Royals pitcher Ian Kennedy got one out on a groundball and nine outs on balls hit in the air Thursday night at Houston.
(He also got one out on a line drive that was caught, but letting someone hit a baseball lopsided and hoping it’s hit to one of your fielders is not a recommended way of getting outs, so let’s ignore that for a moment.)
Question: Letting batters hit fly balls in Minute Maid Park often leads to disaster, so how did Kennedy get away with it?
Answer: He used center field.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The left-field foul pole in Minute Maid is 315 feet away from home plate and the right field foul pole is 326, but the center-field fence is farther away than World Peace: 436 feet.
So if you have a centerfielder who can go get it, a pitcher can let a batter hit the ball as far as he likes — as long as the batter hits the ball toward center field. If it seemed like you watched Lorenzo Cain running down fly balls all night, you weren’t wrong: Cain caught six fly balls for outs, and most of them would have been out of the park had they been hit to straightaway left or right.
Smart pitchers use ballpark dimensions to their advantage, and Kennedy used Minute Maid Park well on Thursday.
Another Altuve homer
The one fly ball Kennedy didn’t get away with was a home run hit by Jose Altuve in the seventh inning. The Astros’ second baseman hit it to right-center field, and that’s kind of interesting.
Wednesday night, Altuve was in a 2-1 fastball count with Yordano Ventura on the mound and appeared to “cheat on gas” — he looked for a fastball inside and turned on it, and the ball wound up on the train tracks above left field.
On Thursday night, Altuve was in another fastball count — 2-0 — but this time Kennedy was pitching. If a pitcher wants to throw a fastball in a fastball count, he can get away with it by throwing it to a good location.
Wednesday night, Altuve pulled an inside fastball; so Thursday night, Kennedy threw his fastball down and away. But Altuve was all over it — he hit it to the opposite field for a solo home run.
A. Reacted well to a down and away pitch, or ...
B. Guessed it was coming.
I’m betting on B.
Smart hitters and pitchers are playing a game of cat and mouse.
Wade Davis has told me Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is looking for a pitch out over the plate that he can drive to left field. When the Twins were here, Davis threw Mauer a fastball up and out over the plate — the pitch Mauer looks for — and Mauer took it.
After the game, I asked Davis why he threw that pitch to Mauer, and Davis said: “Because I don’t throw it to him.”
It appeared Davis had pounded Mauer inside so much that Mauer gave up looking for a pitch away. And when he got it, he wasn’t ready. So if Altuve was smart enough to think the Royals got burned when they came inside with a 2-1 fastball on Wednesday, and thus they’d probably go with a 2-0 fastball away on Thursday, that’s some pretty smart hitting.
And if thinking like this makes your head hurt, welcome to the club.
Great catch, bad base running
If you watched Thursday’s game, you saw Alcides Escobar make a great sliding catch of a pop fly in center field, then spring up and double off base runner Carlos Gomez.
When a batter hits a “tweener” (a ball that’s falling between an infielder and outfielder), the base runner shouldn’t get so far off the base that he can’t get back if the ball is caught.
Here’s the reasoning:
If the ball is caught and the runner is too far off base, that’s two outs. If the ball drops and the runner gets forced out because he didn’t make it to the next base in time, that’s one out.
Great catch by Escobar; bad base running by Gomez.