Judging the Royals

How a wild pitch helped the Kansas City Royals take over first place

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) tags Detroit Tigers' Eugenio Suarez out sliding back into third base in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Tuesday, June 17, 2014.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) tags Detroit Tigers' Eugenio Suarez out sliding back into third base in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. AP

You know you’re going good when your pitcher throws a 100-MPH wild pitch to the backstop and it gets you out of a bases-loaded jam. It happened in the fifth inning:

Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura had a seven-run lead and two outs, but the bases were loaded and Victor Martinez was at the plate. The Detroit Tigers’ DH came into the game with a .335 batting average, 17 home runs and 45 RBIs—a Grand Slam would put the Tigers right back in the game.

It was a big moment.

Catcher Salvador Perez made a "calm down" gesture with both hands, which seemed to have no effect on Ventura. Yordano wound up and threw a 100-MPH fastball that had the same trajectory as SCUD missile; it was over Sal’s head and went all the way to the Comerica Park backstop—part of which is made of Plexiglass.

Instead of hitting a soft net, the baseball hit hard Plexiglass and shot right back to Perez at home plate. Now Mike Moustakas came into play; the Royals third baseman did something smart—he covered third base.

The runner on third, Eugenio Suarez, did what any runner on third base would do when he sees a pitch thrown to the backstop; he extended his lead and thought about scoring. But because the ball came right back to Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas had the presence of mind to cover third, Suarez got picked off and the inning was over.

That ended the last semi-serious threat to Yordano Ventura and the Royals. They won Tuesday night’s game 11-4 and now stand alone in first place.

Keep an even keel

The good news is the Royals have now won nine straight; the bad news is nobody stay this hot.

After the game Ned Yost was asked why he had such a subdued response to the Royals taking over first place and he asked what the date was. The point being the Royals still have 92 games to go. Being in first place is better than the alternative, but it’s like being in first place less than halfway through a marathon.

Professional baseball players, coaches and managers get that. The Royals manager said a hot streak like this is fleeting and it can leave tomorrow, so as always: enjoy it while it lasts.

The seven-run second inning

Max Scherzer gave up seven runs in the second inning and that was pretty much the ball game. Last year’s Cy Young winner allowed a single, a home run, a walk, a home run, a single, a single, a single, a another single before getting three outs to end the inning.

After the game Scherzer wore it: he didn’t make excuses and said he left pitches up in the zone and didn’t finish hitters off once he got to two strikes.

Scherzer pitched four innings and, if I counted right, got 13 hitters into some type of two-strike count, but walked one and gave up five hits. That means the Royals batted .417 in two-strike counts; you can see why Scherzer was disappointed in his performance.

Alcides Escobar and the second inning

Shortstop Alcides Escobar had a big night offensively: three hits and he scored three runs. If you’ve been watching Escobar for the past few years, you know how good he can be on defense. But at times there are lapses; watch the infielders get ready for the pitcher to deliver the ball home and you should see them shuffle forward—it brings their weight forward on to the balls of their feet. They should also get their hands in a good fielding position.

But at times you see Escobar standing flat-footed, no shuffle forward and he might have his hands on his knees—not a good ready position.

That’s what was happening in the second inning: Escobar made and error and had a ball get past him just to his left. At that point the Royals had just put up seven runs, but you want to do things right all the time. You develop good habits so they’ll be there when you don’t have a seven-run lead.

Win the inning

When you get up or down by a lot early in a game, it’s easy to lose focus and just start going through the motions—what difference does it make when the score’s 7-0? Well, if you’re not careful you can let the other team crawl back into it with a run here and there; then you find yourself in a dogfight down the stretch.

One of the ways you stay focused is to forget the score; just try to win each inning. If they score nothing, you find a way to scratch out a run. If they score one, you need to score two.

Win enough innings and you win a ballgame.

How to handle criticism

During Tuesday night’s pregame show manager Ned Yost was asked how he handled all the people who wanted him to change his lineup; how difficult was it to deal with the criticism?

Ned said it was easy—he didn’t listen to it.

No matter what a manager does, he gets criticized. A few years ago, after the St. Louis Cardinals played a series here and Tony La Russa had a late-inning decision backfire, I went on some Cardinal web sites to see what fans were saying.

If you believed the comments you’d think La Russa didn’t know how to manage a baseball team and was especially bad at handling a bullpen. At that point in his career La Russa was clearly going into the Hall of Fame and all it took was one loss for some fans to turn on him.

If the critics never stop, after a while, players, coaches and managers tune it out.

Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn was my all-time favorite hitter; I figured if anyone that out of shape could hit .300, I could, too. (I was wrong.) I loved the fact that Gwynn wrote two books saying he was looking for pitch on the outer half of the plate and still got them. He got them because all pitchers make mistakes and when Gwynn got them he rarely missed.

I’d be watching on TV, see the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand, determine that it was headed for the outer half and know Tony was going to hit that pitch hard. He didn’t get a hit every time, but he made it work 3,141 times.

It was a pleasure to watch a man that good at his craft.

Kansas City Public Library appearance

This Thursday, June 19th, Jason Kendall and I will be appearing at the downtown Kansas City Public Library. A reception starts at 6 PM, the program starts at 6:30. We’ll be signing copies of our new book "Throwback" afterwards. It’s a great chance to talk Royals baseball with a former player and current coach.

We hope to see you there.