Judging the Royals

Alex Gordon: ‘Play the game hard, and see what happens’

Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) misses the throw to second for an error as Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon (4) advances to third on a grounder by Salvador Perez in the ninth inning during Sunday's baseball game on June 29, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) misses the throw to second for an error as Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon (4) advances to third on a grounder by Salvador Perez in the ninth inning during Sunday's baseball game on June 29, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

That’s what Alex Gordon said after the Royals beat the Angels on Sunday afternoon. If you’re looking for a turning point in this game, you could do a lot worse than Howie Kendrick’s error in the ninth inning. Gordon was on first base when Salvador Perez hit what looked like a sure double-play ball. Erick Aybar threw the ball to Howie Kendrick and the Angels second baseman turned his head too soon. If you knew Alex Gordon was coming down the line to take you out, wouldn’t you want to know exactly where he was?

Kendrick missed the ball, Perez was safe, Gordon went first to third and Omar Infante drove in the game winner with a single to left.

Royals beat the Angels, 5-4.

Game notes

First inning: Lorenzo Cain had a great game at the plate — four hits, three doubles and two RBIs — but gave the Angels a gift run when he missed catching Erick Aybar’s fly ball to right. Mike Trout was on base at the time and did what he was supposed to do; he ran the play out.

Cain called for the ball, held up his hand, but then saw Jarrod Dyson out of the corner of his eye and pulled up. In the big leagues communication can be difficult; crowds are big and loud. Ned Yost said the play was Cain’s fault, but the outfielder next to the guy making the catch has to make sure he doesn’t get too close or you might see someone flinch and drop the ball.

Second inning: Omar Infante tried for third base and was thrown out by left fielder Josh Hamilton. The move didn’t work, but Infante attempted it at the right time — there was one down. Get to third with one down and you don’t need a hit to score.

Third inning: Eric Hosmer — who smoked the ball in his first three at bats, but had nothing to show for it — made an error when he threw the ball high to Jeremy Guthrie who was covering first base. When pitchers cover first, they need to get the ball before they arrive. If the throw comes at the same time they’re trying to tag the bag, their concentration gets split and bad things happen. Guthrie probably could have caught the ball or tagged the bag, but not both at the same time.

Fourth inning: Third base coach Mike Jirschele got booed because he didn’t send Salvador Perez home after Omar Infante doubled. Several things to consider: there were no outs and the Royals didn’t need to push it, Sal is a catcher and doesn’t run that well and do you really want to send Perez home and have a possible collision at the plate?

And Perez wound up scoring anyway.

Later in the inning Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson intentionally walked Billy Butler to load the bases, then couldn’t throw strikes to Alex Gordon. Some pitchers have that problem: an intentional walk issued with pitches in the low to mid-seventies screws up their release point and they can’t find it again when they go back to throwing ninety.

Fifth inning: Mike Moustakas replaced Danny Valencia once the Royals took the lead. That provided them with better defense and the Angels had no left-handers in their bullpen.

Hank Conger immediately took advantage of a left-handed shift, bunting a ball to where the third baseman would usually stand. The guy’s hitting .230 and as Ned Yost has said; if a hitter beats the shift a couple times, he’ll quit shifting — Ned’s not in the business of giving away free base hits.

Sixth inning: Albert Pujols led off with what looked like a double, but then came in standing to second base. Alex Gordon — Mr. Play Hard and See What Happens — fired the ball to Alcides Escobar, Esky fed it to Omar Infante and Omar got the tag down before Albert got his foot down. Erick Aybar later homered, so Pujols nonchalance cost the Angels a run.

Seventh inning: Find a way to grab a lead, give the ball to Wade Davis and Greg Holland and head to Minneapolis. Instead the Royals made three outs on four pitches. To be fair, you don’t take hittable pitches off relievers — they’re not going to be in the game long enough for pitch count to matter.

Ninth inning: The second pitch of Billy Butler’s at bat was called a strike and the third pitch was in about the same place — it just caught more of the plate. That pitch was called strike three and Billy walked off with a gesture of disgust. Whatever a hitter thinks of a pitch doesn’t matter; the umpire has just demonstrated that he believes it’s a strike. Taking another pitch in the same location and hoping to get the call is probably not a good game plan.

Why Valencia didn’t cover third base

In the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, the Angels had runners on first and second and put on a double steal. Salvador Perez came up to throw to third, but Valencia didn’t cover the base. The batter at the plate was right-handed C.J. Cron and the pitch thrown was a 75-mph changeup.

Middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs and pass them along to the corner infielders. A middle infielder might make a little hissing sound for an off-speed pitch, no hissing sound and it’s a fastball. But they’ve got to time making that hissing sound; too soon and a base coach will hear and find a way to alert the hitter.

According to Mike Moustakas, depending on the hitter, the pitch and the situation, the third baseman might not cover third if a runner on second attempts a steal. The third baseman might hold his ground on an off-speed pitch because if the ball is put in play by a right-handed hitter, it will be pulled toward third. I already knew that so I wondered if Valencia was holding his ground because the pitch was off-speed.

But that’s not what happened.

With multiple runners on base the catcher will step out in front of home plate and signal which base he’s throwing to if both runners take off. With runners on first and second it’s not uncommon to go after the trail runner. That’s because the trail runner tends to get a lousy jump — he’s got to make sure the lead runner is actually going and that delays his start.

In this case there was a mix-up as to where Perez was throwing the ball; Valencia was under the impression the ball was going to second base and Sal was under the impression the ball was going to third.

Josh Hamilton and the wall

In the third inning of Friday’s game Alcides Escobar hit a double over Josh Hamilton’s head and I was critical of Hamilton’s effort; he pulled up short of the wall and played the carom. Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz thinks I got it wrong.

Rusty thinks catching any one ball is not worth a trip to the disabled list. You get an out, but lose a star player for a month — is that a good trade?

One of the reasons outfielder tend to play deep is so they can get to the wall in time to catch a ball and still be under control. Rusty pointed out that those great Mike Trout catches tend to come once Mike has already reached the wall and is able to time his leap. Kuntz doesn’t want any of his outfielders slamming into the wall in an uncontrolled manner.

The other night Lorenzo Cain made a great catch and then stumbled across the warning track afterwards. Make that great catch a couple strides later and Lorenzo is going head first into the wall. That might make ESPN’s Top 10, but as Rusty points out; there will be another Top 10 24 hours later and Cain’s catch will be forgotten.

Playing deep also means it takes three bloops to score a run. Let a ball get over your head and your one bloop away from giving up a run.

After hearing why one of the best outfield coaches in the game explain why I was wrong and why Josh Hamilton should not risk his health to catch a fly ball, I have just one more question: who you going to believe, me or Rusty Kuntz?

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