Judging the Royals

The ninth inning: Mike Jirschele makes two decisions, one works, one doesn’t

Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan reaches up to tag out Kansas City Royals' Omar Infante (14) after he tried to stretch a triple into an inside the park home run during the ninth inning of Kansas City's 8-6 win in a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015.
Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan reaches up to tag out Kansas City Royals' Omar Infante (14) after he tried to stretch a triple into an inside the park home run during the ninth inning of Kansas City's 8-6 win in a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. The Associated Press

If you’re a Royals fan and you missed the ninth inning of Sunday’s Royals-Red Sox game, you screwed up. I don’t know if your garage got cleaned or you went to see a movie or just decided to spend quality time with loved ones, but you should have been sitting in front of a television instead.

(Ever notice how many people say they’re retiring to spend more time with their families and then decide their families are overrated and come out of retirement? OK, I’m getting off the subject, so back to Sunday’s game.)

This game was a wild one and there are a bunch of things you could chose to focus on—Ned Yost’s decision to stick with Edinson Volquez, whoever happens to be managing the Red Sox sticking with Junichi Tazawa or Mike Moustakas having two of the best at bats a Royals fan will ever see—but for now, let’s focus on that ninth inning and two decisions made by third base coach Mike Jirschele.

Jirschele’s first decision: sending Omar

The Royals came into to the ninth inning down by two runs and the Red Sox had Junichi Tazawa on the mound. With the count 1-0 Tazawa threw a forkball that Omar Infante hit to the left field warning track.

That’s when things got weird.

Jackie Bradley thought the ball was going to be off the Green Monster, but misjudged it by quite a bit. The ball bounced off the track about 10 feet short of the wall and Bradley missed a very makeable catch. The ball then bounced up and came down on the edge of the left field scoreboard and caromed over Bradley and rolled out into left-center field. Bradley chased the ball down and threw it toward home plate. Meanwhile, Omar Infante was circling the bases.

That’s when things got really weird.

When you watch a game on TV you only get to see what the TV shows you, but here’s what TV showed us: Bradley was chasing the ball down in left-center field, the camera left him and showed Omar just coming into third base. The first view of third base coach Mike Jirschele showed him waving Omar home.

And that was pretty strange for two reasons:

1.) There was nobody out and…

2.) The Royals were down by two runs.

With nobody out you run the bases with caution; you don’t need to push things, you have all three outs left to move a runner around the bases. Down by two runs you might take chances with the tying run, but not the first one. The only run that matters is the one that ties it up and if that run scores, the first run will be pushed across the plate in front of it.

Risk and reward

That’s how you’re supposed to think on a baseball field: what’s the risk and what’s the reward?

In Omar’s case the risk was losing a runner on third base and one of the three outs you have to work with. The reward was scoring a run that wouldn’t tie the game. Risk did not match reward, but Infante was waved home anyway. The play looked even worse when Infante tried to slide and stuck in the mud like a lawn dart; a couple feet shy of home plate. After the game third base coach Mike Jirschele said: "I really thought when I sent him that he was going to score easily."

Here’s some more of Andy McCullough’s game story:

Despite the circumstances — down two runs, with none out and the top of the lineup soon to bat — Yost did not criticize Jirschele’s decision. He supported his coach.

"Are you going to fire me now?" Jirschele asked after the top of the ninth. "Or after the game?"

"Dude," Yost responded, "I was screaming, ‘Send him!’ That’s not on you."

Every third base coach in the big leagues will make thousands and thousands of decisions over 162 games. If you fired your third base coach every time a decision didn’t work out or he made a mistake, not one third base coach would make it through a season—and before the inning was over Jirschele would make a decision that would help the Royals win.

Jirschele’s second decision: sending Esky

Five batters after Omar got stuck in the mud, the bases were loaded, there were two outs and Eric Hosmer was at the plate; the Royals were still down by two runs. Hosmer singled to left field and Mike Jirschele didn’t hesitate.

After getting burned on sending Infante, Mike could have covered his rear end, played it conservatively and stopped Alcides Escobar—the runner trying to score from second base—and that would put the pressure on the next hitter, Kendrys Morales.

And Jirsch could have made a good case for that decision.

Watch the play frame by frame and you see Bradley moving forward to field Hosmer’s single and that’s means Bradley was going to get more on the throw than if he were moving sideways.

Bradley also got there quickly; he was already in his throwing motion when Escobar had just rounded third base. Sitting at home I thought Escobar was going to be thrown out by a decent margin, but I also thought sending him was the right decision. Here’s why:

Risk and reward

Now the risk matched the reward; the risk was having a runner thrown out at home plate to end the game, but the reward was scoring the tying run. Once again, here’s a quote from Andy McCullough’s game story:

"A good third-base coach will make the defense make the play," Yost said. "Because eight times out of 10, they’re not going to. You’ve got to make them make the play. You can’t go safety-first all the time."

Plays at the plate are difficult; they usually involve two shorter throws or one long one, and the catcher has to glove the ball with a mitt that is not ideal for receiving a throw from the outfield. Meanwhile, all this is happening with a runner bearing down on home plate.

This time Jackie Bradley, Jr. could not beat the odds; his throw was off-line and pulled the catcher up the first base line, but his throw did beat the runner. After making a decision that had him worried about his job, Mike Jirschele made another decision that helped the Royals win a ballgame—and that took some guts.

We’re all aware of the Jirschele decision that didn’t work out, but don’t miss the one that did.

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