Judging the Royals

An inside look at a brilliant play by Yadier Molina

After losing to the Cardinals 8-5 on Wednesday night, Royals base-running coach Rusty Kuntz sat in the visitor’s clubhouse and looked at a laptop computer.

It was clear Kuntz was tired, ready to shower and head back to the hotel, but first he wanted to understand what happened when Alcides Escobar tried to steal second base in the sixth inning. Considering the circumstances, Escobar should have been safe, but was still thrown out.

Here are those circumstances:

The guy at the plate was Brandon Moss and he was in a 1-2 count.

When pitchers get hitters into two-strike counts they often throw their nastiest breaking pitch, because nasty breaking pitches are hard to hit. But nasty breaking pitches are also hard to catch, so if a base runner guesses right, those nasty breaking pitches can be good pitches to run on.

The Royals guessed right and Escobar set sail for second base while Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman bounced a pitch in the dirt; it should have been an easy steal.

The pitch bounced well in front of the plate and most catchers have a hard time even blocking a pitch like that; but most catchers aren’t Yadier Molina.

With the pitch on its way to home plate and Escobar on his way to second base, Molina rose up out of his stance before the ball ever left Bowman’s hand; Yadi was getting his feet into throwing position.

When Bowman bounced the pitch, Molina reached down and made a backhand pick.

One more time: on a pitch most catchers would have trouble blocking at all, Molina was getting into throwing position by repositioning his feet while the pitch was on its way. He then casually reached down and caught the bounced pitch.

And as if that weren’t enough, before the ball reached second base, Molina was on his way to third; with Moss at the plate, the Cards had a shift on and if Molina’s throw happened to get away at second base, he’d be there to cover or back up third.

That’s presence of mind; the throw to second base had been made, Molina then thought about what might happen next and got moving.

When I saw the play live, I saw the pick of the bounced throw and knew it was an outstanding play; but I didn’t understand just how brilliant the play was until Kuntz took me through it frame-by-frame.

Kuntz has been involved in baseball for most of his adult life and there’s not much he hasn’t seen. But after all this time, a brilliant play like the one Molina made in the sixth inning still leaves Kuntz shaking his head in admiration.

It’s moments like that — even in a loss — that make the game worth watching.

For anyone who loves baseball, it was even better than a cat running on the field.

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