Judging the Royals

Raul Ibanez sets an example for KC Royals

The Royals' Raul Ibanez slides into third on a triple as a throwing error to Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall from Jason Kipnis allowed Ibanez to score in the fourth inning during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals' Raul Ibanez slides into third on a triple as a throwing error to Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall from Jason Kipnis allowed Ibanez to score in the fourth inning during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

In the fourth inning of the Royals’ 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Raul Ibanez hit a ball into the right-field corner and wound up with a triple. Alex Gordon was on first base at the time, so if Ibanez tripled, you know Gordon scored. That made the score 3-1, but Raul’s hustle to third base caused an error: he arrived at the same time as the throw from right, the baseball got away and Raul scored on an error.

Stopping at second base would have been easier—and maybe smarter—but I don’t get the feeling Ibanez is here to play it safe; he’s here to show how a winning ballplayer approaches the game.

Here’s another example: in the second inning Raul was on first base when Nori Aoki hit into an obvious double play, but Ibanez still hustled down to second and made an attempt to take out the pivot man. In the same situation you see a lot of younger players peel off and get out of the way of the pivot man’s throw.

The Ibanez triple electrified the fans—can he do the same to his teammates?

How Billy Butler saved the bullpen

Billy Butler was not in the lineup to start the game, and people have been questioning his future with the Royals. So hitting a two-run home run to save a game is pretty big news—and it ought to be. Hitting game-winning home runs is hard.

The part of the story that might go unnoticed is how Butler’s bomb saved the bullpen.

Wade Davis and Greg Holland were not available; they’d pitched three days in a row and needed a day off. Scott Downs and Francisley Bueno pitched more than one inning on Thursday (Downs might have been available for a hitter or two) and Jason Frasor and Kelvin Herrera had already been used by the time Butler hit a two-run homer.

When Billy Butler gave the Royals a two-run lead in the eighth, that meant Ned Yost could hand the ball to the last reliever available: Aaron Crow. Had Butler not hit that eighth-inning home run, Herrera might have stayed in the game and if Crow couldn’t finish things off, Bruce Chen was going to throw.

Don’t be surprised if Billy gets drilled

Billy Butler absolutely crushed that 1-0 fastball; it traveled 422 feet. Butler knew he got it because he stood at home plate and watched the ball fly. In the old days that would be enough to get you drilled the next day—nowadays pitchers don’t think like that.

But if Billy gets hit by a pitch, don’t be surprised.

Is Michael Brantley hot?

In the first two games against the Royals, Michael Brantley is 1 for 10—and yet Michael Brantley is hot. Swinging the bat well and getting hits are two different things.

On Thursday night Brantley had six at bats and hit the ball on the screws at least five times. Friday night it was more of the same; he was 1 for 4, but lined out twice. That’s one of the reasons you can’t just look at numbers: the quality of hit or out makes a difference.

Even though Brantley doesn’t have much to show for it, he’s swinging the bat well.

Interpreting Salvador Perez’ sign language

The one bad at-bat Brantley had on Friday night was a strikeout looking in the fourth inning. The count was 3-2 and catcher Salvador Perez made a “calm down” gesture to pitcher Yordano Ventura. This was a big pitch coming up and Perez didn’t want Ventura to overthrow. Then Sal held one finger straight down and swirled it; that’s the sign for a sinker.

Ventura made a perfect pitch: 98 at the knees and froze Brantley for strike three.

A new wrinkle on replay

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m still figuring out the rules on instant replay.

Salvador Perez hit a flare that dropped into right field, but on at least one replay, looked like he might have been tagged out when the ball was thrown back to the infield. At that point Cleveland manager Terry Francona replaced starting pitcher Josh Tomlin with reliever Kyle Crockett and I wondered if Francona had the entire warmup period during a pitching change to decide whether to challenge the play on Perez.

Well, here’s the rule:

“In the case of a pitching change after the conclusion of a play but before the conclusion of the inning: (a) the defensive manager must exercise his challenge before signaling for a pitching change; and (b) the offensive Manager must exercise his challenge, or the Crew Chief (if applicable pursuant to Section II.C above) must initiate Replay Review, before the relief pitcher steps onto the warning track or, in the case on on-field bullpen areas, crosses the foul line. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Crew Chief shall have the discretion to permit a challenge by the offensive Manager if the Crew Chief determines that the defensive Manager called for a relief pitcher in an accelerated fashion for the sole purpose of preventing the offensive Manager from having a reasonable opportunity to exercise his challenge.”

How the crowd’s enthusiasm might have hurt the Royals

In the seventh inning the Indians scored the tying run when Jason Kipnis hit a sacrifice fly to Lorenzo Cain. The ball was a tweener—a flare between the infield and outfield—and Cain charged forward, but had to leave his feet to make the catch. That allowed the runner on third—Yan Gomes—to score easily.

Cain was playing deep and had to contend with second baseman Omar Infante; the infielder’s job is to go back on tweeners until they hear the outfielder call them off. But when the crowd is loud, they can’t hear the outfielder. And there were 33,460 people there to see the Royals and fireworks.

Cain sprinted forward, but slowed when a collision with Infante appeared imminent.

Rusty Kuntz’ near-death experience

I asked Rusty Kuntz about that foul line drive that almost took him out on Thursday night and he said he didn’t see the ball until it was almost on him. Billy Butler hit it and the ball came out of Billy’s uniform; by the time Rusty picked it up, the ball was almost there.

When a line drive gets hit at a base coach, the base coach might as well drop straight to the ground; those balls are hooking or slicing and if you try to get out of the way, you’ve got a good chance of running onto the line of fire.