Judging the Royals

Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon save the game

If that headline confused you, I’ve done my job. In a game like this—a 4-1 extra-inning win by the Royals—lots of plays help decide the outcome. I could have said,

"Lance Berkman loses composure and game"

(he got thrown out in the first inning for arguing balls and strikes—I’m guessing the Rangers would have liked to have his bat in there) or

"A.J. Pierzynski whiffs on pitch and win"

(he failed to block a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third—it provided the only run the Royals would score in the first nine innings). I could have cited James Shields throwing seven innings and giving up only one run, or David Lough getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, or George Kottaras hitting a bases-loaded double to give the Royals insurance runs in the tenth.

Instead I tried to pick a couple of important, but obscure moments to make a point: if Mike Moustakas does not charge in and get David Murphy on a tough play to end the fifth, a runner would have scored and the Royals would have lost in nine innings. If Alex Gordon did not have a reputation for throwing runners out at the plate, maybe the Rangers third-base coach would have sent Mitch Moreland home on A.J. Pierzynski’s ninth inning bloop double and won the game right there.

That’s one of the many cool things about baseball: you never know what plays are important until the game is over. That’s why you run out every grounder and back up every base. It may be meaningless most of the time, but every once in a while it’s a play that saves the game.

Game notes First inning:

Alex Gordon led off the game with a groundout to first base and took an 0 for 4 on the day. Whether it’s the opponent on the mound or having Alcides Escobar hitting .252 behind him or it’s just coincidence; Alex is 3 for 19 since moving back into the leadoff spot.

Royals pitcher James Shields falls off to the first-base side of the pitching mound and that leaves him in a bad fielding position. In the bottom of the first, Elvis Andrus hit a 94-MPH fastball back up the middle and Shields wasn’t in a position to glove it, so he took it off the forearm instead. It must not have bothered him too much, he threw 105 more pitches.

Two batters later Lance Berkman got thrown out of the game after being called out on strikes. Hitters are not supposed to argue balls and strikes (probably because it would take all day to play a ballgame if it was allowed), but there is a way to do it and get away with it: the hitter keeps his head down so the fans don’t know what’s going on, doesn’t look at the umpire and says what he wants to say as he walks off. Berkman went about it in a way almost guaranteed to get him tossed: he got right in umpire Todd Tichenor’s face and gestured toward the plate. That way


knew there was an argument. Umpires don’t like being "shown up" and Berkman got tossed.

The biggest surprise was how long it took Rangers manager Ron Washington to arrive on the scene. The cameras never showed him before he got there, but managers and coaches will generally do their best to arrive quickly, get between the player and the umpire and start doing the player’s arguing for him. That way, if someone gets tossed, it’ll be the coach or manager—the player stays in the game.

By the way: the strike zone on TV showed the pitch well off the plate, the one on MLB.com showed it as a borderline pitch. Look at different websites and they’ll show pitches in slightly different locations. This stuff is not consistent so I wouldn’t swear by any of it.

Fifth inning:

With David Lough on third base, Rangers pitcher Nick Tepesch threw a pitch down and in to Alex Gordon. Tepesch missed catcher A.J. Pierzynski entirely, the ball went to the backstop, Lough scored and the play was ruled a passed ball. It probably should have been ruled a wild pitch, but Pierzynski did not move to get his body in front of the ball—he tried to glove it instead. Wild pitch or passed ball, it provided the only run the Royals would score in the first nine innings.

Seventh inning:

Lorenzo Cain singled, but Lough couldn’t move him into scoring position with a bunt. So when Adam Moore singled, Lorenzo went first-to-third instead of second-to-home. With one down and runners at first and third—a situation that requires getting the ball in play—Elliot Johnson struck out looking. You don’t see too many guys choke up with two strikes anymore—I’ve been told the game is not played that way these days.

Maybe they should bring that back.

With Alex Gordon at the plate Adam Moore stole second and that opened up first. Reliever Neal Cotts walked Gordon and pitched to Alcides Escobar. Alcides flew out to end the inning and the Royals did not get a run in.

