A lot of people will tell you baseball is boring, and if you don’t pay attention it can be. If all you do is wait for something big to happen, you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting. But if you really pay attention you can see something big about to happen.
Take Brandon Moss’ fourth-inning home run in Thursday night’s Royals-Cardinals game.
Let’s start in the bottom of the first inning; I can’t tell you what was going through Chris Young’s mind, but what I can tell you is Young walked Moss with two outs and a runner on third.
Now here’s why Chris Young might have been reluctant to pitch to Brandon Moss; in 19 at-bats against Young, Moss had homered four times. Keep that in mind when you look at a pitcher’s walk total; sometimes a pitcher walks a batter because he lacks control, sometimes a pitcher walks a batter because he doesn’t want to deal with him.
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But in the bottom of the fourth, Young had a 2-0 lead to protect; Moss was leading off the inning and if Young walked him again the tying run would come to the plate, so Young pitched to Moss.
Young threw two fastballs and a slider and the count stood at 2-1. When hitters get in counts like 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 they’re likely to look middle in. The pitcher is behind in the count, has to throw a strike and a fastball is his best chance of doing so. Hitters look for a fastball on the inner half of the plate and if they get one, try to do some extra-base damage.
Young knows that as well as anybody, so he threw a fastball down and away; if Moss tried to pull that pitch, the most likely result would be a rollover grounder to the second baseman.
So Moss took the pitch and now things hinged on the home plate umpire’s call.
That 2-1 pitch turned into a conversion count
A “conversion count” is a count where the odds swing dramatically in the pitcher’s or hitter’s favor.
In 2-2 counts, Brandon Moss hits .156 and slugs .320; in 3-1 counts Moss hits .265 and slugs .592.
If umpire Mike Everitt gave Young the call, the at-bat would swing in his favor; the count would be 2-2 and Moss would then have to swing at anything close for the next two pitches — but Young didn’t get the call.
So the count went 3-1 and now Moss was the one sitting pretty; he could look fastball on the inner half, spit on any other pitch and still be guaranteed another pitch to hit 3-2.
To make sure he didn’t walk Moss, Young threw another fastball. It was again supposed to be down and away, but Young missed his spot; the pitch drifted up and over the heart of the plate and right into Moss’ wheelhouse. The resulting home run was a long one; it was estimated at 454 feet and now Moss has 20 at-bats against Young and has homered five times.
The 3-1 pitch Young threw to Moss is the one you’ll see in the highlights, but the 2-1 pitch is the one that set things up.
On Thursday night, the Royals and Cards combined for 63 at-bats and this was just one of them; but if you pay attention to one at-bat — or even one pitch — can be pretty damn interesting.