Judging the Royals

Jeff Montgomery, competitiveness and situational pitching

Jeff Montgomery in 1999
Jeff Montgomery in 1999 File photo

Back when I was still playing baseball in the Kansas City Men’s Senior Baseball League, I got to face former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery.

Facing Monty once was an honor – you could go around telling people about it – facing him more than once was a pain in the neck (and that statement is off by about three feet).

I’d say I got to hit off Monty, but I never got one; in fact I can only remember getting the ball in play once. Most of the time, Monty would punch me out on three pitches, four if he was having a bad night.

Anyway…

Jeff Montgomery is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. If you did something he didn’t like – and getting a hit off him was on the list – Monty had no problem drilling you in your next at-bat.

We all thought he was nuts.

But we had former Royals pitcher Danny Jackson on our team, and he was exactly the same way: extremely competitive. (Which is a nice way of saying we thought he was a little nuts as well.)

The same was true of former Royals first baseman Russ Morman. He played one season with us and refused to talk to anybody on another team. I asked why, and Russ said he already had friends and wasn’t there to make more – he was there to win ballgames.

I bring this up because the Royals got rained out on Saturday and I was looking for something to write about and decided to tell you about a conversation I had with Monty about situational pitching.

But before I get into that subject, I wanted to tell you that people who go around saying big-league ballplayers don’t care whether they win or lose probably haven’t spent much time around big-league ballplayers.

Big-league ballplayers are some of the most competitive people on earth.

Think of all the kids who played baseball at some point; how many went on to play in high school? Now how many went on to play in college? Now how many went on to play professionally? Now how many made it through Single A, Double A and Triple A?

If a ballplayer survives all that, makes it to the big leagues and sticks, odds are you’re looking at a very competitive person.

And if you don’t believe me, maybe you should face Jeff Montgomery in a Men’s Senior League game.

But if you value your health, you’d better not get a hit off him.

Situational pitching

Jeff Montgomery was one of the best closers in Royals history; a 3.27 career ERA and 304 saves.

Ask Monty about closing a game, and he talks about situational pitching.

If Monty had a multi-run lead he would come right at the hitter. He could be aggressive and throw the kitchen sink at the batter – any pitch, any location – go for the punch-out or get the ball in play and count on his defense to get him outs.

But if Monty had a one-run lead, he pitched differently.

Now he wasn’t going to allow the hitter to tie the game or beat him with one swing; now Monty was going to pitch the hitter away and force the other team to beat him with three opposite-field singles.

If Monty came inside he would come inside off the plate; he didn’t want the batter diving out to cover that outside pitch. And if the hitter chose to dive to the outside corner at the same time as Monty chose to brush him back, the hitter was going home with sore ribs.

It’s a pretty simple philosophy: When you get to the ninth inning, don’t throw a pitch that allows the other team to tie the game or beat you with one swing.

Monty’s philosophy on closing is worth thinking about today because we see the Royals throwing pitches late in games that can get them beat on one swing; inside pitches and hung off-speed stuff that allow the hitter to pull the ball into the short part of the yard.

The Royals need to quit doing that.

Why Gordon’s still in the lineup

After hitting .220 last year, Alex Gordon is currently hitting .170 this year and some fans want to know why he’s still in the lineup.

The first thing that comes to mind is money.

When a team goes out on a limb and gives a player enough money to choke a Clydesdale, that player is going to get every opportunity to prove the team right.

The second thing that comes to mind is defense, which is almost always underrated by fans who are mesmerized by offensive numbers. Despite what he’s doing with the bat, Gordon is still helping the team with his glove and made two more spectacular plays on Friday night.

There are two sides to the ball, and at least Gordon is helping on one of them.

Thursday’s error on Moose

I didn’t write about this at the time – I had other fish to fry –but this morning let’s go back to an error Mike Moustakas was tagged with while playing the Yankees on Thursday.

Moose had a ball hit to his backhand side and he knocked it down, but couldn’t pick it up in time to make a play at first base, so Moose got tagged with an error.

After the game Mike said it was a play he ought to be able to make and didn’t mind the error; he thought his mistake was trying to pick the ball up with his glove and missing it – if the ball’s just lying there, players are taught to use their hand.

But at least two of his teammates – Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer – disagreed; they didn’t think Moose deserved an error.

If Mike had gloved the ball cleanly the first time, his momentum would have carried him into foul territory, and that would mean a long throw to first base.

It’s a play Royals fans have seen Moose make over and over again, but just because he’s capable of making that play doesn’t make it routine. If he’d made the play it would have been a defensive highlight and his teammates thought Moose shouldn’t get punished for failing to make an outstanding play.

Errors are supposed to be handed out for plays that can be made with “ordinary effort” and this wasn’t an ordinary effort-type play.

Why waiting to name a pitcher can be smart – but a jerk move

The Royals are playing a doubleheader on Sunday and as of right now – 7:56 AM – the Royals starting pitcher in the second game has not been named.

That means the Twins coaching staff has to prepare for all the possible starters and can’t just focus on one.

Some teams have a habit of turning their lineups in late and maybe it’s being disorganized, but it also gives them a slight advantage; their opponents can’t focus on the guys who will play, they have to think about all the guys who might play.

Maybe the Royals really don’t know who’s starting the second game, but if a team knows what they’re going to do and just waits to announce it because it causes the other team problems, it’s considered a jerk move.

Why Ned won’t pull the starter too early

Some fans are hoping the starter in the second game is not Chris Young and if it is Young and he scuffles, fans probably hope Ned Yost pulls him from the game as early as possible.

I’m guilty of saying Ned should have pulled Young earlier than he did in CY’s last start.

But as third base coach Mike Jirschele reminded me; if you pull the starter too soon you’re going to blow up your bullpen and you’re probably going to blow up your bullpen in a game you’re going to lose.

The reason you want to pull the starter is because he’s pitching poorly and if he’s pitching poorly you’re probably behind by multiple runs. Sometimes a starter just has to wear it and give you innings.

Let’s hope that’s not the case today.

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