Judging the Royals

Why managers don’t use closers in tie games on the road

Royals relief pitcher Yohan Pino walks back to the dugout as the Tigers celebrate their 6-5 win in the ninth inning of Friday's baseball game in Detroit.
Royals relief pitcher Yohan Pino walks back to the dugout as the Tigers celebrate their 6-5 win in the ninth inning of Friday's baseball game in Detroit. AP

Friday night the Tigers beat the Royals after Yohan Pino came into a tie game to pitch the ninth inning; Pino gave up a double to Anthony Gose and after Ian Kinsler bunted, Yohan picked up the ball and launched it into foul territory. Gose scored on Pino’s error and the Tigers walked off with a 6-5 victory.

So with the game tied in the ninth inning, why not use closer Greg Holland?

The answer to that question is a second question: if Greg Holland throws a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth inning, the game is still tied — who throws the bottom of the 10th?

When a team is on the road a manager does not use his closer in a game tied in the ninth inning because even if the closer does his job the manager will still have to use another reliever.

When a team is at home managers will use their closer in a game that’s tied in in the ninth inning because there’s at least a chance the manager will not have to use another reliever; if his team scores in the bottom of the ninth the game’s over.

And even if his team doesn’t score in the bottom of the ninth inning, they’ll get another shot at winning in the bottom of the 10th. That’s why Detroit manager Brad Ausmus used his closer — Joakim Soria — in the top of the ninth.

On the road a closer can come in and do his job and a half-inning later it’s all for naught. Because the manager knows that at some point he has to use someone other than his closer if the game goes to extra innings, he tends to save his best reliever until he has a lead. Then he knows if the closer can throw a scoreless inning he'll get a win.

Say Yost used Holland to get the game to the 10th inning and then Pino gave it up. Ned would have burned his closer in a loss and, because Holland pitched on Thursday, not had him available for Saturday — and then we could all complain about that.

Plays at the plate

After Buster Posey got busted, baseball started worrying about plays at the plate. A catcher blocking the plate while the runner tries to blast the ball loose is now frowned upon.

So these days, what’s supposed to happen on a play at the plate?

If a catcher puts his left foot on the foul line and points his toes toward third, everything should be OK. Pointing his toes toward third means any slide into the catcher will hit the front of his leg, the leg will be protected by the shin guard while the leg is pushed straight back. If the catcher’s toes are pointed toward the pitching mound, the unprotected side of the leg will be hit and the ankle or knee can be twisted in ways the human body doesn’t care for.

And putting the left foot on the line gives the runner a place to go; the back half of the plate. Straddling the line blocks the entire plate and that’s when runners have to try to bulldoze the catcher. With the foot on the line, the runner has no need to hit the catcher and the catcher can receive the throw without getting blasted and then turn to make the tag.

OK, that’s a lot of explaining, but I needed to do it so the next bit is clear:

Last night Salvador Perez had a couple plays at the plate and he set up out in front; his left foot was not on the line, it was a foot to two feet in fair territory. So when Sal received the throw he had a longer tag. If a throw pulls the catcher away from the line, that’s one thing, but Perez was never there; he took his position out in front of the plate.

When Ian Kinsler singled and Andrew Romine scored, you could see this clearly. Set up closer to home plate and maybe Romine is out.

Other stuff from Friday night’s game

Plays at the plate that involve a throw from right field are the most difficult kind; the catcher has to leave his left foot in place while turning toward right field to receive the throw. That means the catcher loses sight of the runner. On a couple of occasions the Tigers successfully challenged right fielder Paulo Orlando’s arm, so that might mean they’ll keep doing it when given the opportunity.

David Price had to leave the game when he went into foul territory to back up home plate and stepped on a bat. Alex Gordon had just singled and dropped his bat at home plate. Eric Hosmer was trying to score from second base. I didn’t see it on the replay, but I assume the Tigers catcher, James McCann, picked up the bat and flipped it into foul territory because that’s what catchers do when there’s going to be a play at the plate. After that, the bat is the bat boy’s responsibility and the Royals bat boy could be seen sitting on a chair outside the dugout — he never moved a muscle — so the bat was still there when Price ran to back up home. I now realize I don’t know exactly when a bat boy is supposed to spring into action — you’d think they’d want him to clear the area right away — but I’ll check and get back to you.

Christian Colon was playing third base and had his problems. He threw a ball into right field when he was trying to make a play at second and made a couple more bad throws — one to home and one to first — but his teammates saved him. Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer have great hands and without those great hands Colon might have had three errors in one game.

When a guy plays third or second base he has time to think before he throws, shortstops don’t. Come to think of it — and if a reader knows different let us know — I can’t think of a shortstop who has ever had the throwing yips. It’s seems like it’s always guys who have time to think about the throw before letting it go.

In the four-run bottom of the second, Yordano Ventura was getting beat by grounders bleeding through the infield. There were five hits that inning and four were groundballs. If a pitcher is giving up gap shots that’s one thing; if he’s getting beat on groundballs most managers will stick with him and figure the odds will even out eventually.