Judging the Royals

The Royals have a 4th of July Fireworks Show

Most of the time when the Royals have a fireworks show, they start after the game ends—this one started in the sixth inning. Up until then they hadn’t done much with Cleveland Indians starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez—two hits, three walks, no runs. Jimenez started the sixth with 81 pitches and then issued two straight walks. Still no time to panic; Cleveland had a five run lead.

Then Jimenez made an error.

He dropped the flip from first baseman Mark Reynolds as he covered first base and Mike Moustakas was safe, the bases were loaded and Lorenzo Cain was at the plate. They say hitting is timing and Cain’s at-bat shows why they say it: Jimenez threw Cain seven pitches. He started with a sliderand then threw a fastball, followed by another slider. With the count 2-1, Jimenez then threw four fastballs between 90 and 94 miles an hour. Lorenzo timed the fourth one and hit it out of the park—a grand slam home run.

(Cool note: it was the Sonic Slam inning and some woman won something like $25,000 from Sonic Drive In restaurants. I’m assuming Lorenzo Cain is now her favorite Royal.)

Cain’s slam made the score 5-4. Cody Allen replaced Jimenez and threw two straight 95 MPH fastballs to George Kottaras. George hit the second one out of the park to make the score 5-5. The Indians took the lead right back, scoring two in the top of the seventh, and Eric Hosmer tied the game up—once again—with the Royals third home run of the day. Luke Hochevar held Cleveland scoreless in the eighth and Kansas City took the lead for good when Salvador hit a pinch-hit, bases-loaded double in the bottom half of the inning.

After the game Ned Yost said that not too long ago, being down 5-0 was a "death sentence"—the offense could not cover that kind of deficit. Yost now believes the offense is "over the hump" and they’re not out of any game, even down by five after five.

The Royals put on their second fireworks show within the last 24 hours and won, 10-7.

Game notes

• Starting pitcher James Shields gave up five runs in five innings and once again had a long first inning. His overall ERA is 3.23, but entering this game, his first inning ERA is over 7.00.

• In that first inning, Johnny Giavotella made a leaping catch of a Carlos Santana line drive, but then rushed the throw when he tried to double Michael Brantley off first base. Eric Hosmer saved Gio an error with a leaping catch of his own.

• Giavotella had three more fly ball outs in this game and, like the two Wednesday night, had they been hit in Omaha, would have been at least close to leaving the yard. It’s not just how you hit a ball, it’s also where you hit it. Hitting high fly balls can pay off in Werner Park—the Storm Chaser’s home field—but the same type of fly ball is just a long out in Kauffman Stadium.

• With the game tied 5-5 after six innings, reliever J.C. Gutierrez walked the leadoff batter—Jason Kipnis—in the seventh. Michael Brantley followed with a single and Aaron Crow replaced Gutierrez. Carlos Santana doubled on Crow’s first pitch and both runs scored. Crow’s line


good—one inning pitched, one hit, no earned runs—but inherited runners scoring is a big deal. A reliever might be brought in to stop the bleeding, fail to get it done, but still look good in the scorebook because none of the runs that scored were attributed to him.

• Luke Hochevar came in to pitch the eighth and his line also looks good—one inning pitched and no earned runs—but he was helped out by a couple of nice defensive plays on line drives to the outfield. Once again you have to look beyond the numbers to get a true picture of what happened.

• Hochevar was up to 97 on the gun and threw nothing but fastballs and cutters. In the post-game press conference, Ned Yost said Luke was going to get the opportunity to try to be the eighth-inning set-up man. Right now opponents pretty much have eight innings to grab a lead and beat the Royals; let Yost get the ball to Greg Holland with a lead and the opponent’s chances of winning are slim. If you can find a dominate pitcher to throw the eighth, then the opponent has seven innings to grab a lead. Ned said every day his job is to get the ball in Greg Holland’s hands with a lead. If Luke Hochevar can perform in the set-up role, that job gets easier.

The bottom of the eighth, score tied 7-7

George Kottaras started things with a walk and Elliot Johnson came out to pinch run for him. Johnny Giavotella was asked to bunt the winning run into scoring position and failed in two attempts. I don’t know if a player is ever relieved to get hit by a baseball thrown 93 miles an hour, but getting hit by a pitch got Gio off the hook—he moved Elliot Johnson to second the hard way. Ned Yost’s original idea was to have Gio bunt Elliot into scoring position and then have Salvador Perez—who had the day off—pinch hit for Jarrod Dyson.

With Dyson at the plate, Carlos Santana had a passed ball and both Johnson and Gio moved up. With first open, the Indians walked Dyson to set up a force out at home plate. Yost then sent Perez up to hit for leadoff hitter, David Lough. Perez had been alerted to the fact that he was going to pinch hit at some point and had been taking swings in the indoor batting cage from the sixth inning on.

Sal immediately delivered; he hit a bases-clearing double down the left field line. Walking the human bullet—Dyson—backfired when he scored from first base. Jarrod ran so fast he his helmet couldn’t keep up with him; it came off during the final 90 feet and he caught it in the air and crossed the plate like he was carrying a football.

Managers have to make moves before they know how they’ll work out; the object is to pick the best move available. Once that’s done the players involved make the manager look smart or dumb by how they perform—Salvador Perez made Ned Yost look like a genius.

About last night

When it became clear the first pitch of Wednesday night’s rain-soaked game was going to be delayed by hours, I decided to go home and watch it on TV. I do 81 games a year off the tube, so this year it’ll be 82. Watching the game on TV during a rain delay allows you to record it and go back to see anything you missed at one in the morning.

That’s the good part of TV; the bad part is that you can only see what they choose to show you. So when Alex Gordon hit his head on a bullpen fence support post and lay motionless on the warning track, I couldn’t see where centerfielder Lorenzo Cain was. That was a big deal because the ball was just lying there while the Indians were circling the bases—Jason Kipnis wound up with a three-run inside-the-park homer.

Thursday morning I found outfield coach Rusty Kuntz and asked about Cain: did Lorenzo get caught watching the play and get a late start or was he positioned over toward the right-center gap because Kipnis is left-handed? Rusty said it was the latter: Lorenzo was stationed to the right of the 410 sign in dead center and had a long run to get to the ball lying in front of the left field bullpen. So Cain was doing his job, it just took a while.

Then Rusty gave me an outfielder’s rule of thumb: centerfielders go to the ball, corner outfielders go away.

Here’s what Rusty meant: if the play is not being made by the centerfielder, he still goes to the ball. A play in left or right, he goes over to help out. A ball hit to second or short, center head that way in case there’s a carom off a glove. The catcher throws to second to nail a base stealer? Center backs that throw up.

The corner outfielder have a different responsibility: on a ball hit to right field the leftfielder runs away from the ball—toward the left field foul line in line with a throw from the right fielder. He then backs up second base in case the right fielder’s throw gets away—vice versa for the right fielder. If a ball is hit to short or third, the right fielder runs away from the ball and backs up an overthrow at first.

Clearly there are times corner outfielders come toward the ball—for instance, left field would back up a ball hit to short—but on other plays, corner outfielders have to anticipate where they might be needed and head for that spot; away from the ball.



screw up that tag at third base on a possible sac fly in the eighth—for some reason he got down in what looked like a sprinter’s stance and came off the bag too soon—but he wasn’t at fault on the inside-the-park home run.