Entering the eighth inning of Wednesday afternoon’s game, the Red Sox were leading the Royals 4-2. Reliever Matt Barnes was called out of the bullpen to start the eighth and pitch to Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain.
Barnes walked both of them.
Left-handed Eric Hosmer was due up, so Boston manager John Farrell wanted a left-handed reliever to face him. Farrell had two choices: Fernando Abad and Robby Scott.
Abad had pitched on both Monday and Tuesday and, so far this season, he hasn’t been asked to throw three games in a row. Scott pitched on Sunday and Monday, but got Tuesday off.
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Scott got the call.
To understand what happened next you need to understand how pitchers pitch: there are always exceptions, but in the late innings of a close game, pitchers avoid getting beat inside.
To hit a home run a lot of hitters have to pull the ball, so late in the game — when there’s no time to make up for a mistake — pitchers will avoid pitching inside for strikes.
They can come inside off the plate and knock the hitter on his heels, but when they throw strikes, they throw them to the outside part of the dish. That forces the other team to score a run with three singles to the opposite field; not one homer to the pull side.
And that’s why Scott threw four outside pitches to Hosmer; he didn’t want Hosmer to pull the ball. But the four pitches were too far outside; Hosmer walked, the bases were loaded and right-handed Salvador Perez was at the plate.
A mound visit, but with Moustakas on deck, no pitching change
Without putting a ball in play the Royals had the tying run in scoring position, the go-ahead run on first base and a right-handed hitter set to face a left-handed reliever.
After Hosmer walked there was a mound visit and a pitching change seemed imminent; Boston would bring in a righty to face Perez.
But that didn’t happen.
With left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas on deck, Farrell was hoping Scott could somehow get by the right-handed hitting Perez and stay in the game to face Moustakas.
It was a risk: over Scott’s career, righties have hit .282 and slugged .385, while lefties have hit .143 and slugged .214. If Abad wasn’t available — and Farrell managed like he wasn’t — Scott had to get past Perez so he could pitch to Moustakas.
But pitching to a right-handed batter made it tougher for the left-handed Scott to throw his breaking ball.
In his previous four appearances Scott threw 3 1/3 innings, faced 13 batters, threw 66 pitches, faced both lefties and righties and threw exactly one curveball for a strike to a right-handed hitter; and when he threw it, Scott was pretty sure the righty wouldn’t swing.
When Scott faced righties he might show curve, but almost always off the plate away.
Remember: late in games relievers do not want to get beat inside and a lefty’s breaking pitches would be coming in to the right-handed Perez. And if Scott missed location with a breaking pitch — a pitch thrown at about 74 mph — Perez would pull the ball.
So Scott threw Perez nine straight fastballs instead.
Eric Hosmer and Rusty Kuntz call it
To keep him from pulling the ball, Scott pitched Perez outside off the plate. Perez will chase an outside pitch and it only took three pitches to get Perez in a 1-2 count.
After that, Perez reined himself in and became a bit more selective; he took a couple pitches and fouled three more off. In the meantime, Perez was seeing fastball after fastball, all thrown at the same velocity.
Keep throwing the same pitch at the same speed and a big-league hitter will time one up.
Over at first base, Eric Hosmer and base coach Rusty Kuntz saw what was happening and agreed; if Scott missed with one of those outside fastballs and left it over the plate, Salvy was going to crush it.
On the ninth fastball in a row — this one up and in the middle of the plate — Salvador Perez was on time and hit the first grand slam of his big-league career.
The on-deck threat of lefty Mike Moustakas convinced John Farrell to let lefty Robby Scott face righty Salvador Perez and it cost the Red Sox the game.
How Salvador Perez avoided the Salvy Splash
As any Royals fan can tell you when the Royals win, the hero of the game does an on-field interview before leaving the field.
And, as any Royals fan can tell you, it’s become a tradition for Salvador Perez to dump a bucket of ice water on the guy getting interviewed.
So what happens when the hero of the game is Salvador Perez?
In that case, Drew Butera is expected to do the honors, but he’s had a hard time soaking Salvy; Perez is too elusive. But on Wednesday Drew had a plan: the bullpen pitchers walked toward the dugout in formation while Drew hid behind them.
At the last second the pitchers split ranks and Drew rushed forward with the bucket of ice water. But even though Drew was behind him, somehow Salvy saw it coming and ducked; does Perez have eyes in the back of his head?
Turns out, Salvy saw Drew’s reflection in the camera lens and ducked.
Afterward, Butera quibbled with the conclusion that he “missed” Salvy and offered up evidence from Star photographer John Sleezer. Drew said Sleezer had a shot of at least some water hitting the back of Salvy’s head.
Drew saw that as progress; he’s had a hard time soaking Salvy, but he’s getting closer.
Toronto is next
Day off today, but on Friday the schedule resumes with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Enjoy your day off.