Wednesday night the Royals and Braves were all tied up going into the bottom of the 10th inning. The Royals had left-handed David Lough, right-handed Miguel Tejada and lefty Alex Gordon due up. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez responded by bringing in a left-handed reliever, Alex Wood. So far so good: Wood had held left-handed batters to a .133 batting average up until Wednesday night.
But David Lough got a hit off him to start the inning.
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With Lough on first base the Braves wanted to know what the Royals were up to, so they had Wood attempt a pickoff of Lough. The real object of their attention was Migeul Tejada at the plate; they wanted to know if the Royals were bunting—would Tejada show bunt?
Even though Miguel had a .326 batting average against left-handed pitching, he
bunting and made the mistake of showing it on the pickoff throw to first. Now the Braves could set their defense accordingly; if Tejada was bunting they could charge the plate, pick up the ball as quickly as possible and try to cut off the lead runner at second base. The Royals—knowing Tejada had shown bunt—could get tricky and have him hit away, but they chose to stick with the sacrifice and it worked. Tejada got his bunt down and Lough moved up to second base.
Now Alex Gordon was at the plate and the Braves had a choice to make: first was open, they could work around Gordon if they chose to. Alex came into the game hitting .365 against lefties, so whose numbers do you go with? Gordon had hit left-handed pitching well, Wood had pretty much shut down left-handed hitting. Put Alex on base and the Braves would have the double play in order and Alcides Escobar at the plate. Esky had hit lefties for a .306 average, but had also grounded into 10 double plays—more than anyone else on the Royals.
Personally, I thought the Braves would throw a couple pitches off the plate and if Gordon declined to chase, put him on and go after Escobar. Alex was thinking along the same lines: with first open he didn’t expect to get too much to hit and decided not to try and do too much with whatever he got. On a 1-1 count he served a soft line drive over third base, Lough scored from second and the Royals won.
So why not walk Gordon? First of all, I don’t know anything about Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez or what information he might have had that convinced him to go the route he did. There are arguments to be made for either decision. And this isn’t really about that one move he made—that one move he made just gives me an excuse to talk about "managing by the book."
Veteran ballplayers, managers and coaches have told me more than once managing by the book is a safer bet. Lefty on lefty? Manage by the book and you have your answer if things don’t work out. When the media wants to know why you did what you did, if you manage by the book you’re in a better position to defend yourself.
Bring in a lefty to face a lefty, hit and run in 2-0 counts, try to steal second with two outs, sac bunt in the later innings in a one-run game, bring your closer in for the ninth inning, play for a win on the road and a tie at home—all those moves are by-the-book managing and easier to defend if a move backfires.
Steal third with two down, hit and run on 3-0 count because the pitcher is going to groove one and has a history of not walking people and if those moves don’t work, you’re going to get barbequed. Bring in a right-handed pitcher to face a lefty because the righty has a sinker and you need a groundball to get out of the mess you’re in and if it blows up on you, people will ask why you didn’t use a lefty instead. Make
unorthodox move and if it works you’re a managing genius; if it fails you’re a moron.
But as one player told me, if you manage by the book you better have a good team. If you’re outmatched, you
make some unorthodox moves—managing by the book when the other team has a Justin Verlander on the mound and you’re getting a spot start from a kid just up from the minors is a great way to get your butt kicked. Do something out of the ordinary and if it goes wrong, you’ll have some questions to answer. Play it by the book and if you get hammered you just say, "Hey, that’s Justin Verlander over there" and nobody objects.
It doesn’t mean managing by the book is always wrong, there are plenty of times the tried-and-true route is the way to go, but if a guy tries something a little different, look at the situation: maybe there was a good reason he threw the book out the window.
Game notes from the Royals 3-1 loss to the Twins
* Apparently part of the game plan against Twins starter Samuel Deduno was to take pitches. But walking more often isn’t as simple as just standing there taking pitches. Take pitches against a guy who’s throwing strikes and you’re constantly in an uphill battle. It appeared the Royals hitters were falling behind in the count and then having to deal with cutters, curves and changeups.
* Deduno threw seven innings and only two Royals hitters got a fastball to put into play: Alcides Escobar in the fourth and Elliot Johnson in the fifth.
* Salvador Perez his a cutter for his fifth inning home run, but he was ahead in the count at the time. If you’re ahead in the count pitchers have to come into the zone, if you’re behind in the count they can continue to work the corners.
* Once again the Royals allowed the opposition to get the ball to their closer. Glen Perkins has 20 saves and 2.12 ERA. The key to keeping the other team’s closer in the pen is grabbing a lead in the first eight innings and the Royals were unable to do that.
Their best chance to tie the game came with one down in the seventh when David Lough struck out with Billy Butler on third. Royals hitters have to find a way to get the ball in play in that situation. Ask hitters about choking up and they’ll tell you it’s just not done any more, but Barry Bonds choked up and seemed to do alright—there may have been other factors involved—but let’s say choking up didn’t hurt.
* In the eighth inning Eric Hosmer chased a pitch down and away and hit a weak grounder back to the mound. It wasn’t a pitch Hosmer could do much with and he wasn’t in a count that required contact—it was the first pitch of the at-bat. Remember what Wade Davis said: pitchers thrive on guys who want to swing the bat and aren’t selective about what they swing at.
* In the ninth inning with the score 3-1, Billy Butler walked and Jeff Francoeur pinch ran for him. With two down Lorenzo Cain doubled down into the right field corner and even though Francoeur had a good chance of scoring, Eddie Rodriguez held him up. Unlike the David Lough play, this was the right call: Francoeur scoring would change nothing; the important run was Lorenzo Cain’s. Getting Frenchy thrown out trying to score a meaningless would be a bad way to end a game.
* After the game Ned Yost said any time the pitchers hold the other team to three runs or less, they’ve done a heck of a job. Jeremy Guthrie and Will Smith did a heck of a job, but the Royals still lost, 3-1.