With Jon Lester on the mound it doesn’t take a lot of runs to beat the Royals, so when the Red Sox went up 3-0 in the third inning, it felt like the game might be over. Let’s take a look at the Yordano Ventura curveball that changed the game.
David Ross led off the third inning with a walk — always a bad beginning — and Jackie Bradley, Jr. followed that with a single on a 2-1 fastball. Brock Holt grounded out to first base and both runners moved up 90 feet. The next batter was left-handed Daniel Nava and Yordano Ventura threw three fastballs and got ahead in the count 1-2.
That’s when Ventura threw the curveball that changed the game.
Going down-and-in to a left-handed hitter can be a risky proposition; a lot of lefties hit that location well. And in Fenway Park going down-and-in to lefty can be riskier still; the Pesky Pole is 302 feet away. Throw an off-speed pitch, miss your spot and the hitter will pull the ball toward the right-field foul pole.
That’s what happened here: Ventura left the curve up and Nava pulled the pitch down the line. Nori Aoki, the right fielder was positioned for the fastball—it’s the most common pitch—so an 86-mph hung curve was going to be hit into an unprotected area of the outfield. The ball bounced in the stands for a ground rule double. Both runs scored, the Sox went up 3-0 and never looked back.
Final score: Red Sox 6, Royals 0.
This game was disappointing, but it was not the kind of loss that makes you crazy. Jon Lester has been so good for so long against the Royals, once he got a multirun lead, the odds of a comeback were not good — forget this one and move on.
But that’s precisely what makes Friday and Saturday’s losses frustrating: those were games the Royals could win. If you’re going to compete for a spot in the playoffs, you can’t continue to let those games slip through your fingers.
First inning: Lester threw his fastball between 89 and 95 mph and that 6 mph spread made it tough on hitters. They might get into a fastball count, but they still didn’t know which fastball they were getting; the 86 MPH model or the top-of-the-line, mid-nineties heater. Lester not only threw his 4-seam fastball, he mixed in cutters and curves. Sometimes pitchers will go as far as they can on fastballs, then mix in the off-speed stuff later; sometimes they throw everything right away. That was the case with Lester.
In the bottom of the inning, Yordano Ventura much more predictable: he only threw one off-speed pitch — a changeup — and his fastball was between 97 and 99 mph. Adding and subtracting velocity on a fastball is a trick that takes time to learn. The pitcher has to find a way to change velocity without being obvious about it.
Second inning: Billy Butler got another fastball down and in and once again hit a groundball to third base. Once the league finds a weakness, they’ll pound it until a hitter adjusts.
Third inning: Lester demonstrated the art of using both sides of the plate. Get a hitter looking for a pitch in and you can lock him up with a pitch away — that’s what Lester did to Lorenzo Cain when he struck him out looking. Get a hitter looking for a pitch away and you can lock him up with a pitch in — Eric Hosmer took a cutter on the inside corner for strike three.
During the third inning the TV guys put up a couple graphics that showed pitch speed range: Lester was between 95 and 73 mph, a 22-mph spread. Ventura was throwing between 99 and 82 mph, a 17-mph spread.
Fourth inning: Billy Butler fouled a ball off the throwing arm of catcher David Ross. When that happens it might be smart to attempt a stolen base — the catcher’s arm is still smarting and the throw might not be top-notch. Unfortunately, to exploit a foul tip off the catcher’s arm you have to have a base runner and the Royals didn’t.
Later in the inning, with Shane Victorino at the plate, Ventura hung another curve and the Boston right fielder hit the ball down the left-field line. Once again; hang an off-speed pitch and the ball is likely to be hit into an unprotected part of the outfield. Alex Gordon was positioned for a fastball, the ball got down in the corner and Victorino wound up on second with a double.
David Ross got the bat head out in front on a 97-mph fastball — the third 97-mph fastball in a row during that particular at bat — and homered, scoring Victorino. Jackie Bradley, Jr. singled, went first-to-third on a Brock Holt single and that extra base paid off when Daniel Nava hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield.
Later in the same inning Alcides Escobar made his third error of the series.
Fifth inning: Mike Carp led off the inning with a walk. There are good walks (walks issued to hot hitters with runners in scoring position) and bad walks (walks issued to guys hitting .215 at the end of the day) — this was a bad walk.
With the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, Ned Yost pulled Yordano Ventura. Jackie Bradley, Jr. already had two hits off Ventura so Yost went to Francisley Bueno. The left-handed reliever got Bradley and Brock Holt to leave the bases loaded.
Sixth inning: Eric Hosmer took a huge hack on a 2-0 pitch and missed, but a pitcher can’t assume he can just keep throwing the same pitch and get the same results. Once Hosmer got to two-strikes, he cut down on his swing and singled off the Green Monster.
Ninth inning: Junichi Tazawa replaced Jon Lester and Danny Valencia swung at the first pitch he saw. Until they invent the six-run home run, that might be a bad idea. The Royals didn’t have much of a chance, but if they were going to have any chance, they needed base runners. Edward Mujica replaced Tazawa—I guess the game was going too fast—and got the final two outs to sweep the series.
It doesn’t get any easier on Monday: the Royals face Chris Sale and the White Sox.
Dyson’s double play
Saturday night Jarrod Dyson got doubled off first base when he broke for second base and Omar Infante lined out to center field. The throw beat Dyson back to first base and the Red Sox had an easy double play.
On Sunday’s pregame show, host Joel Goldberg said he talked to Dyson and the play was a straight steal — Infante needed to take the pitch. Maybe; but if Infante did not have the take sign, Dyson was taking a risk by not knowing where the ball was. Running into a double play is bad enough, but running around on a baseball field not knowing where a batted ball has been hit is a good way to take a line drive in the head.
If Infante did not have the take sign, Dyson needed to keep track of the ball.
In June Eric Hosmer hit .195 and people were talking about a demotion. Coming into Sunday’s game Hosmer has hit .429 in July. The pros are generally more patient about player development than fans; of course the pros have more riding on their decisions than we do.
Here’s a notable quote from Sunday’s Kansas City Star.
"We live in an impatient world, but we have to separate that from the game we work in. Everything is Instagram and texting and emailing and the results have to be there right now, and every game gets analyzed that way. But this game requires patience." — Brewers general manager Doug Melvin