Judging the Royals

Some interesting moments from a blowout

You probably can’t tell from the final score, but this game was pretty entertaining for about eight innings. Going into the ninth, the score was 3-0 and even though the Royals weren’t hitting, 3-0 is not an insurmountable lead.

Unfortunately, 9-0 is.

The Royals picked up 2 runs in the ninth, but that was it; the final score was 9-2, Detroit. But even though this game wound up being a blowout, it’s my contention that you can still find interesting moments in any ballgame. Here are a few questions and answers about those interesting moments from last night’s game:

After scuffling for eight innings, why did Kansas City’s offense suddenly come alive in the ninth?

Probably because Detroit was ahead 9-0. When a reliever comes out to mop up in a blowout, nobody wants to the guy to get too fancy: you’ve got a 9-0 lead—throw strikes. Phil Coke threw 21 pitches and fourteen of them were fastballs. The idea is to get the ball in play and wait for someone to hit three balls at someone.

What difference does it make if the Royals had a two-run rally in the ninth?

Even when you’re losing big you still want to fight back because it might win you a game the next day. Phil Coke was getting hit so the Tigers had to get reliever Al Alburquerque warming up. If a reliever warms up twice it’s like getting used in a game. And if a reliever gets used in two games in a row, he’s unlikely to be used the third day. So if you can stage a big enough rally to make the other team use another reliever—or better yet their closer—those pitchers might not be available the next day.

With the score still 0-0, why didn’t Alex Gordon steal second in the second inning?

Detroit starter Drew Smyly is a lefty, so that makes it tough to begin with and—if you put a stopwatch on him—Drew Smyly is a tricky lefty. Smyly delivered a pitch to home plate in 1.6 seconds; slow enough to make a situational base stealer like Gordon think about taking off. But then Smyly pitched out of a slide step and got the ball home in 1.1 seconds. The 1.6 second delivery was the bait; the 1.1 second delivery was the trap. If Alex had taken the bait, he would have been thrown out.

Can Torii Hunter still go get it?

Without a highlight reel diving catch by Torii Hunter in the second inning, the Royals would have scored a run and had another runner in scoring position. Hunter is 38-years old and positions himself deeper than he used to. That deeper positioning helped him get to that Alcides Escobar drive. Even so, it was a great catch.

If Hunter is getting older, how did he hit a 100 MPH Kelvin Herrera fastball Friday night?

At 38 a lot of hitters develop what’s referred to as a

slider speed bat.

That means they can’t get around on the good fastball anymore; they just don’t have the bat speed. The ball Hunter hit was caught, but it was still a deep drive. Here’s how he did it: Veteran hitters

cheat on gas.

That means they start their swing early to catch up to the good fastball. And they


cheat when the pitcher is young. That’s because young pitchers like their arms and like to throw hard. Take Herrera: 66% of his pitches are fastballs; so cheat on gas and you’ll be right two times out of three.

How about veteran pitchers?

Those dudes are a little smarter. Take Mark Buehrle: when he was here with Toronto, he’d throw off-speed in fastball counts unless he didn’t think you could hurt him. Light-hitting bottom of the order guys might get fastballs in fastball counts, but when the guys who can drive the ball got in fastball counts, they generally got the soft stuff.

Back to Detroit: did they make any mistakes Saturday night?

Well, Ian Kinsler had a few misadventures on the base paths. In the third inning he got picked off because he turned to talk to Eric Hosmer or his base coach—I couldn’t tell which—just as Danny Duffy threw the ball to first base. Kinsler also hit a two-out double and then thought he could make it to third base, but was thrown out easily. That ended the inning and cost Miguel Cabrera an at-bat with a runner in scoring position.

Speaking of Cabrera; how did he score on that shallow line drive to Alex Gordon?

The bases were loaded with one out when Nick Castellanos hit a sinking line drive into left field. Gordon charged forward and made the catch for the second out of the inning. Victor Martinez was the runner on second base and he wandered too far off the bag and Gordon saw that. It was a shorter throw for an easy third out. Watch the replay and you’ll see Alex start to throw the ball to second to double off Martinez—but nobody was covering the bag. Omar Infante was in the vicinity, but not


the bag. That’s why you see the pump fake—Gordon started to throw the ball, but there was nobody there. By the time Gordon regrouped he had to throw on the run. The throw beat Cabrera, but was off-line.

If you pay attention, you can always find interesting moments—even in a blowout.

Why Aoki shied away from that line drive

If you thought Nori Aoki shied away from catching a sinking line drive in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game, you’re right; but you probably don’t know why. Aoki lost it in the lights. When a ball is hit at just the right level—and stays there for much of its flight—outfielders can lose it in the stadium lights. That’s why Alex Gordon made a sliding catch a few nights ago; he couldn’t see the ball and slid to change his sightline on the ball. Finding out that Aoki couldn’t see the ball is one of the reasons I’m slow to criticize until I hear the story behind what I saw--there might be more to the story.


"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.