Judging the Royals

How Royals fans started a rally and helped their team win ALCS Game 2

Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Goins sits on the ground and looks at the ball after he waved right fielder Jose Bautista off on a flare hit by Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist in the seventh inning of Saturday's ALCS baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Zobrist singled on the play.
Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Goins sits on the ground and looks at the ball after he waved right fielder Jose Bautista off on a flare hit by Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist in the seventh inning of Saturday's ALCS baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Zobrist singled on the play. skeyser@kcstar.com

Coming into the seventh inning Saturday, the Royals had sent 19 hitters to the plate to face pitcher David Price and had a total of — let’s check the ol’ baseball scorebook — one hit. So when Ben Zobrist hit a flare to right field, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to think the Royals had their second hit.

But that’s when you got involved.

The press box is six floors up and when the stadium is not filled to capacity and fans are sitting on their hands, I can clearly hear an outfielder calling for the ball even though I’m busy constructing a triple-decker ice cream Sundae.

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When Royals fans go nuts, communication on the field gets to be just about impossible; guys a few feet away from each other can’t hear what a teammate is saying. That’s why ballplayers have signs they use to communicate and when Ben Zobrist hit that flare to right, Toronto second baseman Ryan Goins used one: he stuck his glove up — the sign for “I got it” — and waved off right fielder Jose Bautista.

But Goins was still listening for Bautista to call him off.

On tweeners — balls that are falling in between the outfield and infield — the outfielder is in charge. He’s coming forward and the infielder is going back. So even though Goins waved Bautista off, Bautista could still call for the ball and Goins would clear the area. Infielders expect to get called off; most of the time a tweener is an easier play for the outfielder.

So Goins is going back, has a bead on the ball, waves off Bautista, but is still expecting Bautista to call him off. One problem; Royals fans are going bats and Goins can’t hear Bautista — but he thinks he does.

Goins pulls up to let Bautista make the catch, but Bautista pulls up to let Goins make the catch. The ball falls between them for a single and the Royals’ rally is on; thanks to you, the Kansas City Royals fans.

The Royals pulled off another playoff comeback win Saturday, beating the Blue Jays 6-3 by scoring five in the seventh. KC leads the ALCS 2-0 with Game 3 on Monday night in Toronto (7 on FS1).

The shadows also played a role

Three o’clock start times mean shadows are going to play a role: the first fundamental of hitting is seeing the ball — not much else is possible if you don’t see what you’re trying to hit.

As the pitcher starts his windup, hitters take a deep breath (a fresh supply of oxygen helps the brain function at its peak) and focus on the window. That’s the area where the pitcher will release the ball, and that’s one reason why guys who have multiple arm angles and release points can be tough on hitters.

Hitters want to track the ball’s flight as long as possible; if they can see the spin on the ball, that can help. Fastballs don’t have much discernible spin; but most sliders, cutters and curves have a horizontal or diagonal spin that’s easier to see.

So imagine you’re trying to see the spin on a baseball that’s in bright sunlight and suddenly the ball darts into a shadow. Your eyes can’t adjust that quickly, and the ball can get on you before you know what you’re dealing with.

Shadows aren’t the only explanation for the Royals having one hit through the first six innings. David Price is that good. And the Blue Jays were getting hits, and they were in the same shadows.

But once most of the field was in shadow and they weren’t coping with a shadow falling between the mound and home plate, the Royals had an easier time seeing the baseball.

I asked Eric Hosmer if the shadows were part of the reason they had a tough time hitting Price early. Eric didn’t want to take anything away from Price —Eric thought he was throwing really well — but Eric agreed that it was easier to see the ball in that seventh inning.

Every little bit helps.

Oddly enough, being down by more than one run might have helped

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Feel free to disagree with this theory — and I’m sure you will — but I first thought about it when the Royals were in the middle of that rally in Houston.

When a team is tied or down by one run, there’s a temptation to try to get that one run with one swing; guys take gangster hacks (the ballplayer’s description of someone swinging from their heels).

As one former big league umpire put it: “Everybody wants to end it, nobody wants to start it.”

But when you’re down by more than one run, ballplayers — at least the smart ones — simply think about getting on base. Find a way to get on base and get something started. If you’ve been listening to the Royals talk about these multiple-run rallies, you’ve been hearing the phrase: “Keep the line moving.”

Don’t worry about doing something big, just find a way to get on base. Eric Hosmer talked about “shortening up” which is another way of saying: cut down on your swing. Don’t take your hands back as far — the prelude to taking the hands forward — don’t worry about taking a gangster hack, simply get the ball in play.

Play as a team, don’t be a hero, do your part, keep the line moving.

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I’m guessing the Royals would rather be winning than coming back from three or four runs down — another theory — but they seem to understand what’s necessary when they are three or four runs down. And being three or four runs down encourages a good approach at the plate.

In that seventh inning rally, their first three hits were to the opposite field or up the middle. Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit changeups, and you don’t do that unless you’re staying back and letting the ball travel.

Give Hosmer some credit here: when Eric got to the plate he could have tied it with one swing, but Hos resisted the temptation to take a gangster hack and instead hit a changeup to centerfield. He kept the line moving.

One guy cannot score three runs by himself; hit the ball onto Interstate 70 and they still only let you run around the bases once. Being down by three runs encouraged the Royals to take a good approach at the plate and that led to a five-run rally.

So next time Kansas City is down by three or four runs going into the later innings, don’t worry — the Royals have the other team right where they want them.

Or at least that’s my theory.

The Star's Andy McCullough and Blair Kerkhoff recap yet another Royals' comeback victory in the playoffs, 6-3 over Toronto on Saturday. Game 3 is Monday night in Toronto (7 on FS1)

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