Judging the Royals

The Royals, Mike Jirschele and the third-base coach’s dilemma

Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele doesn’t fans’ sympathy, but his is one of the tougher jobs on the coaching staff.
Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele doesn’t fans’ sympathy, but his is one of the tougher jobs on the coaching staff. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you’re one of those people who think Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home in the 2014 World Series, Friday night you got your wish.

And it didn’t work out so hot.

In the sixth inning of Friday night’s game, the Royals were trailing the White Sox 7-6. With two outs, Alex Gordon doubled and five pitches later Whit Merrifield singled; the ball was hit to right field. Chicago outfielder Avisail Garcia was playing shallow and Gordon stepped on third base just as Garcia bent down to pick up the ball.

When a third-base coach makes a decision about sending a runner home, he has to quickly weigh the odds: what are the chances of the runner scoring if the coach sends him, and what are the chances of the runner eventually scoring if the coach holds the runner at third?

And a third-base coach doesn’t have much time to make up his mind.

Lorenzo Cain was the on-deck hitter, and Cain’s having a good year, but if Jirschele thought the odds of Gordon scoring on a bad throw from Garcia were better than the odds of Gordon scoring on a two-out hit from Cain, sending the runner was the right call.

But Garcia didn’t make a bad throw; the ball was already in catcher Omar Narvaez’s mitt as Gordon started his slide. Gordon was out and the sixth inning was over.

Sending Merrifield in the ninth

Going into the top of the ninth inning, the Royals were still down 7-6 and hadn’t scored in five straight innings.

After Gordon had been thrown out to end the sixth inning, the Royals didn’t get another runner in scoring position until there was one out in the ninth. Scoring chances were hard to come by and the Royals were running out of time.

This time the runner in scoring position was Whit Merrifield.

After Merrifield singled and stole second base, Lorenzo Cain hit a line drive to right field. Merrifield had to hold up to make sure the line drive got through the infield and didn’t get the greatest jump off second base. But as Garcia came in to field Cain’s single, the Chicago outfielder stumbled and fell to one knee.

Jirschele once again decided to send the runner, but once again Garcia made a good throw and once again a Royals runner was thrown out at home plate.

And there was worse to come.

Cain did not take advantage

On a single to right field with a throw to the plate, the first baseman acts as the cutoff man and heads to the middle of the infield, somewhere near the pitcher’s mound.

The first baseman is facing the outfield, so the catcher lets him know if he should cut the ball off or let the ball go through to the plate. If the first baseman lets the ball go through to the plate, he fakes cutting the ball off in an attempt to freeze the runner at first base.

But Chicago’s first baseman, Jose Abreu, never got to the right spot and never faked a cut.

Cain hesitated anyway, and by the time he got going again, he was thrown out trying to advance to second base.

Trying to get into scoring position with two outs was the right move, but Cain’s execution was faulty. Narvaez had time to throw the ball to second baseman Yoan Moncada, who was covering first base, and Moncada had time to relay the ball to shortstop Tim Anderson, who was covering second base.

Anderson put the tag on Cain and the game ended on a 9-2-4-6 double play.

What if Jirschele hadn’t sent the runners?

After Gordon was thrown out to end the sixth inning, Cain started the seventh inning by making an out.

If Jirchele had held up Gordon and Cain made that out to end the sixth inning, you know somebody would say Jirschele needed to be more aggressive about sending runners with two outs; maybe someone would make a bad throw.

That’s exactly what some people said about Jirchele after he held Gordon at third base in the 2014 World Series.

And if Jirschele had not sent Merrifield in the ninth on Friday, you know somebody would say Jirschele needed to be more aggressive about sending runners when an outfielder falls down during a play.

Those of us who don’t wear a uniform and stand in the third base coach’s box have the luxury of waiting until a play is over before deciding what should have been done. There’s a saying in baseball: people second-guess because their first guess wasn’t worth a damn.

Mike Jirschele has been in baseball long enough to know that when a third base coach makes a decision and that decision doesn’t work out, he’s going to get criticized.

It’s the third-base coach’s dilemma.

If he holds the runner and the runner doesn’t score, the third-base coach needed to be more aggressive; if he sends the runner and the runner gets thrown out, the third base coach should have been more cautious.

And if you’re thinking the decisions Jirschele made Friday night against the White Sox aren’t exactly the same as the decision he made back in 2014, you’re right.

Back then, Gordon would have been thrown out at the plate by a much greater distance.