Judging the Royals

The Royals score 12 runs; the unwritten rules of playing in a blowout

Lorenzo Cain was congratulated by Eric Hosmer in front of Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila after Cain hit a solo home run in the third inning of Wednesday’s game.
Lorenzo Cain was congratulated by Eric Hosmer in front of Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila after Cain hit a solo home run in the third inning of Wednesday’s game. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Wednesday night the Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 12-1. When you’re blowing out another team, the unwritten rules of baseball say that you shouldn’t run up the score. But here’s the problem with unwritten rules: they’re unwritten, so nobody is 100 percent sure what they are.

To demonstrate, let’s go back to an incident that happened on Aug. 24. The Royals were playing the Baltimore Orioles and blew the game open in the sixth inning; scoring seven runs and taking a five-run lead they’d never give back.

In that sixth inning, Eric Hosmer came to the plate twice; the first time he doubled and — after his team had scored seven runs — the second time he tried to bunt for a hit. As I understand it, that led some of the Orioles to yell at Hosmer and them yelling at Hosmer led some observers to wonder whether Hosmer would get paid back with a fastball in the ribs.

After that game I asked Eric about bunting in a seven-run inning; the Orioles were still playing a shift on him — the left side of the field was wide open — did that lead Eric to believe it was OK to bunt?

The short answer is yes.

If the other team is going to play a shift, doesn’t the hitter have a right to attack that shift in the best way possible? If the other team is still playing like one run matters, shouldn’t you play like one run matters? And it was only the sixth inning; the Orioles had three more innings to score five runs.

The next day I got to talk to Rusty Kuntz about the situation and here’s Rusty’s take on it:

The unwritten rule states that if you’re up by five runs after seven innings, you don’t run up the score. You still play hard, but you don’t bunt, you don’t steal, you don’t hit and run. The rule is five runs because a grand slam is only worth four, so one swing of the bat can’t tie the game. OK, got it — but keep talking and you find out the unwritten rule has more addendums and sub-clauses than your average tax legislation.

The after-the-seventh-inning-five-run-lead rule goes out the window if you’re playing in certain ballparks. Fenway, Coors Field, Wrigley when the wind is blowing out — all those places allow a team to score runs in bunches. You can also forget the rule if you’re short in the bullpen; if the Royals don’t have Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland available to hold a lead, it might be OK to tack on a couple more runs. But you better make sure the other team knows you’re short in the bullpen or one of your hitters might get to wear a fastball in retaliation.

And things can get even more complicated than that: let’s say your team is up by five runs and you’re standing on first base. The other team decides to play their first baseman back on the grass to give him better range. If you don’t steal second base — a base that’s being offered to you — and somehow the other team comes back and makes the game close?

Now you’re in trouble. You got soft and the other team took advantage. And if you’re going to have anyone mad at you, make it the other team — you don’t have to live with them.

Oddly enough, the solution to this situation is a compromise: if the runner isn’t going to steal second base, the defense has to give him an excuse for not stealing — the first baseman shouldn’t go all the way back on the grass. He can play behind the runner, but he needs to play close enough to first base so the runner has an excuse for not running.

If you’re confused, you’re starting to understand

We’ve just looked at one situation and the ins and outs of what you can and cannot do get very complicated. And since nobody has written this stuff down and different players and teams can interpret situations in different ways, it’s easy to see how disputes arise.

In Hosmer’s case the Orioles did not choose to retaliate — yet.

The two teams still have a three-game series in Baltimore and ballplayers have long memories. Not that my opinion counts, but I agreed with Hosmer: if the Orioles were going to play a shift, Hosmer had a right to bunt against that shift. It was only the sixth inning and the Royals’ lead was not big enough for them to take their foot off the gas pedal. So I stand with Eric Hosmer; right up until he gets in the batter’s box.

After that, he’s on his own.

And it’s a great chance to put up numbers

When your team scores 12 runs, hits, runs and RBIs are there for the taking. The other team is scuffling, they know the chance to win is pretty much gone, so they drag some long-reliever out of the bullpen to absorb the beating.

Ballplayers get paid for the numbers they put up and nobody gets to the end of the year and remembers that four of a player’s RBIs came in a blowout. So asking a team to be nice and back off when there’s blood in the water goes against the grain; blowouts provide ballplayers a great chance to put up numbers and numbers make you money.

Cheslor Cuthbert doesn’t shrink from moment

Behind the scenes I’ve been hearing good things about Cheslor Cuthbert. Veterans will watch rookies to see how they react to certain situations and what I’ve heard veterans say about Cuthbert is he doesn’t shrink from the moment — he plays like he believes he belongs in the big leagues.

Wednesday night Cuthbert went two for three, hit his first big-league home run, drove in four runs and made at least two outstanding defensive plays. He might have made more than two, but these days I’m spending a lot of time standing around the press box soft-serve ice cream machine and might have missed something.

Did I mention we also now have an automatic cone dispenser?

That Kendrys Morales double play

If you follow me on Twitter and I seem to go silent at some point in a ballgame, there’s a good chance it’s Steve Palermo’s fault. The former umpire sits next to me in the press box and he’s a master storyteller; if Steve gets rolling, to heck with Twitter, I’m going to listen to baseball stories.

Steve is also the guy reporters run to when they have a question about umpires, so I went and found him to ask about that weird Kendrys Morales double play. In case you missed it: Kendrys hit what he thought was a foul ball and just stood at home plate. The ball was hit down the first-base line, the first baseman caught it, threw the ball home to get Ben Zobrist who was trying to score and after that, the catcher reached over and tagged Morales — double play.

I wondered if the right umpire made the call; the home plate umpire never made a signal, but the first base umpire did — he called it a fair ball. Was that the correct way to do it?

Here’s what I learned from Steve:

Normally, the home plate umpire makes the fair/foul call on balls between home plate and the bag. Once it reaches the bag, it’s the first or third base umpire’s call as to whether the ball went over the base.

But in some cases the hitter blocks the home plate umpire’s view and in this case the ball was hit down the first base line and Morales was hitting from the left side. When that happens the umpire at first base waits to see if the home plate umpire makes a call and if the home plate umpire makes no signal, the first base umpire makes the call.

So Royals fans might not have liked the call, but the umpires handled it in the correct manner.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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