Judging the Royals

How the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain kept Saturday’s ninth-inning rally going

Lorenzo Cain busted hard out of the batter’s box on Saturday, and because he played the game right kept an inning alive.
Lorenzo Cain busted hard out of the batter’s box on Saturday, and because he played the game right kept an inning alive. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you haven’t already heard, let me be the first to tell you: Saturday afternoon the Royals went into the bottom of the ninth inning losing to the White Sox, 7-1. Six hits, four walks and 12 batters later the Royals had scored seven runs; the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Kansas City Royals history. (I got that from Rustin Dodd’s story and if it’s wrong I’m blaming him.)

Rookie Brett Eibner had two hits, including the game-winning walk off single, Whit Merrifield had a two-run single and Drew Butera came off the bench to hit a double that tied the game.

But don’t forget Lorenzo Cain – he ran a ball out.

Why that deserves some attention

When the Royals play day games after night games they rarely do any outside activities. Ned Yost has been around long enough to know that early morning batting practice after a night game might look good to outsiders, but sometimes you need to take your foot off the gas if you want your team to have some energy left for the game.

So Saturday morning things were pretty relaxed in the Royals clubhouse.

I ran into everybody’s favorite first base coach, Rusty Kuntz, and we stood in a hallway and talked about Friday night’s game. I brought up the play where Jarrod Dyson motored down to second base and caught Chicago shortstop Jimmy Rollins by surprise; Rollins thought he had a force out at second base and by the time he realized Dyson was going to be safe, Rollins had no play at first base, either.

Rusty said it was great hustle by Dyson, but told me not to forget the guy who hit the ball: Alcides Escobar.

When a player puts a ball in play he almost always knows if the ball has a chance of turning into a hit. And if he sees a grounder headed right at the shortstop it’s only human to put his head down, take a moment to feel sorry for himself and only then run the ball out.

The guys who play the game right don’t take that moment of self-pity and that can be the difference between beating out a play by a step or being out by a step. On Friday night Escobar didn’t take that moment; on Saturday afternoon Cain didn’t either.

They both busted hard out of the box and because they played the game right, kept an inning alive.

The beauty of baseball; small things matter

There were plenty of heroes in that ninth-inning rally; Brett Eibner and Drew Butera got the postgame on-field interview, the mandatory Gatorade bath and a huge ovation from that portion of the crowd that didn’t decide to leave the game early and beat the traffic. What those guys did was huge and deserves all the attention it got.

But the beauty of baseball is that it’s a very long grind and over time it tends to reward the people who do the small stuff right and punish the people who can’t be bothered with the fundamentals.

You don’t see too many ESPN highlights featuring guys who back up bases, hit the cutoff man or run ground balls out, and that can lead some fans to believe those things aren’t important. Those small things done well, often go unnoticed.

But the Royals have taken two games from a division rival in part because two players decided to run ground balls out.

And that’s about as big as it gets.

They didn’t use Wade Davis and that might be huge

If the game had gone to extra innings, there was a decent chance Ned Yost would have used Wade Davis in the 10th. Managers will use their closers in tie games when playing at home because if the closer can throw a scoreless top of an inning, the home team has two chances to win the game.

In this case, if Davis threw a scoreless top of the tenth, the Royals would have had the bottom of the 10th, and if that wasn’t enough, the bottom of the eleventh to score the runs necessary to win.

The Royals were rained out on Thursday, Davis and Kelvin Herrera pitched on Friday and if they had pitched on Saturday, there’s a good chance they would be unavailable on Sunday.

Because the Royals won Saturday’s game in nine innings, Wade Davis is available on Sunday, and that might be huge.