On Sunday, Ian Kennedy pitched a gem: eight innings, two hits, no runs. But the Angels starting pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, also pitched great; seven innings, four hits no runs. So going into the bottom of the ninth inning, it was scoreless and Salvador Perez was due up.
Had Salvy hit a home run to win the game everyone would have gone home happy, but in terms of entertainment, Salvy did something even better:
He hit a single.
That might sound weird, but here’s what I mean: you can’t anticipate a home run.
Home runs happen when they happen and when they happen they happen quickly. The crowd gets to watch the ball for a couple seconds, wondering if it will clear the fence and when it does they get to celebrate while the runner jogs around the bases.
If the home run’s a game winner it’s a Hollywood ending, but it’s over quickly.
On Sunday, Salvy’s single set a tension-filled, 13-pitch drama into motion.
Mondesi pinch runs
After Salvy singled, Ned Yost pinch ran with Raul Mondesi. Everybody in the stadium knew Mondesi was going to try to steal second base, but nobody knew what pitch Mondesi would run on.
Anticipation creates tension.
The Angels had a meeting on the mound to talk things over and Mike Moustakas came out to pinch hit. Meanwhile, the crowd was going wild.
Blake Parker, the Angels pitcher, was distracted by the threat of Mondesi stealing second. Parker was holding the ball in the set position, trying to kill Mondesi’s legs, but worrying about Mondesi helped Parker throw three straight balls.
Some pitchers slow down their deliveries in a 3-0 count to make sure they throw a strike; would Mondesi run on the 3-0 delivery? Would Moose get a 3-0 green light?
Parker threw a strike, but Mondesi didn’t run and Moose didn’t swing.
But with the count 3-1 the Angels figured something was up on the next pitch and tried to pick Mondesi off twice. When Parker finally did throw the ball home it was an 83 mph splitter and Moustakas swung and missed, but the in the meantime Mondesi stole second base.
The next pitch — a 3-2 splitter — was a wild pitch and Mondesi took third while Moose walked down to first.
The crowd was going nuts and the Angels needed another meeting.
Things get weird; the Angels use five infielders
Cam Bedrosian came in to pitch and Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun came in to play infield. A fly ball to the outfield would probably win the game for the Royals, so the Angels wanted a groundball on the infield; bringing an outfielder in to play infield gave the Angels a better chance of making a play at the plate.
The Angels brought the infield in to the edge of the grass; if Mondesi broke for home on a grounder that’s where the play would be. Bedrosian needed a strikeout, a groundball or a pop-up; the hitter — Paulo Orlando – needed a base hit or a ball in the air to the outfield.
Orlando was looking for a pitch up in the zone and got one, but popped it up on the infield. The crowd groaned, but Orlando was trying to do the right thing and missed his spot on the ball by a fraction of an inch.
One down and Alcides Escobar was due up.
Play for two or one?
With one out, the Angels could have played for two and set their infield at double-play depth. But Esky runs well and doubling him up wasn’t a sure thing, so the Angels kept their infield in and tried for another groundball.
Five pitches later Escobar sent a fly ball into the right-center gap, it fell untouched, Mondesi trotted home and the celebration was on.
The crowd was living and dying with every pitch
Watching baseball games from the press box is pretty nice. I’ve got a chair with wheels, a counter for my laptop and a great view of home plate.
It’s a sweet deal.
But watching games from the press box removes you from the crowd; you hear them, but you’re not part of them.
On Sunday, I went downstairs to watch the end of the game with a couple of friends and it reminded me of what a cool experience it is to be with a bunch of people who are living and dying with each pitch.
If Salvy had ended the game with a homer everyone would have been happy, but they would have missed a pinch run, a pinch hit, a stolen base, a wild pitch, two mound meetings, a weird infield alignment and 13 extra pitches.
And those 13 extra pitches were filled with anticipation, tension and drama; baseball at its best.
When it comes to entertainment, sometimes a single is better than a home run.