Judging the Royals

Two bases-loaded walks cost the Royals

Bottom line: if you throw seven balls in a row, you’re probably not going to get a borderline call on the next pitch. But let’s back up and see where things went wrong in the bottom of the eighth inning:

Jeremy Guthrie threw seven innings, gave up one earned run and handed the best bullpen in the American League a one-run lead with six outs to go. Kansas City set-up man, Kelvin Herrera, came in to pitch the eighth and faced pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki. The count went to 2-1; Kawasaki got a fastball in a fastball count and singled.

Anthony Gose couldn’t get a bunt down and eventually popped out to shortstop Alcides Escobar for the first out. Herrera got ahead of Jose Reyes, but left a 1-2 changeup in a hittable location and Reyes soft served the ball into the outfield—the tying run was in scoring position, the winning run was on first. Still one down.

Ned Yost brought in lefty Will Smith to face lefty Ryan Goines and the Royals got just what they needed; a double-play ball right at Alcides Escobar—except the base runner Kawasaki was right in front of Alcides. After the game Escobar said he got screened from the ball, but still felt he should have made the play. The ball that should have ended the inning went off Escobar and continued into the outfield. Kawasaki came around to score and the game was tied. Next, Smith walked Edward Encarnacion and the bases were loaded.

Right-handed pinch hitter Mark De Rosa then replaced Adam Lind and Ned Yost countered with right-handed Aaron Crow. That move looked great—for the next three pitches. Crow struck out DeRosa swinging and looked overpowering while doing it. After that, Crow lost the strike zone and threw eight straight balls. The first four walked Brett Lawrie and the Jays went up by one run. The next three pitches to Rajai Davis also clearly missed the zone, but the fourth pitch was borderline. Like I said at the beginning, miss with seven straight pitches and you probably won’t get the call on the eighth one.

Crow didn’t and he walked in another run.

Ned Yost came out to replace Crow with Tim Collins—managed to get ejected while he did it—but the damage was done. The Royals lost to the Blue Jays, 4-2.

Game notes

• Knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey started for the Blue Jays and wound up with the win. Knuckle ball pitchers can be surprisingly hard to steal on; they do so little in their windup they’re quick to home plate. On the other hand, nobody knows where the ball will go and whether the catcher will get a pitch he can handle.

• Hitters also have to be surprisingly quick to hit a knuckle ball. You’d think you wouldn’t need much bat speed to get around on a pitch thrown at 75 miles an hour, but apparently you have to wait as long as possible so you have some idea where the ball is going, then be quick to the ball.

• The most common approach to hitting a knuckle ball is waiting for one that comes in above the zone. Hitters say,

if it’s high, let it fly.

Good knuckle balls drop, so a pitch that’s high will drop into the zone; a pitch that’s in the zone will drop out.

• Dickey threw 100 pitches and left after eight innings, but pitch count is not quite the same deal for a knuckle ball pitcher as it for everyone else. They can often throw more pitches than a conventional pitcher without suffering as much strain on their arms. Coming into the game Dickey did not have a great record at home and I’ve heard speculation that being in an enclosed stadium isn’t good for a guy who throws a knuckler—not as much air movement to help the knuckle ball dance.

• In the second inning Alcides Escobar singled and Salvador Perez scored from second base. There were two outs so that’s the time you want to try—stay at third and you’re asking for another two-out hit—and Sal’s chances of scoring were helped by centerfielder, Anthony Gose.

Gose is left-handed and he was moving to his right, which made the throw to home plate more awkward. Throws tend to move to the arm side of the guy throwing the ball, so a throw from a lefty would move the catcher up the first-base line, away from home plate. That’s just what happened and Perez scored easily.

• The Royals had three outfield assists. Alex Gordon threw out Ryan Goines trying to go first to third and you could see Gordon’s background as a third baseman on display; Alex charged the ball and threw on the run. That play prevented a run from scoring when Adam Lind singled. Gordon also threw out Josh Thole when he tried to stretch a single into a double.

And finally, David Lough threw out Jose Reyes when he went for two in the third. Alcides Escobar is going to get worn out for his eighth-inning error, but his catch and diving tag on the Lough throw made the play possible.

• With Brett Lawrie at the plate Perez gave the sign to Jeremy Guthrie and then shook his head. Perez was asking Guthrie to shake


head and pretend he didn’t want to throw the pitch Sal suggested. This is known as

shaking for show

and the point is to get the hitter thinking: what’s the next logical pitch and why is the pitcher shaking the catcher off? Get a hitter thinking and he might miss a pitch he was expecting before the pitcher pretended to shake off the catcher.

• At one point Guthrie covered first base and came straight across the bag on diagonal route. There was no collision in that case, but it’s a dangerous way to tag first base. Pitchers are supposed to run to the foul line, turn and then run parallel with the line, receive the throw before they hit the bag, tag first and peel off into fair territory. That way they stay out of the runner’s path.

Friday night Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil stepped in front of Alcides Escobar when covering first and that caused a collision.

• When Anthony Gose was trying to bunt in the eighth inning, there were several pickoff throws over to first base. When the bunt is an obvious option, those pickoff throws are really about getting the hitter to reveal his intentions. The pitcher goes over to first base, but everyone watches the hitter to see if he squares around.

• When Ned Yost was ejected in the eighth inning, a microphone was picking up what he was saying and it certainly made things more entertaining. The umpire who threw Ned out was Will Little, the same guy who blew a crucial call the night before.

• With two outs and runners on first and third in the ninth inning, Chris Getz tried to steal second base. Pitcher Casey Janssen did not appear to be that quick to the plate and I wondered if the Royals would try to get the tying run into scoring position. Keep Getz at first and you probably need two hits to tie the game.

It looked like Getz got his foot in before Jose Reyes made the tag—especially if the tag was applied to Getzie’s crotch—but umpire Jerry Meals called Getz out to end the game. The Royals are now 69-65. The Blue Jays, who now have a chance to sweep the series, are 61-74. The Jays are the kind of team the Royals need to beat to stay in contention—right now it ain’t happening.