Judging the Royals

How Mike Moustakas almost killed me

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas The Kansas City Star

There are a million unwritten rules in baseball. (OK, I actually don’t know how many unwritten rules there are because they’re unwritten — but a million sounded good, didn’t it?)

One of those unwritten rules is that you always face the field during batting practice. Balls are coming off the bat hot and they can hit the framework of the pitching screen and shoot off at an unexpected angle. I’ve seen people standing behind the batting cage get hit when a line drive went off the edge of the screen that protects the pitcher.

So anytime you’re on the field, don’t turn your back to it.

And here’s another one: don’t sit or stand behind first base. While the hitters are hitting, coaches are also serving up fungos to the infielders and those infielders are throwing the ball to the first baseman. The guy at first base also has a protective screen between him and home plate because teams don’t want someone taking a line drive in the head while they were looking at the shortstop.

And the media should never linger behind first base because an infielder might overthrow the first baseman—and it might not always be an accident. It’s not unheard of for a ballplayer to send a little message to a reporter by launching a ball in their direction.

I once had a naïve, young TV reporter ask me if I thought it would be alright if she did her live shot from the middle of the field during BP. I told her that the players would probably enjoy it immensely, but it wasn’t such a hot idea.

So back to Tuesday night and I was sitting in the dugout, out of the line of fire, facing the field, talking to Star columnist, Vahe Gregorian. TV reporter Karen Kornacki was standing outside the dugout with a cameraman, preparing to do a live shot.

I heard a belated "Heads up!" and a baseball appeared about a foot away from me and smacked the dugout wall approximately two inches to my right. Apparently, it went between Karen and the cameraman, took out a cup of water, almost hit me and then came close to hitting Vahe in the head. So then I wondered where the hell that ball came from because there was just no angle on the field that would explain its trajectory.

That’s when a concerned Mike Moustakas came in the dugout to see if everyone was alright—it was his throw that scattered everyone. When Moose found out I was the one that almost got smoked by the ball, his mood changed somewhat: he started giggling.

"Lee, it was a good throw, but I hit the screen."

"Moose, it wasn’t that good a throw—you hit the screen."

Now that you know the full story it should be clear that Mike Moustakas did not really almost kill me; if he had hit me by accident I’m sure I would have survived—but you read the article, didn’t you?

It was a good pitch

Since we’re on the subject—kind of—Jason Vargas gave up a home run in the first inning to Michael Brantley and afterwards several people described it as a "good pitch." But just like Mike’s throw, it wasn’t that good a pitch if it ended up leaving the yard.

The pitch was an 89-MPH fastball that was supposed to be inside, but Vargas left the pitch a little bit out over the plate and definitely up. When you watch a replay of a big hit, focus on the catcher’s mitt; how much it moves will tell you how far off the pitcher’s location was.

And if your fastball’s in the mid-eighties, you can’t afford to miss by much.

If you don’t know, any explanation will do

Sometimes we don’t really understand why something happened, but most human beings are really bad at saying "I don’t know"—so we make something up instead. We find patterns and connections where none exist.

Alex Gordon hits a home run because it’s Alex Gordon Bobblehead Day or Nebraska Cornhusker night or whatever the hell it was. I’m only guessing, but the pitch that was thrown to Gordon might have had more to do with the home run than whatever promotion was going on that day. If Alex Gordon could hit a home run at will, why wouldn’t he do it every time he comes to the plate?

This season the Royals are 9-0 in series openers. I’m guessing that’s a coincidence because the other explanation is that the Royals had a team meeting and decided to try really hard in the first game of a series and mail it in after that. If the Royals could control when they win, why wouldn’t they win every game?

Tuesday night Cleveland Indians scored two runs in the top of the first and the Royals came right back and scored three in the bottom half of the inning. After the game Ned Yost was asked about the Royals propensity for immediately scoring right after their opponents put runs on the board and Ned said it was random. Ned’s got a point: go back and look at a scorebook and you find plenty of innings in which the opponents scored and the Royals didn’t come back to put anything on the board in the next half inning. If the Royals could score whenever they wanted to, why wouldn’t they score in every inning?

Tuesday night the Royals faced Cleveland Indians starter, Danny Salazar. This season Salazar has an ERA of 3.81, but look a little closer at his 2015 numbers and you find Salazar’s first inning ERA is 11.25—and there a plenty of logical explanations for that.

Getting used to a mound—especially on the road—finding a rhythm, figuring out what pitches are working best that night, getting a look at the opposition hitters and any adjustments they’ve made recently and how to adjust back; the list goes on.

I’d like to tell you why Danny Salazar has struggled in the first inning, but I don’t know—and he might not either. Saying "I don’t know" is not the worst sin in journalism, but pretending you know is close. 


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