Judging the Royals

The Dodgers beat the Royals with a four-walk walk-off, but that’s not all

The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger ran to first as Chase Utley (left) scored after Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera walked in the winning run in the 10th inning Saturday in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger ran to first as Chase Utley (left) scored after Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera walked in the winning run in the 10th inning Saturday in Los Angeles. AP

In the 10th inning of a tie ballgame Royals relievers walked four straight batters, and since there are only three bases, that didn’t work out so well. Without a single hit in the final half-inning, the Dodgers beat the Royals 5-4.

A four-walk walk-off will get your attention, but when a game is tied after nine innings, there are a lot of moments worth examining.

Let’s take a look.

Jorge Bonifacio being thrown out at the plate

In the fourth inning, with nobody out and Jorge Bonifacio on second base and Lorenzo Cain on first, Eric Hosmer lined a single into center field.

Holding Jorge Bonifacio at third base seemed like the right move for a number of reasons:

1.) There was nobody out and the Royals would have three chances to score Bonifacio.

2.) Bonifacio got a lousy jump at second base.

3.) The guy fielding the ball – Joc Pederson – was moving toward home plate so the throw would a strong one.

4.) Bonifacio isn’t all that fast to begin with.

Nevertheless, Bonifacio made the turn, headed home and was thrown out at the plate.

Watching games on TV can be frustrating because you only see what they choose to show you and if they showed third base coach Mike Jirschele, I missed it.

The TV guys said Jirschele sent the runner and questioned the decision.

Mike Jirschele is considered a good third base coach, so it would be interesting to hear what he had to say about sending Bonifacio; although even asking is kind of an insult.

Here’s why:

When a third base coach sends a runner and the runner is safe we tend to give credit to the runner, talk about his great slide, and forget about the base coach.

But if the runner is out, we get in the coach’s face; now we think he’s worth interviewing. When a third base coach makes the right call nobody wants to talk to them; when something goes wrong, they’re the center of attention.

On the other hand, if Jirschele thinks he screwed up, he’s the kind of coach willing to admit it.

Next time I talk to Jirschele will be after the All-Star break. If I remember to ask about this play and he says something illuminating, I’ll tell you what he said.

Lorenzo Cain’s “great read”

Right after Jorge Bonifacio was thrown out at the plate, Salvador Perez got a hit off Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy; a flare that landed just out of second baseman Chase Utley’s reach.

Lorenzo Cain scored from second base and the play-by-play guy – I assume he was announced at the beginning of the game, but I missed it – called it a great read by Cain.

The two former players in the booth – Eric Karros and A.J. Pierzynski – disagreed.

Non-players tend to think any base-running decision that works is a great read; ballplayers tend to be a bit more critical.

The replay showed Cain took off much too soon and wasn’t looking when Utley barely missed the catch. If Utley had caught the ball, Cain would have been doubled off second base for an inning-ending double play. Had that happened the play-by-play guy would have been talking about Cain’s base-running mistake.

Fans and the media tend to focus on results; anything that works was the result of a good decision and anything that fails was the result of a bad one.

Players tend to focus on process: A good decision might not work out and a bad one can result in a run scored.

Lorenzo Cain’s strikeout and ejection

In the top of the seventh inning with one down and the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain was called out on strikes. Watch the video, check MLB’s Gameday strike zone and it’s apparent the pitch was outside.

Then watch Austin Barnes’ catcher’s mitt.

Catchers will tell you whether they think a pitch is a strike by the way they receive the ball; Barnes’ receives the pitch and then pulls his mitt back into the zone. If the pitch was a strike Barnes would stick it; receive the pitch and hold it in place. It’s clear Barnes thought the pitch was a ball because he felt the need to reposition his mitt.

In one of the game’s biggest moments home plate umpire Bill Miller missed a call.

Cain was visibly upset and then Miller doubled down on bad umpiring; after the inning ended and Cain was on his way to the outfield, Miller approached the Royals dugout.

Back in the day, umpires made calls and then walked away; if a player or manager wanted to argue they’d have to chase the umpire to do so.

These days, all too often, umpires provoke or escalate confrontations.

Knowing Cain was upset, Miller should have stayed away from the Royals dugout and given Lorenzo time to calm down. That didn’t happen; not only did Miller miss an important pitch, he then caused a confrontation that ended in Cain’s ejection.

Good umpires go unnoticed; Bill Miller took center stage.

The four-walk walk-off

And as long as we’re talking about Bill Miller, let’s end where we started; the 10th inning.

Whatever an umpire’s strike zone happens to be, pitchers need to adjust and throw strikes. In the 10th inning Scott Alexander and Kelvin Herrera didn’t do it and that’s on them.

But Miller made throwing strikes harder than it should have been.

The rulebook says that if any part of the ball passes through any part of the strike zone, that pitch is a strike.

Using MLB’s Gameday strike zone as a guide, in the 10th inning Miller missed: the last pitch to Chase Utley, the first pitch to Corey Seager (barely), the first pitch to Justin Turner and the first and second pitch to Cody Bellinger.

Players get upset when they feel there’s no accountability for umpires; an umpire can have a horrible reputation and the league continues to run him out there.

I’ve already written about it several times this season, but this issue continues to crop up because technology now allows us to see when an umpire is missing pitches. We don’t have to wonder if an umpire missed pitches; we can see it.

Bill Miller’s work behind home plate changed Saturday’s game, but it’s unlikely to change Miller’s career.

Today’s game

If the Royals are to avoid a sweep they have to win a game that features Clayton Kershaw (13-2, 2.19 ERA).

The Royals tend to hack early and often anyway, but with Kershaw on the mound they might be even more aggressive, assuming that’s possible. Once Kershaw gets into a two-strike count, hitters bat .138, so the Royals might start chasing pitches after just one strike.

If the Royals put early-count fastballs in play and get hits, they’ll have a good day. If the Royals put early-count fastballs in play and make outs, Kershaw will have a good day.

Fortunately, Danny Duffy will pitch for the Royals, so Dodgers hitters won’t have a day at the beach, either.

Enjoy the game.