Judging the Royals

How the stolen base might have helped Eric Hosmer hit that home run

Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6) just beat out the throw to Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) for a single in the 11th inning during Friday's ALDS baseball game on October 4, 2014 at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6) just beat out the throw to Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) for a single in the 11th inning during Friday's ALDS baseball game on October 4, 2014 at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. The Kansas City Star

The Royals have been stealing bases like crazy and those stolen bases may have helped Eric Hosmer hit a home run.

Before Hosmer hit the game winner in the eleventh inning, Lorenzo Cain hit an infield single. With the score tied, Angel’s reliever Kevin Jepsen wanted to keep Lorenzo at first base. When pitchers want a runner to stay put, they try to speed up their delivery to home plate. That gets the ball into the catcher’s hands as quickly as possible and that can shut down the running game.

One of the ways pitchers get the ball to catchers more quickly is to throw a fastball—in this case, a 95-MPH fastball. Hitters know pitchers like to throw fastballs with a base stealer on first, so smart hitters are ready—and Eric Hosmer was.

Hosmer crushed the first pitch he saw and it was a no doubter; it wasn’t a high fly ball, it was a laser beam over the right field wall. Eric watched for a moment, then flipped the bat away and started his trip around the bases.

So if you like home runs, remember: sometimes a fast guy on first can help the guy at the plate hit one.

The Kansas City Royals: the most athletic team in baseball?

Way back when the Texas Rangers were in town I asked Tim Bogar—the Rangers’ bench coach at the time—what he thought of the Kansas City Royals. Bogar said complimentary things and one of them was about the team's athleticism. In a park the size of Kauffman, putting good athletes in the outfield is a necessity. And if you can’t afford home run hitters, you better have guys fast enough to steal a base and score from second on single.

If you’ve been watching all season you probably know that the team has some exceptional athletes, but now a national audience is seeing the Royals play outstanding defense, steal bases, break up double plays and make the most out of infield hits. Friday night was no exception.

The Royals turned three double plays and the most notable one involved Jarrod Dyson making a running catch in centerfield and then throwing out a runner trying to advance to third. Mike Moustakas was on the receiving end of the throw and did his bit; he caught the ball and then dove back to third base to apply the tag. The Kansas City Royals have one of, if not the, most athletic teams in baseball.

And after beating the Angels 4-1 in extra innings that athletic team is one win away from playing for the American League championship.

Game notes

*Mike Trout tried to steal second in the first inning, but was thrown out by Salvador Perez. Trout slid headfirst and that allowed Omar Infante to "drop a knee" on him. Dropping a knee means an infielder will go to one knee and block a base runner’s path to the base. Trout appeared to jam his thumb when his hand hit Infante’s leg.

Base runners can respond to infielders who drop a knee by coming in feet first, spikes up. Now it’s the infielder who can get hurt and they won’t be so anxious to block a runner’s path to the base.

*Mike Moustakas bunted for a single against a left-handed shift; something he said he wouldn’t do. He told me his plan was to go over or through the shift, but clearly Moose changed plans. Maybe being in the playoffs changed his mind.

*Josh Hamilton has hole in his swing up and in and he also chases breaking pitches down out of the zone. Until he makes an adjustment Royals pitchers can keep going to those spots for outs.

*Hamilton hit Salvador Perez with a bat when he swung and missed and a long follow though caught the Royals catcher in the head. The Royals trainer came out to check Sal for a concussion and it reminded me of a story: Perez got hit in the head on another occasion, he was asked who the president was and Sal had a question of his own—which country?

*In the fourth inning Albert Pujols struck out looking and tried to lobby the home plate umpire. If a guy's a big enough star, he might get the strike zone changed in a future at bat.

*Playoff baseball is different in many ways and one of those ways are the built-in days off; they give the relievers a chance to rest and that means the best relievers are available on most nights.

*Yordano Ventura threw seven innings and that made up for the absence of Kelvin Herrera. Wade Davis, Jason Frasor, Brandon Finnegan and Greg Holland threw four scoreless innings out of the pen and once again held the Angels down while waiting for the offense to give them a lead.

How fans can help on Sunday

These Royals have been playing baseball since February and ballplayers will tell you they get tired. But players will also tell you they get a burst of energy when they hit the playoffs. Some of that energy comes from the huge crowds that show up, so if Royals fans want to help their team, they should be loud and enthusiastic. Having attended the Wild Card playoff game I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.