Judging the Royals

Blowouts, brawls and hit by pitches: what are the unwritten rules?

Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy (center) was held back by assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan (left) and bench coach Don Wakamatsu after the benches cleared on Wednesday night.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy (center) was held back by assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan (left) and bench coach Don Wakamatsu after the benches cleared on Wednesday night. The Associated Press

On Wednesday night, the Royals beat the Tigers 16-2, and in the ninth inning of that blowout, Detroit pitcher Bruce Rondon hit Mike Moustakas with a 99 mph fastball.

Why?

The only guy who knows for sure — Bruce Rondon — didn’t speak with reporters. The best guess is that Rondon was upset about being asked to pitch in a blowout and further upset that Lorenzo Cain scored from second base when the previous hitter, Eric Hosmer, singled.

The Royals were already ahead 13-2 when Hosmer singled, so was Cain piling on when he scored from second base?

The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten, so ask ballplayers how many runs constitute a blowout and you get different answers.

A blowout in Kauffman Stadium on a chilly night when the ball isn’t carrying, is not a blowout in Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out; you don’t want to ease up with a five-run lead and then allow six more runs.

But whatever the conditions, it’s probably safe to say an 11-run lead in the ninth inning fits the definition of a blowout.

Should Cain have stopped at third base?

Why you keep playing hard

Detroit’s manager Brad Ausmus was gracious enough to say a hitter who has earned an RBI is going to want an RBI.

When asked in front of cameras, ballplayers know how to answer: they say their individual stats don’t matter as long as the team wins.

It sounds good, but isn’t accurate.

A player with lousy numbers does not get a long-term contract because his team won. Players know they have to put up numbers to get paid and every little bit helps.

And nobody is going to get to the end of the year and discount one of Eric Hosmer’s RBIs because it came in a blowout.

OK, so how should a team that’s got a big lead play the game?

The best explanation comes from former Royal, Russ Morman:

You quit bunting and stealing, but you should keep playing hard; keep taking extra bases, keep tagging on fly balls and keep advancing on wild pitches.

In Russ’ opinion, if you have an A Game and B Game, sooner or later you’ll get caught playing that B Game when you should have played your A Game. So in a blowout, quit using small-ball tactics, but play hard every time you step between the white lines; playing hard needs to become a habit.

And if the other team doesn’t like that, they should go home and practice; it’s not your fault they’re playing poorly.

Which is a long way of saying, yeah; Lorenzo Cain should have scored from second base.

Moustakas was the innocent bystander

After Cain scored from second base, if Rondon felt the need to express his displeasure, Mike Moustakas was the unlucky target.

If Rondon hit Moustakas on purpose — and everybody wearing a uniform thought he did — at least Rondon did it the right way; he hit Moose in the right hip below the belt.

Rule of thumb: when pitchers hit batters on purpose, they stay below the shoulders, away from the head and hands.

But the hit job wasn’t entirely professional: a pitcher might want to throw an outside pitch first, then drill the batter. That gives the pitcher an alibi: the pitch just got away from him.

Rondon tried to hit Moose the pitch before and missed, so when Rondon drilled Mike on the second pitch, everybody knew it was intentional.

And the Royals probably weren’t inclined to be charitable.

In the Tigers series that started on July 17, Alcides Escobar, Jorge Bonifacio, Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon were hit by pitches; the only Tiger that wore one was Justin Upton.

On July 24, Jake Junis hit Mikie Mahtook, so coming into Wednesday’s game the score was 5-2 and after Alex Gordon got drilled in the seventh inning, the Royals might have felt enough was enough; Mike Moustakas getting hit by a pitch was the final straw.

Why the Royals didn’t retaliate

Back in the day, a hitter that got drilled by a pitch might charge the mound. Or he might wait until his next at-bat, lay a bunt down the first-base line and knock the pitcher into next week when he tried to field the ball.

That doesn’t happen much anymore and old-school ballplayers say everybody is making too much money to get involved in those kinds of shenanigans. Nobody wants to get hurt or fined; it costs too much money.

And a team might have bigger fish to fry.

If Brandon Maurer wanted to become instantly popular with his new teammates, when he was sent out to pitch the ninth inning, he could have drilled a Detroit batter. Hitters love it when pitchers protect them, but it sounds like Maurer was advised not to do it; warnings had been issued, so Maurer would have been ejected and possibly suspended.

The Tigers aren’t going anywhere, so Bruce Rondon getting suspended won’t change a thing.

The Royals are fighting for a spot in the playoffs, so every game matters; Brandon Maurer might be the difference between a loss or a win, and that loss or win might be the difference in the season.

But if a Royals pitcher decides to even things up somewhere down the road, don’t be surprised.

The Royals have a day off, but I don’t

The Royals have played 13 days in a row and will now take a day off before starting a series in Boston. Ned Yost said the day off was appreciated, but his team is playing so well right now, he almost wishes they could just keep playing.

The Royals season will resume on Friday when Jason Vargas squares off against David Price and the Red Sox.

Come back here Friday morning and, if all goes as planned, I’ll take a look at the Royals newest starting pitcher, Trevor Cahill.

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