Mark Buehrle beat the Royals for the 23rd time and there were three moments that helped that happen:
• Emilio Bonifacio’s first-inning error
• Umpire Will Little’s blown call in the eighth inning
• Not bunting in the ninth inning
Let’s start with the error: Toronto’s second baseman, Ryan Goins, hit a ground ball to Emilio Bonifacio. The Kansas City second baseman had to go to his left to field it and when that happens, it’s sometimes more efficient to continue in that direction, make a counter-clockwise 360-degree spin and come out throwing.
Good throws start with good footwork. When Bonifacio came out of his spin he had over-rotated. His left foot was in the wrong position and that opened his front shoulder too soon. When that happens the throwing arm is late, the release point is off and the ball tends to miss the target on the arm side. You see this with pitchers all the time: if a right-handed pitcher misses up and in to a right-handed batter, don’t be surprised if you see the catcher point at his own front shoulder. The catcher’s reminding the pitcher to keep
front shoulder closed.
But back to Bonifacio:
His throw missed first base on his arm side and that pulled Eric Hosmer off the bag. After the play Hosmer tapped his own chest — the universal sign for
Hosmer might have been referring to not getting to first base sooner or maybe he felt he could have done a better job with his footwork and somehow stayed on the bag. In any case, Goins came around to score and when you lose by one run, an unearned run is a big deal.
The second moment that changed the game was umpire Will Little’s blown call on Emilio Bonifacio’s sacrifice bunt. It came in the eighth inning with nobody out, runners on first and third. The runner on third, Alcides Escobar, scored; the runner on first, Alex Gordon, moved up to second base. At first viewing Bonifacio appeared to be safe; also at second and third viewing. You could view this one until hell freezes over and Bonifacio would still be safe. In fact, when the play was slowed down you could see Emilio’s foot was on the bag while the ball was still a couple feet from Ryan Goins glove.
Eric Hosmer followed the Bonifacio play with a single and there’s a good chance Emilio would have wound up on third with no outs; there would have been a decent chance of scoring another run with Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas coming to the plate.
The final moment that changed the game came in the ninth inning. Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a single and Chris Getz came out to run for him. Casey Janssen was on the mound. Justin Maxwell was due up, but David Lough pinch hit. If you manage by the book the book says you don’t play for a tie on the road, but at this level of baseball you see people go against the book all the time. It’s usually because they have some information that changes the equation.
The Royals bullpen changes the equation.
I’ve seen Ned Yost play for a tie on the road because he believed if he got the game to extra innings, his bullpen could win it for him there. There may be things about this situation I don’t know — there always are — but it appeared that everybody in the pen was available and had the game gone past the ninth inning, the Royals would have been in good shape.
Nevertheless, David Lough came to the plate swinging the bat. The Blue Jays had Casey Janssen in to close, and Janssen had 24 saves, an ERA of 2.93 and had held opponents to a .196 batting average. David Lough came to the plate 0-5 as a pinch hitter. If there was any thought of having Getz steal second—as opposed to bunting him over—Chris never got the chance. Lough saw two pitches, swung at both of them and popped up the second one. Naturally, Jarrod Dyson followed that with a hit. Dyson’s hit was a ground ball up the middle which means a runner on second could have left right away. Had Getz been on second base, he would have scored the tying run. George Kottaras lined out and the game ended on a great play by Toronto’s second baseman, Ryan Goins. He made a diving, spinning stop of an Alex Gordon ground ball and threw Alex out from the seat of his pants.
In a nine-inning ball game, lots of moments matter — but these three moments changed the game. The Royals lose to the Blue Jays, 3-2.
• Managing by the book is safe. If it doesn’t work out the manager can come to the post-game press conference and cover himself by saying he went with matchup numbers or didn’t want to play for a tie on the road. Go outside the box;
bring in your lefty to face their lefty because your lefty sucks right now, and the press will be glad to point out your mistake — unless your move works out. Then you’re an unorthodox genius.
• After Jarrod Dyson’s hit to center field, the ball was thrown back to second base. Getz had rounded the bag and the Toronto centerfielder was trying to catch him off base. The throw hit Chris in the head. Getz has had concussion issues, so getting whacked in the head wasn’t great to begin with, but the Royals also got screwed on the carom — the ball deflected directly over to first base.
No telling how goofy Getz was after getting hit in the head, but if the ball had shot off in another direction, he might have gotten up and made it to third base. That would have allowed him to score on the George Kottaras lineout to center field.
• Mark Buerhle is famous for working quick, so it’s a little surprising the Royals weren’t prepared for that. When a pitcher works quickly, hitters can step out and try to disrupt that tempo. Ask for the signs again, go get some more pine tar — anything to change what’s happening. If it makes the pitcher mad, good — that’s the point: maybe he’ll change what he’s doing.
• Pitchers might want to study Buehrle and copy what he’s doing: working quickly helps everyone — especially a pitcher’s defense. And when Buehrle throws a fastball, he adds and subtracts. A Buehrle fastball could be 86 miles an hour or it could be 81. A few miles an hour one way or another can throw off a hitter’s timing, but a pitcher has to find a way to add and subtract velocity without it being visible to the hitters.
• In the third inning Alcides Escobar swung at three pitches: a fastball, a cutter and a curve. Esky fouled off the first two pitches, swung and missed the third one. There might be a chance Alcides was looking for a fastball on the first pitch, a cutter on the second and curve on the third, but when a guy is swinging at everything a pitcher throws up there, odds are good he has no game plan at all.
• Kansas City’s left fielder Alex Gordon got hit by a pitch in the top of the third inning and Toronto’s left fielder Kevin Pillar got hit by a pitch in the bottom of the third; did either pitcher mean to do it? Probably not. When a guy gets clipped on an elbow or hand, it’s probably a case of the pitcher coming inside and missing. If a pitcher wants to drill a guy, the pitch will be behind his back — the hitter will back up into it. That’s when hitters
it was intentional; big league pitchers don’t miss by that much unless they want to.
Dodger’s manager Don Mattingly recently pulled Yasiel Puig out of a ballgame after Puig made it clear he wasn’t giving his best effort. Old-school ballplayers love the move. Puig did not slide when he had a chance to break up a double play, threw his bat after striking out, was showing off while catching fly balls and was not getting in proper defensive position on each pitch. Apparently veterans had to try to talk to Puig about his style of play and he wasn’t making an adjustment, so Mattingly pulled him out of a game.
There’s not much a manager can do to ballplayers these days. They can fine them, but with today’s salaries the fine might not mean that much. The ballplayer usually makes more than the manager and, if the player’s a star, usually has more job security. But what a manager
do is bench the player. It’s embarrassing and lets the public know something is going on that won’t be tolerated. It also sends a message to the other guys in the clubhouse: fail to run out ground balls, miss signs, give a half-assed effort, embarrass the team and I’ll embarrass you.
But a manager who goes that route better have the backing of his GM and owner. They might want to know why the guy who’s being paid millions isn’t playing. But in the long run, sending a player a message by benching him might make him a better player. Don Mattingly benched Yasiel Puig and someday Yasiel Puig might want to thank Don Mattingly.