Judging the Royals

The story behind the Salvador Perez homer

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) follows through on a solo home run in the second inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on June 20, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) follows through on a solo home run in the second inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on June 20, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Salvador Perez will chase a slider like it owes him money, but in the second inning of Saturday night’s game, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello threw Perez nothing but fastballs. The first one was a ball and Perez fouled the second one off. Then Porcello threw Perez two more fastballs and neither one hit the zone. The count was 3-1—a fastball count—and sure enough Salvador got a fifth straight fastball.

After seeing four fastballs Perez had a pretty good idea of what the fifth one would look like and to make matters worse for the Red Sox, Porcello missed his spot—the pitch was supposed to be down and away but drifted back over the heart of the plate. Perez crushed it and the game was tied.

It was only one run in a game where 11 were scored, so what makes it worth writing about?

Let’s back up to Thursday night so we have a little better understanding of what happened on Saturday night. On Thursday night the Royals sent 35 batters to the plate and only five of them took a called strike two. For the most part, once Kansas City hitters get one strike on them, they start hacking and are often willing to chase a pitcher’s pitch.

And on Thursday night with Salvador Perez at the plate, the pattern was clear: the Brewer’s pitchers would start Sal off with a "get-me-over" curve—a curve with less break on it that’s easier to control. Because hitters tend to look first-pitch fastball, Perez would take that first-pitch curve for strike one and then swing at the next pitch that came anywhere near the zone. That happened in three of his four at bats and it’s probably not the last time Sal will see that sequence.

But he didn’t see it in his first at bat on Saturday.

With a hitter at the plate who’s shown a willingness to chase sliders, Rick Porcello threw him five fastballs and paid the price.

So why throw five straight fastballs?

In the past few days I’ve been writing about secondary pitches (pitches that aren’t fastballs) and how soon pitches start to use them. Some pitchers like to go as deep as they can in a game with the fastball and then break out the slider or curve in later at bats. But ask around and you’ll hear that it’s usually the best pitchers who use that tactic; most guys have to use their best stuff right now or they might not be around later.

In the first two innings Rick Porcello threw 34 pitches and only six of them were off-speed. With Salvador Perez at the plate, maybe Porcello should’ve broken out that slider a little sooner.

If you’re standing still, you’re in the wrong place

If you saw the game you also saw Mookie Betts score from second base on a ball that didn’t go all the way to the pitcher’s mound. Dustin Pedroia took a check swing, tapped the ball and it rolled out in front of home plate.

Betts was running on the pitch and when he made the turn at third, saw home plate vacated. Salvador Perez had come out from behind the plate to field the ball and throw it to first, but pitcher Edinson Volquez failed to cover home.

I’ve seen all the play diagrams—who goes where and what play—and I’m almost positive there is no play where a player is instructed to stand around and watch. If you’re standing still, you’re in the wrong place—and Saturday night that cost the Royals a run.

Blame Bruce Dreckman

Saturday night David Ortiz got ejected from the game and you can blame home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera threw Ortiz four pitches and not one of them was a strike—and not one of them was that close to being a strike.

Nevertheless, home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called two of them strikes which probably explains why Ortiz chased a pitch down out of the zone—with two strikes he didn’t trust Dreckman to make the right call.

Ortiz singled and turned to bark at Dreckman from first base. Last I heard first base is 90 feet away from home plate so it would have been easy for Dreckman to ignore Ortiz, let the moment pass and the game continue. But Dreckman grew rabbit ears that would make Bugs Bunny envious and started barking back at Ortiz.

When the Red Sox DH made a dismissive gesture with his hand—one of those "to hell with you, go away" waves—Dreckman tossed him. As players will sometimes say to umpires: do you think anybody came out here to see you?

After Ortiz got tossed he was replaced with Rusney Castillo and in the ninth inning, guess who came to the plate with a runner on and two outs? So instead of a Greg Holland/David Ortiz matchup—which would have been pretty exciting—Royals fans got to see a Holland/Castillo matchup.

And you can blame Bruce Dreckman.

Looking for your keys

Nope, not your car keys. Good base stealers and good base stealing coaches watch video of pitchers and look for physical "keys" that give away their intentions. Rusty Kuntz—who’s pretty damn good at this—once told me how it took him 90 minutes to find the microscopic movement that one pitcher made when he was about to attempt a pickoff.

And that team had 13 pitchers.

When I remarked that it must be a pain in the posterior to find keys on 13 pitchers Rusty said: "Yeah, I know—this is what I do." I’m telling you this story so you can appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a player like Lorenzo Cain stealing three bases in one game, which he did Saturday night.

Before games I sometimes ask Rusty for the key on the starting pitcher and it gives me one more thing to look for—but I can’t tell you what they are or I’d have to kill you.

And if I did tell you what they are, Rusty would kill me.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost talks with the media before Sunday's game against the Boston Red Sox.

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