouse. There’s a lobby on the first floor between the conference room and clubhouses, and it usually is filled with fans and player’s families.

On Tuesday night, the fans suddenly realized Yost was in their midst, and one guy yelled, “Good job, coach!” Another fan reached out for a high five, and the room burst into scattered applause.

After the beating Ned has taken over the last few seasons from disgruntled fans, it was kinda interesting to see what a winning streak can do.

The fans and Ned Yost part II

In the postgame news conference, Ned expressed some disappointment in the size of the crowd. The announced attendance was 13,847 people, and the ones who didn’t show up missed a helluva game. You don’t get to see a lot of walk-off home runs.

Yost said he wanted fans to be a part of this playoff run. The players draw energy from enthusiastic crowds, and at this time of year, the players need all the energy they can get.