Eighth inning:

Eric Hosmer singled and moved to second when the Rangers centerfielder dropped the ball after catching Billy Butler’s fly ball for the first out. Mike Moustakas struck out, then, with Cain at the plate, Hosmer stole third. Cain walked and David Lough finished the inning with a groundout to short. The Royals left runners in scoring position all day and missed opportunities always make you nervous.

And handing the opposition scoring opportunities in the next half-inning makes you even more nervous. With one down Elvis Andrus walked. David Murphy hit a fall ball down into the right field corner and David Lough drifted over to make the catch. Drifting over meant Lough was moving away from second base as he caught the ball. Andrus noticed the casual approach, tagged up at first and made it to second base. Had Lough hustled into position and then caught the ball with his momentum coming back toward second, Andrus may not have tagged.

The winning run was now in scoring position and the baseball gods have a way of punishing those who take things for granted. Somewhere along the way Jeff Baker—the guy who replaced Lance Berkman—must have ticked off the baseball gods even worse than Lough, because Baker hit a line shot that would have won the game for the Rangers; but he hit it right at Eric Hosmer.

Tenth inning:

Alcides Escobar singled and so did Eric Hosmer. Escobar went first to third on the play and when the throw came into third, Eric Hosmer hustled into second. That opened first base and the Rangers intentionally walked Billy Butler. Manager Ned Yost did not pinch hit for Mike Moustakas with the bases loaded and nobody down. Mike Struck out when he tried to call time and it was not granted. The count was 2-2 and Mike made the mistake of taking his hand off the bat and holding it up to the umpire when he called time. Todd Tichenor apparently decided the pitcher was already in his motion and did not grant Mike’s request. Probably better to call "Time", but keep both hands on the bat until you hear from the umpire—although it looks cooler to do it the other way.

Lorenzo Cain struck out on a pitch up out of the zone and it looked like the Royals were about to waste a golden bases-loaded-nobody-out-in-extra-innings opportunity. Then David Lough stepped in. As near as I can figure, the baseball gods said OK, we’re going to let you win this one, but because of that play in the eighth, it’s going to hurt. Lough got whacked on the wrist by a 93-MPH fastball to drive in the winning run. George Kottaras, who hasn’t done anything to make anyone mad—that I know of—lined a bases loaded double over right fielder Nelson Cruz’ head and the Royals had all the runs they’d need to win this one.

Royals 4-Rangers 1.

Big-league coaches

One day last week I was talking to outfield and base-running coach Rusty Kuntz when Jeff Francoeur walked by. "Rusty, what’s this guy got?" Frenchy was talking about the other team’s starting pitcher and what he would do with runners on base.

"He’s got a big and a little move" and Rusty then demonstrated both of them. He gave Frenchy the guy’s delivery times with a runner on first and a runner on second, and told Jeff with a runner on second base the guy would look back twice, but no more than that. So how did Rusty know all that off the top of his head?

Hard work.

Big-league coaches spend hours looking at video to collect useful information for their players. For a 7:10 game, it’s not unusual for coach to be there before lunch. They study charts, watch video—anything that will help them detect a pickoff move or pick up a pitch pattern that they can pass along to the guys who will actually play the game. And the guys who actually play the game should also be doing their own homework. Being in the big leagues is a lot more nose-to-the-grindstone work than most casual baseball fans—and some casual baseball players—think it is.

So when George Brett was announced as hitting coach a lot of people familiar with the process wondered what that meant: would George be showing up at 12:30 to watch video? Turns out that’s Pedro Grifol’s job. Ned Yost has said Pedro will be doing the legwork, watching the videos and doing the reports. It’s helpful if a hitter knows that in a 1-2 count, 72% of the time the guy on the mound throws a slider to a left-handed hitter. It doesn’t mean you’ll hit it or you won’t get blown up by a fastball on the hands 28% of the time, but it does help the hitter prepare for the percentage pitch in that situation.

As far as I know, there doesn’t seem to be a reason that the Brett-Grifol arrangement can’t work (but then I don’t know very far). As long as they get on the same page—and there does seem to have been some confusion about what the Royals have been trying to do at the plate—they can work together to get the job done. Ned Yost and Jack Maloof didn’t seem to get on the same page, maybe George Brett and Pedro Grifol can.