Judging the Royals

You can’t blame a kitten for a loss, but a long delay doesn’t help a pitcher

Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain watches as a cat runs past during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, in St. Louis.
Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain watches as a cat runs past during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, in St. Louis. The Associated Press

When giving interviews to members of the media, ballplayers and the men that manage them follow certain rules: you never say anything bad about a teammate, you always give credit to the other team and you don’t blame cute little kittens for giving up Grand Slams.

When given the opportunity — heck we practically begged them to say it — neither Ned Yost nor Peter Moylan would blame a cat running on the field and the delay it caused for Moylan serving up a bases-loaded, center-cut sinker to Yadier Molina.

It happened in the sixth inning: the Royals had 5-4 lead, two outs and first base open. Switch-hitting Dexter Fowler was walked intentionally because Moylan does much better against right-handed hitters than lefties.

The Royals had the righty-on-righty matchup they wanted, but probably would have preferred that the right-handed hitter not be smoking hot: over the last 14 days Molina has hit .341 with a slugging percentage of .683. But this season lefties have hit .393 off Moylan, so the Royals decided pitching to Molina was the lesser of two evils.

Moylan threw ball one to Molina and that’s when the Kitten from Hell stopped the game.

While the unlucky Busch Stadium Cat Wrangler tracked down the frolicking feline, Moylan stood on the mound and waited. In the press box high above the field, I thought: this isn’t good.

A delay would bother a pitcher much more than a hitter. Pitching is about rhythm and pace. Hitting is about patience and then turning on the fan at the right time.

After standing around while the cat was corralled, Moylan threw a sinker that didn’t sink and Molina turned on the fan and hit the ball over the left-field fence. The Cardinals had an 8-5 lead that they would never surrender.

After the game Yost and Moylan would not blame the cat. If they said a kitten was the reason they lost the game it would sound like an excuse and excuses sound bad.

I, on the other hand, am not a ballplayer or a man who manages them and I’ve said so many things that sound bad, what’s one more?

The kitten might not have caused Peter Moylan to throw a sinker that didn’t sink, but it sure as heck didn’t help.

But go ahead and blame the walks

One of the things those of us who don’t play big-league baseball should understand is how often big-league pitchers use walks to their advantage.

From a pitcher’s point of view, there are good walks and bad walks.

Most of the time, a good walk is when a pitcher uses an open base to avoid a hitter who can hurt him. A bad walk is when a pitcher walks a hitter who can’t hurt him.

And in this Cardinals series we’ve seen a lot of bad walks.

On Wednesday night the Royals scored two runs in the top of the first inning and that meant the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter, Matt Carpenter, couldn’t hurt them. Even if Carpenter hit the ball over the Arch, the Royals would still have a one-run lead.

Nevertheless, starting pitcher Trevor Cahill walked Carpenter and that meant any subsequent Cardinals hitter could hurt them. Despite walking two batters in the first inning, Cahill and the Royals didn’t give up a run.

In the second inning, they wouldn’t be so lucky.

The Royals tacked on another run in the top of the second but, even with a three-run lead, Cahill walked Kolten Wong. He stole second base and scored on Randal Grichuk’s single.

In the third inning, with a 3-2 lead, Cahill walked leadoff batter Dexter Fowler. He stole second base and scored on Jedd Gyorko’s single.

In the fifth inning, with a 5-4 lead, Brandon Maurer gave up a leadoff single and then walked Matt Carpenter, pushing the tying run into scoring position. Carpenter scored when Yadier Molina hit his grand slam.

The Royals walked seven batters, one intentionally, four of them scored and Kansas City lost by three runs.

If a pitcher is working around a hot hitter, that’s one thing, but when a pitcher walks a nine-hole hitter with the bases loaded — and that happened in the first game of this Cardinal series — that’s another.

So far, in this three-game series, the Royals have walked 18 batters and they weren’t all good walks.

Thursday’s game

The Royals will try to salvage the final game of this four-game series by sending Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel is 5-9 with an ERA of 4.73, so the Royals need one of his better performances.

It would help if Hammel kept the bad walks to a minimum and in his last four starts Hammel has only walked a total of three batters.

But if a cat runs on the field, it’s all over.

Lee Judge: 816-234-4482, @leejudge8