Judging the Royals

The Royals hitters and Blue Jays pitchers get the ball up: Why that matters

Dale Sveum could be the greatest hitting coach of all time — and I certainly hope he is — but it’s still unlikely that he fixed the Royals hitters in one day. Before the game Sveum said he might be saying the very same things that Pedro Grifol said and then added that hitting coaches get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they go poorly.

Thursday night, things went well.

During the pregame show, Sveum said the Royals had been chasing too many pitches down in the zone while ahead in the count and needed to wait for a ball up. That being the case, Toronto’s pitching staff probably deserves some of the credit — they’re the ones who left pitches up in the zone. Everybody in the Royals lineup had at least one hit so Sveum and the hitters do deserve some credit; the Royals hitters waited on those pitches and hit them when they got them.

The Royals had 14 hits and scored 8 runs, enough to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-6.

But if Jose Reyes hadn’t thrown a ball away in the ninth, we’d probably be talking about something else.

The ninth inning

Billy Butler probably made all the sports highlight shows when he hit what looked like a single to right field, but then got thrown out at first base by Toronto’s right fielder, Jose Bautista. You don’t get to write 9-3 in your scorebook all that often.

With two outs Alex Gordon singled and Jarrod Dyson came out to run for him. If the definition of a true base stealer is a guy who steals a bag when everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to, Dyson is a true base stealer. He swiped second and then scored on a ball that never left the infield.

Salvador Perez hit a game-ending groundball to Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, but Reyes buried the throw. First baseman Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t scoop the short hop — if Eric Hosmer had been playing first base for the Jays they might have won — and Dyson never stopped running and scored.

When it’s the third out of an inning there’s no reason for a runner who’s already on base to shut things down; if there’s an error the runner wants to be in position to take an extra 90 feet and Dyson did. That tied the game and sent it to extra innings.

The tenth inning

Omar Infante has a reputation for being a professional hitter and he showed why in the tenth inning. With the score tied and runners on second and third, Infante swung at two sliders, then made an adjustment and took the next one when it was down, out of the zone. Professional hitters don’t just keep swinging at a pitch they can’t hit; they figure out what the pitcher is doing and adjust. Omar took another slider down and forced the pitcher, Todd Redmond, to get the ball up.

With the count 2-2 Redmond hung a slider and Infante banged it into left field for two runs and the lead — a lead the Royals never gave back.

The back end of the Royals pen

The Royals offense is going to get the attention and those hitters deserve it; they’ve been getting hammered by people like me and Thursday night they broke out — but don’t miss what the Royals bullpen did.

Wade Davis threw two scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.48 and Greg Holland closed the game and ended the night with a 1.74 ERA. The Blue Jays were whacking the ball all over the yard for the first six innings, then starter James Shields threw a scoreless seventh and the back end of the Royals bullpen shut the Jays down the rest of the way.

Game notes

*Nobody is real sure how to hit a knuckleball because nobody is real sure what a knuckleball is going to do — including the guy who threw it. A while ago R.A. Dickey threw a game in Kauffman Stadium and Billy Butler said he looked at video of Dickey’s knuckleball — it had about six different actions.

Billy said he would probably go with the “if it’s high, let it fly” theory. The idea is that a knuckler that starts in the strike will drop out of it — a knuckleball that starts above the strike zone will drop into it.

*Back when he was still with the team I asked Jeff Francoeur if his knuckleball policy would be “if it’s high, let it fly” against a knuckleball pitcher and Frenchy said yes. Chris Getz was listening to the conversation and wanted to know how that differed from Francoeur’s usual approach.

*Nori Aoki started this game with a 10-pitch plate appearance and eventually walked. That at-bat let everyone else see how R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball was moving on this particular night.

*You’d think knuckleball pitchers would be easy to steal on — their pitches are so slow — but knuckleballers also don’t have much of a windup because they don’t need one. When Dickey used a slide-step he was getting the ball to home plate in less than 1.2 seconds. Most base stealers need at least a 1.4 second delivery to steal second base.

*In the fifth inning Nori Aoki bunted for a single on a 3-2 pitch. When a hitter who bunts has two strikes, most third basemen back up — they don’t think the hitter will lay one down. Lately, Nori’s been using the two-strike bunt so pay attention to the third baseman’s positioning when Aoki’s at the plate. If Nori has two strikes, the third baseman has to make a decision; stay in and let Aoki try to slap one by him, or play back and watch Nori lay one down.

*Alcides Escobar got doubled off second base in the sixth inning and it might have been a case of not knowing where the shortstop was positioned. If you know the shortstop is over your left shoulder and then someone hits a line drive over the same shoulder, retreat to the bag until you see the ball drop. If the move back toward the base means you can only advance one base on a single, so be it — better than getting doubled off on a line drive out.

O Canada

Not long ago a player who’s going to remain nameless asked me why Kansas City fans and media were so negative. He hadn’t been here that long and said the team was doing OK — at the time the Royals were one game under — so he couldn’t understand why every dip in the road was greeted with such negativity.

I said that the team had once been very good and the fans were frustrated with so many years of losing; it didn’t take much to set people off. I assume we don’t like to think of ourselves as a negative group of people (if you think I’m wrong about that you can send me a nasty email) so it was interesting to see how a relative outsider viewed us.

Maybe the team went to Canada at the right time; getting away from the newspaper, web sites and sports-talk shows that will bury them for any failure might be a good thing. They can play ball and relax and if they have a bad game, they don’t have to hear us talk about it.

Throwback book signing

Jason Kendall and I will be signing our new book “Throwback” this Saturday at the Zona Rosa Barnes & Noble book store. We’ll talk with fans, answer questions and sign books starting at 2 PM.

Stop by and say hi.