Back when I was playing softball and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I found myself in right field while my best friend from high school played center. A ball was hit over my head and I took off at what for me was a dead sprint. I had my eye on the ball all the way, but knew I was getting near the fence.
My best friend and teammate yelled: "You’ve got room!" Unfortunately, his judgement was a bit off and before he got to the "m" in "room" I hit the chain-link fence going full speed. The metal bar at the top of the fence caught me chest high and the chain link flexed and shot me back toward the infield at about twice the speed I’d previously been traveling.
As I lay on the ground feeling like Joe Frazier had punched me in the sternum, wondering where all the oxygen in the atmosphere had gone, my friend leaned over me and said, "Well, I thought you had room." Not only did I not have room, the ball cleared the fence by about 20 feet. I’m proud to say that my myopic friend with the bad spatial judgement is now an actual medical doctor, making life and death decisions every day.
Ballplayers like my buddy are why they invented warning tracks. Every good ballpark has a warning track and even if you’re looking up at the ball, you know you’re about to hit something solid when you step off grass and on to dirt.
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When that happens a whole lot of big league ballplayers ease up; they want to stay healthy, so they slow down when they hit the warning track. Pay attention to this and you’ll see which guys are more worried about their personal health than catching the ball—and that’s not always a bad thing. You don’t want to lose a player because he challenged a wall in a game his team was losing by six runs. But when it matters, you might want your outfielder to try to make the catch.
Now let’s talk about Alex Gordon.
In Sunday’s game against the White Sox, Alex hit the track and just kept going, over the low fence separating the field from the fans and into the seats down the left-field line. Gordon caught the ball, took a Chicago White Sox fan out with a body-check, then fell headfirst between a couple rows of seats. Alex then held his glove up with the ball inside so the umpires would know he made the catch for the first out of the sixth inning.
And that’s part of why old-school ballplayers love Alex Gordon.
Talk to guys who played big league baseball back in the day and you might hear about the current generation being soft. It’s been my experience that every generation thinks the generation that follows it kind of sucks, but no matter how old-school the retired player is, you never hear a bad word about Alex Gordon. As far as the old-school guys are concerned Gordon plays the game right; and that includes running into solid objects in order to make important catches.
Gordon also works harder than anybody else.
The Royals want their outfielders to power shag at least one hitting group. Power shagging is playing balls hit in batting practice just like you would play them in a game. Go with the same intensity, run the same routes and come up ready to throw. Since outfielders are required to do that for one hitting group, Gordon does it for two.
Gordon pumps weights, stays in shape and eats right. I’ve been told that Alex has not had a bite of pizza since he was nine years old. To see Alex Gordon with his shirt off is to understand what the human body was supposed to look like before they invented the bacon double-cheeseburger.
Alex Gordon leads by example, but sometimes it’s an example that’s hard to follow.
A while back an outfielder came up from the minor leagues and asked coach Rusty Kuntz what he needed to do to stay in the big leagues. Rusty pointed at Alex and said, "Go where he goes, do what he does." I asked Rusty if the kid followed his advice and he said no, the kid couldn’t keep up with Alex.
In fact the one complaint about Alex Gordon is that he doesn’t complain enough; he’s pretty quiet and some people would like to see him be more vocal with some of the younger players.
Alex Gordon may not talk the talk, but he definitely walks the walk: if you haven’t seen that catch yet, go watch the video and you’ll see what that means.
And that’s about as old-school as you get.
Playing the odds and Sunday’s loss
Smart ballplayers play the odds, dumb ones just play. It’s kind of like a casino; smart gamblers count cards (until they get caught), dumb ones bet their lucky numbers or anniversary dates. So what does this have to do with Sundays 5-3 loss to the White Sox?
Let’s go back to where the Royals lost the lead and see if we can figure out how that happened. After the game starting pitcher Edinson Volquez said that in his last two innings he lost command of his curveball and if you go through the pitches Volquez threw in that sixth inning, you can see what he was talking about.
- Volquez threw five pitches to Micah Johnson, one was a curve and it was a ball.
- Adam Eaton saw two pitches; one was a curve and it was a ball.
- Melky Cabrera saw five pitches; one was a changeup and it was a ball.
- Jose Abreu saw three pitches; one was a changeup and it was a ball. (Sensing a pattern?)
- The first three pitches Adam LaRoche saw were a curve and two changeups; all were balls. Volquez then threw two fastballs to get back in the count, 3-2, then went back to the curve and it was lined into centerfield for an RBI single.
- Avisail Garcia saw two fastballs and singled on the second one.
- Alexei Ramirez struck out on three pitches; the last one was a curve—the only off-speed pitch that resulted in something good happening.
- Volquez threw Conor Gillaspie two curves, missed with both and the count was 2-0.
So let’s stop here and review the situation:
The bases were loaded and the game was on the line. There were two outs, the tying run was on third base, the go ahead run was on second and Conor Gillaspie was in a 2-0 count. In the sixth inning Volquez had thrown seven curveballs and four changeups; nine of those off-speed pitches were balls and of the two off-speed pitches thrown for strikes, one was lined into centerfield for a single.
So if you’re Conor Gillaspie and you’re in a 2-0 count and you’ve been paying attention and know Volquez is struggling with his off-speed stuff, what pitch do you think you’re going to see next?
If you said fastball, you were right; but Gillaspie fouled it off. So the count was 2-1; now what pitch do you think you’re going to get?
If you doubled down on fastball, congratulations, go to the cashier’s window and collect your winnings. When Conor Gillaspie got the second fastball in a row—a pitch he probably knew was coming—he lined it into right field for a single, two RBIs and a lead the Sox would never give back.
Play the right odds and you have a better chance of winning and if a pitcher can’t throw his off-speed stuff for strikes, look fastball.