Judging the Royals

The story behind the most memorable play of the 2014 World Series

Kansas City Royals Alex Gordon walked back to the dugout as the San Francisco Giants celebrated after winning 3-2 in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
Kansas City Royals Alex Gordon walked back to the dugout as the San Francisco Giants celebrated after winning 3-2 in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. deulitt@kcstar.com

I might be a little late with this story — about two and a half years late — but I just heard it this spring and I figure better late than never.

If you’re a Royals fan you already know how Game 7 of the 2014 World Series ended: Alex Gordon hit what should have been a single and the San Francisco Giants misplayed the ball so badly Gordon wound up on third base.

Thousands of Royals fans wished third base coach Mike Jirschele had waved Gordon home … and so did one San Francisco Giant.

After the Giants outfield kicked the ball around a while, it wound up in the hands of shortstop Brandon Crawford. I went back and looked at the play again and Crawford was ready to throw home just as Gordon was arriving at third base. But after Jirschele stopped Gordon at third, Crawford just tossed the ball back into the infield.

After that, Salvador Perez popped out to end the game and start the second-guessing of Jirschele’s decision.

Jirschele later asked Crawford why he didn’t fire the ball home; if Crawford had made that throw, fans would have seen that Gordon would have been out easily and Jirschele wouldn’t have been on the hot seat.

But Crawford said he was just waiting for Jirschele to send Gordon.

If Jirschele had waved Gordon home, Crawford thought he could throw Gordon out.

So the guy who would have had to make the play thought he could make it and wanted the opportunity.

Most of the questioning of Jirschele’s decision to hold Gordon seemed to come from non-baseball players. I haven’t met anyone in the game who thought Jirschele should have sent Gordon home.

If Jirschele had waved Gordon home, Gordon would have been out and it wouldn’t have been close.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Brandon Crawford.

How a runner on second base can take advantage of a left-handed shift

On Sunday, in a game against the Angels, Eric Hosmer came to the plate with Whit Merrifield on second base.

The Angels put on a left-handed shift; three infielders swung around to the right side of the field, the guy playing third all by himself on the left side of the infield, well off the left-field foul line.

Now here’s how you know you can use a delayed steal:

As the pitcher delivers the ball home, infielders take a quick peek at the runner to see if he’s attempting a steal; if the runner is just taking shuffle steps, the infielders can focus on home plate and quit worrying about covering the base. But after the pitch is delivered, the infielders better take a second look or they can be victimized by a delayed steal.

The guy playing third for the Angels was only checking the runner once and the Royals took advantage of that.

The infielder checked Merrifield before the pitch was delivered and saw Merrifield just shuffling along, expanding his secondary lead. But once the infielder looked back at home plate, Merrifield broke for third base.

The infielder failed to take a second look after the pitch was delivered, so by the time he realized Merrifield was going, Merrifield was gone.

And since the Angels were playing a shift and the infielder was so far from the bag, it was no contest; Merrifield blew past the flat-footed infielder and stole third without a throw.

And the Royals changed the scouting report

Even if the Royals never use a delayed steal of third base during the regular season, scouts saw them do it in spring training.

Those scouts will now warn their teams that a delayed steal of third while in a left-handed shift is a possibility. And just maybe those teams will quit playing a shift — or at least modify their shift — against a left-handed hitter with a runner on second base.

Even a failed attempt at a bunt can buy you a lot of at-bats with the third baseman in on the grass. That cuts down on his range and makes it easier to slap the ball past him.

Show everybody that you’re willing to try something and everybody has to take that into account.

How the Royals middle infield helps prevent injury to the Royals outfield

On Monday the Royals made it official and named Raul Mondesi their starting second baseman. With Alcides Escobar at short and Mondesi at second, Royals outfielders can play deeper because Esky and Mondy have such good range going back on the ball.

Playing deep allows the outfielders to cutoff more doubles, but it also means there’s less chance an outfielder will run into a wall going full speed; because they’re playing deep the outfielders will have more time to get under the ball and arrive at the wall under control.

I wouldn’t have thought of that additional benefit if Rusty Kuntz hadn’t mentioned it to me … and come to think of it, information like that is why I come to spring training.

That and the beer.