Judging the Royals

The Royals win ALCS game three: the key moment

Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning drove in what proved to be the winning run as the Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in game three of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. Jarrod Dyson scored on the play.
Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning drove in what proved to be the winning run as the Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in game three of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. Jarrod Dyson scored on the play. The Associated Press

It’s pretty hard to pick a play of the game in one that had so many key moments, but let’s give it a try anyway. I’m going with Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. The Royals have been ridiculously good when they have had a lead after six innings. Give a lead to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, and the ballgame is just about over.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Billy Butler gave his team the lead.

It started with a Nori Aoki single. Jarrod Dyson came out to pinc- run, but he wasn’t there to steal a base. Orioles left hander Wei-Yin Chen is ridiculously fast to home plate. He takes about 1.1 seconds to deliver a pitch. The average is 1.4.

But Dyson still gave the Royals an advantage. The Orioles’ first baseman had to hold Dyson on, and that gave Eric Hosmer a hole on the right side. Hosmer turned on a fastball, hit it through the hole at first base and Dyson motored to third.

With runners at first and third, Butler came to the plate, and Baltimore countered with Kevin Gausman. Get a groundball out of Butler, turn a double play and the game stays tied going into the seventh. But Butler hit a fly ball, not a groundball. Dyson tagged, scored easily and the Royals were able to hand a lead to one of the best bullpens in baseball. Game over.

The Royals beat the Orioles 2-1 and are one win away from the World Series.

Let me repeat that: The Royals beat the Orioles 2-1 and are one win away from the World Series.

Productive outs

Mention the term “productive outs” and some baseball fans get their underwear in knots. Why would any hitter want to make an out?

Well, he doesn’t want to make an out. He is still trying to get a hit, but he knows that if he does make an out of a certain type, it will be productive.

A fly ball to the outfield with a runner on third and fewer than two outs is an example. If it falls for a hit, great. If it gets caught, the out will be productive. The runner will tag and score.

Fantasy baseball is won by individuals putting up numbers. Real baseball is won by teams putting up numbers. And one of the ways to put up numbers is by making productive outs.

A defensive highlight reel

The Royals’ pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter after the third inning, but give some credit to the defense. There were plays being made all over the field.

Lorenzo Cain made two long runs to catch fly balls. Eric Hosmer made a diving, sliding play at first base. Salvador Perez blocked a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third, then caught a pop-up between home plate and the mound that was trickier than it looked. Alex Gordon made a diving catch. and Mike Moustakas made one — OK, now that I think about it, two — of the best catches you’ll ever see.

One was a diving catch of a line drive, and the other will be shown all over the country by the time you read this. Moose went into the stands to catch a pop fly, and the only catch better than the one Mike made was the one that the fans made. They saved him from landing on his head.

Even Royals fans are making highlight-reel catches.

Game notes

▪ After the game, closer Greg Holland praised Moustakas for separating his offense and defense. Guys need to do this. Stand out there moping about not getting any hits, and someone’s going to shoot a ball past you when you’re not paying attention.

▪ The Royals may be better suited to win a 2-1 game than the Orioles. A team that steals bases, lays down bunts and uses speed to go first to third has a better shot than a team that relies on the home run. If the pitchers are dealing, home runs are hard to come by.

▪ And home runs can be real hard to come by in Kauffman Stadium. The decision to pitch Jeremy Guthrie, who is known as a fly-ball pitcher, in Kansas City instead of Baltimore paid off. The Orioles’ J.J. Hardy hit a ball Tuesday night that might have been out in Camden Yards, but it stayed in the yard in Kauffman.

▪ The wind was blowing left to right, and balls were carrying to right-center field. Lorenzo Cain ran forever to make a catch. The play reminded me that when a fly ball is hit to the outfield, don’t look at the ball. Look at the outfielder. Most of the time, the outfielder’s body language will tell you whether the ball will be caught.

▪ My career in baseball journalism almost suffered a crushing blow. Mike Moustakas almost killed first-base coach Rusty Kuntz with a foul line drive. It’s hard to get out of the way because those line drives hook. You think you’re moving in the right direction, and the ball follows you.

But Rusty, a guy I talk to everyday, survived and had the presence of mind to high-five fans afterward.

Why ballplayers speak in cliches

Jarrod Dyson was honest and said what he thought: The series would not go back to Baltimore, and he didn’t think the Orioles thought it would, either. He told the truth. What the hell was Jarrod thinking?

Naturally, those of us in the media ran over to the Baltimore clubhouse, told them what Dyson had said and got their reaction. We started a controversy. Nah, that’s not right. Dyson started it, but we were happy to fan the flames.

When you hear a ballplayer speak in cliches, it’s not because he’s dumb. It’s because he’s smart. It’s not that ballplayers can’t think of anything original to say, it’s because cliches are safe. No one ever got in trouble for spewing cliches, and that’s why ballplayers use them.

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