Judging the Royals

The Royals use their speed and win a wild one

Raul Mondesi singled on a soft grounder in the eighth inning that Angels relief pitcher Jose Alvarez threw away, letting two runs score.
Raul Mondesi singled on a soft grounder in the eighth inning that Angels relief pitcher Jose Alvarez threw away, letting two runs score. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you didn’t watch the Royals beat the Angels 7-5 on Wednesday night, you missed a wild one. The game had so many twists and turns it’s hard to know where to start, so for the lack of a better idea, let’s start at the beginning.

Pitcher Danny Duffy gave the Royals what they needed; a quality start. Duffy threw six innings while allowing three earned runs. He kept the Royals in the game and gave them a chance to win and one of the ways he did that was by pitching “backwards.”

The third inning provided an example of what that means.

Jett Bandy (who to my surprise is not a character from Star Wars) was in a 2-1 count, a fastball count, and when a hitter finds himself in a fastball count he’s likely to “cheat on gas.” That’s baseball-ese for starting a swing early.

So Duffy threw a changeup.

Bandy swung and missed, the count went to 2-2 and that meant Bandy had to swing at anything close; he eventually hit a fly ball to Jarrod Dyson in center field.

If a pitcher continually throws fastballs in 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 counts, hitters will eventually light him up. They need to mix it up.

Duffy’s ability to pitch backwards — throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts — is one of the reasons the Royals won the game. Now here’s another.

Thumbs down or else

In the seventh inning the Royals were down 3-1 with the tying run on base. Rookie Raul Mondesi was at the plate and because he had never hit safely in the big leagues it made sense for him to put a bunt down; move the tying runs into scoring position and then take two whacks at driving those runs in.

Now here’s something you may not know: if you throw a baseball and want it to go straight, your thumb needs to be on the bottom of the ball. Get the thumb on the side of the ball and the ball will move toward your arm side.

Mondesi got his bunt down and was flying down the line. Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker picked up the ball and took a peek at Mondesi and knew he didn’t have much time, so he rushed his throw; he didn’t get his arm all the way up before letting fly and that meant his thumb was on the side of the ball, not the bottom.

The throw ran to his arm side and Shoemaker threw the ball down the right-field line in foul territory; both runs scored and Mondesi ended up on third base with the score tied.

The Supreme Court then went into session and after the umpires decided that Mondesi did not interfere with the throw, the Angels decided to play the game under protest.

Now here’s the lesson this play can teach us: there are no small things in baseball.

Winning teams execute the fundamentals relentlessly and wait for their opponent to make a mistake; most of the time that’s how you win a close ballgame.

And a close game allows the Royals to use their speed. Get down by multiple runs and the Royals stop bunting, stealing bases and taking the extra 90 feet. The Royals won a World Series by getting the ball in play and forcing the New York Mets to play defense. And when the Mets couldn’t execute the fundamentals while being pressured by speed, the Royals won a ring.

What all that arguing was about

OK, just so you know: after the Mondesi play Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out to argue that Mondesi wasn’t in the running lane and should be called out for interfering with the throw.

Here’s the problem: the running lane is foul territory and first base is in fair territory — nobody uses the running lane. On close plays runners are in a hurry to get first base so they quite logically tend to run a straight line to first base.

Normally, that’s not a problem. But if the ball is picked up near the first-base foul line and the guy throwing the ball to first makes a bad throw, the defense will start screaming that the runner interfered; he wasn’t in the running lane.

The Angels are going to have a hard time selling the idea that Mondesi interfered with the throw because their pitcher, Shoemaker, picked the ball up about halfway between home plate and the mound; he had a clear throwing lane, but launched the ball into foul territory anyway.

Salvy takes a play off

Ned Yost brought in Wade Davis with a five-run lead in the ninth, probably just to remind him where the mound was. Wade hadn’t pitched in a while and he had a bumpy inning.

The bumpiness started when Johnny Giavotella hit a ball to the right side, Mondesi made a diving stop, jumped up and threw wildly to first. The grounder was scored a hit, but Mondesi’s wild throw allowed Giavotella to go to second and Mondesi got tagged with an error … which wouldn’t have happened if Salvador Perez had been backing up the play like he was supposed to.

Perez catches approximately 300 games a year (that number may be off) so he gets to jog down to first when he hits a routine groundball. But Salvy sometimes takes plays off when he’s behind the dish and that sometimes hurts the team. He’ll reach for a pitch in the dirt instead of block it or, in this case, fail to back up a play at first.

Ventura needs to keep competing

In his last start Yordano Ventura started the game with nine straight outs and then started the fourth inning by walking the leadoff batter. After that, the air seemed to go out of Ventura and he gave up a homer, a double and two more walks.

In the next inning he walked another batter, then gave up another double. Ventura left the game after Adrian Beltre tried to hit a baseball through him.

After the leadoff walk in the fourth inning it looked like Ventura stopped competing. The Royals can’t afford that. Most night’s a pitcher’s job is to limit the damage and if a pitcher gives up after his first setback his team doesn’t have much of a chance.

Ventura is the scheduled starter for Thursday night’s game against the Texas Rangers and no matter what happens, the Royals need him to keep competing.