Judging the Royals

A fly ball lost in the sun is always a hit, even if it’s dropped

Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain caught a fly ball that he almost lost in the sun on Sunday.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain caught a fly ball that he almost lost in the sun on Sunday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, bases loaded and the game tied, Lorenzo Cain hit a fly ball to Rangers right fielder, Shin-Soo Choo. Had the game been played at night, the fly ball would have been routine, but this was a day game and Choo had to contend with the sun.

If you’ve never caught a fly ball in the sun, you should give it a whirl.

Go out on your lawn at about 4:30 p.m., face the sun and toss a ball up in the air. Do not look directly at the sun because then you’ll be temporarily blinded. When the ball goes up, shade your eyes by blocking the sun with your glove or free hand, look above your glove or hand and wait for the ball to appear.

It will not be a comfortable wait.

You’ll be wondering where the heck the ball is and, when you finally pull your glove down to catch it, the chances are that the ball will hit you in the face and break your nose.

Now imagine 23,163 people are watching you do it and the fate of a baseball team rests on the outcome.

Try to catch a couple sun balls and you’ll have a much better appreciation of what Lorenzo Cain and Shin-Soo Choo were dealing with on Sunday afternoon. Cain struggled on several fly balls in the sun, but managed to catch all of them; Choo tracked Cain’s fly ball well enough to get a glove on it, but didn’t catch it.

Errors are plays that should be made with ordinary effort and catching fly balls in the sun can be extraordinarily difficult.

Cain’s game-winning fly ball was scored a hit, and if you’ll try to catch a fly ball in the sun yourself, you’ll know why.

Good base running got the Royals three other runs

When we think about baseball, we often think about pitching, defense and hitting; base running — the fourth element of the game — is frequently ignored.

But running the bases well is how you get the most out of hits and on Sunday, three of the four Royals runs were the result of good base running.

In the first inning, after he singled, Whit Merrifield went first to third on Jorge Bonifacio’s soft single to right field.

When an outfielder is headed directly toward the base he’s throwing to — and Choo was charging in toward third base — base runners often shut it down; the outfielder has momentum on his side and the throw will be a strong one.

But Merrifield recognized that the ball was hit softly and Choo was going to have to come get it. Merrifield made it to third and then scored the first run of the game on a wild pitch.

Unusual athleticism

Back in 2013, before two World Series appearances, scouts from other teams were already talking about the Royals’ athleticism.

Power hitters are expensive and don’t want to play in Kauffman Stadium if they can help it, so the Royals went another direction: they went after athletes. Speed shows up on both sides of the ball: guys who could run and cover ground on defense, could also steal a bag or take an extra base.

On Sunday, the Royals scored two runs of their four runs when a batter doubled and a runner on first base circled the bases and scored. It happened in the third inning with Eric Hosmer on first base and again in the seventh when the runner on first base was Drew Butera.

When Hosmer circled the bases, Star columnist Sam Mellinger pointed it out; it’s not that often you see a first baseman score from first base on a double. Four innings later, a catcher did the same thing.

That’s unusual and an example of how athleticism and good base running can win games.

A base-running mistake

Mike Moustakas was the guy who drove in Hosmer with a double, but then Mike got greedy and tried to take third base.

Choo threw the ball to second baseman Rougned Odor, who threw it to catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who threw it third baseman Drew Robinson and after the Rangers threw the ball around the infield and the dust cleared, Moustakas was out.

Making the first or third out of an inning at third base is considered a mistake; you don’t want to make the first out at third because nobody out, runner on second is a good situation already, and you don’t want to make the third out at third because you’re already in scoring position and will cross the plate on most base hits.

After the game I asked Mike if he was trying to draw the ball away from home plate and make sure Hosmer scored and Mike said he thought he could draw the throw and take an extra base.

It didn’t work out that way.

Why you don’t hit the ball up the middle on a hit and run

Hitting the ball up the middle is usually considered good hitting, but you don’t want to do it on a hit and run.

Why?

When the runner takes off from first base he’ll draw a middle infielder to second base, so you know that part of the field will be covered.

In the sixth inning, Choo singled, then broke for second with Elvis Andrus at the plate. Andrus made the mistake of hitting the ball up the middle — right to where Alcides Escobar had moved to cover second base — and the Royals turned a very easy 6-3 double play.

Monday’s game

Monday night the Royals start a four-game series against the 41-49 Detroit Tigers.

It’s Jason Vargas (12-3, 2.62 ERA) matched up against Jordan Zimmermann (5-7, 5.87 ERA). In his last outing Zimmermann gave up five runs in three innings and in Vargas’ last outing, he pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game.

You’d think the Royals have the advantage, but you’d also think a fly ball to right field with an outfielder camped under it would get caught.

It’s baseball — anything can happen.

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