Judging the Royals

Astros’ Altuve scores a game-winner from first, but Gordon Game 7 comparisons stop there

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez looks at the ball in the dirt as the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve (27) scores the game-winning run on Carlos Correa’s ninth-inning double in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez looks at the ball in the dirt as the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve (27) scores the game-winning run on Carlos Correa’s ninth-inning double in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. New York Daily News/TNS

In Game 2 of this year’s ALCS, the Yankees and Astros entered the bottom of the ninth inning tied 1-1. With one out, Jose Altuve singled, then Carlos Correa doubled to right center.

When Altuve reached third base, Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis waved him home.

The one-hop throw to the plate beat Altuve, but Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez couldn’t handle it, the ball got away and Altuve scored the winning run.

The next day a friend of mine said that’s why Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Gordon home in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series; maybe the Giants would have screwed up and Gordon would have scored.

Three years and a World Series championship later and some people still can’t get over that play.

Why those two plays are different

First, let’s start with the number of outs:

There was only one down when Altuve was sent home. If he’d been thrown out at the plate, the Astros would have had two down, a runner in scoring position and one more shot at winning the game in the bottom of the ninth. When Jirschele held Gordon there were two down. If Gordon had been thrown out at the plate the game would have been over.

Second, the score:

The Astros were tied and if they didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, they still had a chance to win in extra innings; they could afford to take a chance. In 2014 the Royals were down by one run; if Gordon had been thrown out at the plate, game over.

Third, the position of the ball:

After Correa doubled to right center, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge picked up the ball and overthrew the cutoff man. When Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis decided to send Altuve, the throw was still in the air on its way to the infield. When Jirschele held Gordon, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford already had the ball in his hands.

Fourth, the catcher:

Gary Sanchez had trouble catching the ball all season; at the time of the Gordon play, Buster Posey was a two-time All Star.

Good coaches think plays through before they ever happen

Once a ball is put in play things happen too quickly to think through every factor. So good coaches study scouting reports and think about situations before they arise.

In 2014 Mike Jirschele knew Brandon Crawford had a strong arm and wasn’t a guy the Royals wanted to run on.

In 2015 Jirschele was a hero because he noticed the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista had the habit of throwing the ball to the wrong base. If the right opportunity presented itself, Jirschele was going to challenge Bautista and in Game 6 of the ALCS he did. Lorenzo Cain scored from first base on a single and that play won the ALCS and sent the Royals to the World Series.

Good coaches pay attention to this stuff, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Astros decided to pressure Gary Sanchez whenever they got the opportunity; pressuring Buster Posey had less chance of working.

If you’re not convinced, I’m not surprised

After the Royals lost the 2014 World Series, Royals GM Dayton Moore was asked if he thought his third-base coach should have sent Gordon home in Game 7 and Dayton asked the questioner if he knew the third-base coach’s name. When the questioner admitted he didn’t, Dayton said: “You would if he sent him.”

With the help of the Rockhurst University baseball team, we recreated the end of the play. While Alex Gordon stopped at third in the real game, we told a Rockhurst baserunner to keep running through third base and a defender positioned in left fie

The Kansas City Star tried to duplicate the Gordon play with college players and while there’s a big difference between college and big-league players, the results of The Star’s experiment showed Gordon would have been out.

In a 2015 spring training game the same situation presented itself and this time Jirschele sent Gordon and Gordon was out by at least 10 feet. After that game I asked Jirschele if he did it on purpose so we could see what would have happened had he sent Gordon in Game 7, and he wouldn’t confirm or deny it, but got a huge smile on his face when I asked the question.

Jirschele once asked Brandon Crawford why he didn’t go ahead and make the throw home; then people would have seen Gordon had no shot and Jirchele would have been off the hook. Crawford said he held the ball because he wanted Jirchele to send Gordon home; he knew he could throw Gordon out.

I’ve written about all this before, but people still aren’t convinced.

People still talk about that play and give me reasons Jirschele should have tried sending Gordon. I won’t be 100 percent surprised if I’m on my deathbed and someone says: “Before you go, don’t you think Jirschele should have sent Gordon?”

Because no matter how much time passes or how much evidence there is that Jirschele made the right decision, it’s still the play we can’t get over.

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