So I’m sitting in Yankee Stadium with Royals outfield coach, Rusty Kuntz, and he’s telling me how it plays. The dimensions are 318 feet in left, 408 in center and 314 in right. It seems even smaller because the seating goes five levels high and with the famous Yankee Stadium façade on the upper deck, it seems even higher.
But that’s what it looks like, how about the playing surface? Like almost every other field, it’s smaller than Kauffman Stadium. The K is 330 in the corners and drops off sharply—over 350 by the time you get to the bullpen gates. Here it’s much shorter to the foul poles and barely drops off at all. As a result, some lefties—apparently Brett Gardner is one—move up on top of the plate and open up their stance. That makes the middle of the plate the inside corner and gives the left-handed hitter a chance to "turn and burn" which puts the ball into the short part of the yard. The classic cure for that is for a pitcher to come inside and move the hitter off the plate, but Rusty said if you come inside here in Yankee Stadium it better be firm and you better get it there. Come up short on velocity or miss out over the plate and the ball might leave the yard.
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If you watch a Yankees game on TV and you see a red sign in right center (about halfway up general admission) with the name "Modell’s" on it, Rusty figures that sign is about the same distance from home plate as the right centerfield wall back in Kansas City. So a ball 10 rows deep here in New York is just a long out in Missouri. Rusty couldn’t remember who (he thought it might have been Lorenzo Cain), but he warned a centerfielder that the wall in Yankee Stadium’s right-center field would sneak up on you—there’s 30 to 40 feet more running room in Kauffman. Whoever it was took off for a ball in right center, did a face plant into the padding, came back in the dugout and said: "Is that what you’re talking about?"
I asked Rusty about the differences between the new version and old Yankee Stadium and he said this version has a flat field. It seems that the old place had a dip in the right-field playing surface and if a player was running down into the dip as he threw the ball back in, the throw would go low. If he was running up out of the dip, the throw would go high. Just to make it more interesting: centerfield had a slight bump and the same thing applied: throw the ball running up the bump and it would come in higher than intended, throw it coming down the bump and you’d bury it.
Whatever your profession, I tend to believe that you get used to whatever it is you do every day and pretty soon, it seems routine. But when you’re sitting in the third-base dugout in Yankee Stadium, at 3 p.m., talking baseball with a guy who knows a lot about it, this job seems like a pretty good gig.
Game notes from the Royals 5-1 win over the Yankees
• Robinson Cano should not be able to do what he does with that easy underhand flip to first base. Even big league ballplayers are amazed by the arm strength that takes. Rusty Kuntz told me he’s seen Cano do that while headed toward the outfield and 95 feet away.
• Phil Hughes was staying away from the lefties because the right field wall is only 314 feet away. Even the right-handed hitters are tempted to take a shot at it; Alcides Escobar tried and came up short, Billy Butler tried and made it—an opposite field home run in the second.
• The Royals left-handed hitters were going the other way, I’m assuming because they knew Phil Hughes was going to pitch them away. Mike Moustakas and David Lough both hit opposite field doubles, scoring a second run in the second inning.
After the game I asked David if the idea was to look away, but be ready to adjust in and he said, "Definitely." I also asked if the right-field porch was tempting: guys were hitting upper deck shots in BP. Lough said you’d get in trouble if you let the short right-field lure you into pulling the ball. The Yankees pitchers will just stay on the other part of the plate, let you rollover those outside pitches and hit weak grounders to the second baseman.
And once you get back to Kansas City, a pull swing that lifts the ball will not be rewarded with easy home runs—that swing will produce easy outs for someone else’s pitcher.
• Back in Kansas City you’re one pitch behind. There’s a delay between what is happening on the field and what they’re showing on TV. People in Yankee Stadium know how a game ended one pitch before you do.
• There was a 59-minute rain delay in this game and I really didn’t need one: I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to fly to Atlanta, connect to New York, check into the hotel and take the subway to Yankee Stadium. I tried to sleep on the plane, but it was the kind of sleep that feels like some mild form of malaria—drifting in and out of consciousness while the person in front of you periodically bangs you in the knee with their seat back. I’ll persevere, but I’m running on fumes.
• Guthrie came back and continued to pitch after the delay. A two-run lead and five outs to qualify for a win will give you motivation. In his office after the game Ned Yost said Guthrie stayed loose by getting up and throwing every 10 to 15 minutes and was helped by the hot, humid weather. If it had been cold and nasty, Jeremy would have had a harder time staying loose and would have been done.
• There was a Salvador Perez shift sighting—three infielders on the left field side of second base. Salvy goes the other way, but some hitters go the other way in the air, but pull the ball when they hit it on the ground. To prove the point, Perez flew out to right.
• Make of what you will, but in the bottom of the ninth Elliot Johnson came in for defensive purposes; replacing Johnny Giavotella.
• With a four-run lead it was not a save situation, so Luke Hochevar came into get the final three outs. He walked the first guy on four straight balls, then threw ball one to the next guy. Afterwards I asked him what was happening and he said he just had too much movement on the ball—it was running to his arm side. When the count went 3-0 he knew the guy at the plate wasn’t swinging, tried to put the ball down the middle, but
• After two runners got on, Yost went to Greg Holland. It got exciting, but Hollie still got the save. Pay attention to the next few days though; if a save situation comes up and Holland isn’t available it might be because he had to come into Monday night’s game.
Heat and body language
In the third inning of last Sunday’s game, the Oakland A’s Josh Reddick pulled a ball for a home run. Later in the same game centerfielder Jarrod Dyson was playing him in left-center. Why?
If the left-handed Reddick had enough bat speed to pull a ball to right-center, why play him to hit the ball to left-center?
Because it was hot last Sunday and by the end of the game, Reddick’s bat speed was down. Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz pays attention to the other team’s body language and if guys are moving slow and barely jogging out to their position, they’ve lost energy and lost energy means lost bat speed. A power guy you played to pull the ball in the third can become an opposite-field slap hitter by the ninth.
After Rusty moved Jarrod Dyson to the opposite-field gap, Reddick hit a ball right at him. Dyson saluted Rusty from the field for putting him in the right spot. After the inning ended, Dyson came in the dugout and asked Rusty why he was moved. Rusty asked Jarrod how his bat felt at that point in the game and Jarrod said it felt extremely heavy in much more colorful language than I just used.
Reddick’s bat felt the same way; play him to the opposite field.
The long reliever
Will Smith is going to Omaha, Louis Coleman has been recalled. If you watched Sunday’s game, you know why. Smith and Bruce Chen have been serving as long relievers; both threw multiple innings on Sunday. If the Royals needed a long reliever Monday, they wouldn’t have one.