Judging the Royals

Kendrys Morales tries easier, not harder, and that approach pays off

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales connected on the game-winning single in the 10th inning Sunday.
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales connected on the game-winning single in the 10th inning Sunday. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

During Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels, a frustrated fan posted on Twitter that the Royals needed to “ratchet up” their offense, probably because the Angels starting pitcher — Hector Santiago — gave up three hits in the first inning and then shut the Royals down after that.

But there is no dial you can turn and “ratchet up” an offense, and if there were, turning it up would be the exact wrong thing to do.

Baseball is a funny sport: unlike football or basketball, trying harder is the wrong approach. Try to throw a baseball harder or swing a bat harder is counterproductive. You tighten up and actually lose velocity and bat speed.

Ask a ballplayer who’s in a hot streak what he’s doing and you’ll hear some version of “I’m not trying to do too much.” Players know that trying harder won’t work, because they’ve all tried harder and seen the results. I’ve heard Jason Kendall say that in a big situation, with the game on the line, the player who can back off will succeed.

After Kendrys Morales hit a 10th-inning, walk-off single to win Sunday night’s game, Andy McCullough asked Ned Yost if a single to the opposite field was an indication of why Kendrys Morales succeeds in RBI situations — Ned said yes.

Kendrys was not trying to hit a home run or drive a ball in the gap; Morales knew a single to the opposite field would get the job done and trying to hit the ball the other way gave him the best chance of succeeding. Pulling the ball might produce a more impressive hit, but his odds of getting that hit would probably go down.

George Brett — a fairly decent clutch player — had a mantra he’d use in big situations: “Try easier.” In big situations George figured adrenaline would take care of his effort, but he needed to back off just a bit to stay under control.

Sunday night in front of 36,845 people and a national TV audience, Kendrys Morales hit a game winner because he tried easier.

Quinn Wolcott had a bad series

People forget there are three teams involved in a baseball game; the home team, the visiting team and the team of umpires — and if the Angels series was any indication, umpires can have slumps, too.

Before Sunday’s game umpire Quinn Wolcott had two of his calls overturned when he umpired second base and one call overturned when he was umpiring at first. So being behind home plate gave Quinn quite a few more chances to screw up — and he did.

Both teams were frustrated by the strike zone and afterwards some players were talking about “makeup calls.” A makeup call works like this: the umpire misses a pitch and calls a ball a strike. He realizes he may have missed that pitch, and to make up for it, he then calls a strike a ball. The only problem with this time-honored approach of bad officiating is it leaves everyone confused: just where the heck is the strike zone tonight?

Eric Hosmer had words with Wolcott, Angels pitcher Huston Street threw his hands up in frustration and Salvador Perez got ejected for asking where a pitch was.

Umpire Quinn Wolcott had a bad series.

Don’t forget Drew Butera’s ninth-inning walk

After Perez got ejected from the game, Drew Butera took his place behind home plate. So in the ninth inning with one down and Eric Hosmer on second base, the Angels chose to intentionally walk Mike Moustakas so they could pitch to Drew. Butera makes his living as catch-and-throw guy (more on that in a moment) but his lifetime batting average is .184.

Fortunately, for Drew and Royals fans, Butera has played for the Angels and knows quite a bit about pitcher Huston Street. After the game, Drew said he knew Street “wouldn’t give in,” which is baseball slang for throwing a “cookie” — which is baseball slang for a pitcher throwing a hittable fastball and counting on his defense to make a play.

Butera thought Street would continue to pitch him tough throughout the at-bat, and Drew was right. MLB.com shows Street throwing Butera seven sliders — although Drew says he actually got one changeup in there.

Despite walking Moustakas to get to Butera, Street walked Drew and loaded the bases. Moving Eric Hosmer over to third allowed him to score on an Alex Rios sacrifice fly. Kendrys Morales will get a lot of attention for his 10th-inning game-winner, but don’t forget Drew Butera’s ninth-inning walk.

Drew Butera; catch-and-throw guy

Let’s go back to the top of the ninth inning in the first game of the Angels series. Greg Holland was on the mound and Butera was behind the plate. Holland was all over the place that night and two pitches got past Drew and made it to the backstop. Those two wild pitches led some fans to say Butera was not good enough to handle the Royals staff.

But if you ask around — and I did — Drew Butera is considered an above average “catch-and-throw” guy. He’s not going to hit a ton, but he can handle the defensive side of the ball and give your regular catcher a night off.

I don’t remember one of the wild pitches, but I do remember the other one: it was a slider that Holland bounced out in front of home plate — which means he was missing badly — and it took a weird hop on its way back to Drew. As someone pointed out to me on Sunday afternoon, Holland threw quite a few pitches in the dirt that night and Drew blocked all but the two worst ones.

Holland gave Butera fits that night, but Butera is still considered an above-average defender — no matter what talk-radio callers say.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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