When a ballplayer “snaps” (loses his cool and starts to break things) he’s supposed to leave the dugout to do it. You can throw a tantrum, but go up the tunnel and do it there; don’t do it in front of the fans and the TV cameras.
Thursday night it appeared the Texas Rangers were trying to rattle Yordano Ventura. If a pitcher has the reputation for losing his cool, nudge him in that direction. Rangers batters stepped out of the box on Ventura (when a pitcher gets set to throw a pitch he doesn’t like the batter to call time) and after Rougned Odor hit a home run in the second inning he stared down Ventura while circling the bases.
Hitting a home run and then staring at the pitcher is considered a challenge: Yeah, I just went deep on you … what are you gonna do about it? Odor found out a couple innings later: Ventura struck him out to end the fourth inning and then he stared Odor down. Odor had enough grace to laugh about it.
So if Ventura lost his cool he didn’t do it in front of the TV cameras and he pitched well enough for the Royals to win — but they didn’t.
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Why Ventura was pitching in the eighth — maybe
I’m not in Texas so I can’t ask and don’t know (which I’m pretty sure qualifies me to start a trade rumor), but Wade Davis threw 33 pitches on Wednesday night so he might not have been available on Thursday night and that might explain why Yordano Ventura was still pitching in the eighth inning.
If Davis wasn’t available and Luke Hochevar’s on the DL and Joakim Soria’s had some memorable meltdowns, that might mean Ned Yost was trying to get eight innings out of Ventura and planned to give the ball to Kelvin Herrera in the ninth. Ventura gave up a home run and the lead in the eighth so we never saw Herrera.
And lack of bullpen depth probably accounts for Texas starter Cole Hamels throwing 123 pitches and eight innings. According to collective ERA the Rangers have the worst bullpen in the American League, so manager Jeff Bannister needed Hamels to go deep in the game and then hand the ball to their closer, Sam Dyson.
Royals also hit into some bad luck
Any time an offense has 12 strikeouts, six hits and only two runs it’s probably fair to say the hitters had a bad night. But the Royals also hit five line drives and four of them were caught, including two with a runner in scoring position.
In 2016 the Royals have hit .669 when they put a line drive in play; Thursday night it was .200. But that doesn’t mean the Royals are always hitting into bad luck. The team batting average is .267, third-best in the American League, but in the past seven days the Royals have hit .210, the past two weeks it’s been .232 and over the past month it’s .231.
After the game Ned Yost was asked if the Royals’ anemic offense was due to his hitters or Hamels and Ned said it was 90 percent Hamels.
Hamels faced 30 batters and by my count threw strike one to 17 of them. Of those 17 batters who saw a first-pitch strike, one homered, two singled, one walked and seven struck out. And if you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s a .187 batting average and .235 on-base percentage.
This is pretty much why pitching coaches say the best pitch in the world is strike one; throw it and your odds of getting the hitter out go way up. Which is why a pitcher who pours in strikes puts the hitter in a bind: take strike one and you’re in a hole, and that’s where Hamels kept the Royals all night long.
Drew Butera and the umpire-catcher relationship
One last thing of semi-interest from Thursday night’s game; with nobody on base Royals catcher Drew Butera blocked a pitch in the dirt. Catchers get beat up enough, so why get hit by a baseball when you don’t have to?
Because umpires appreciate it.
If the catcher blocks a pitch, it doesn’t hit the umpire and maybe the umpire’s gratitude will leak over into favorable calls. Whether we think it’s fair or not umpires and players have relationships and sometimes those relationships affect calls.
And nobody has a stronger relationship with umpires than catchers; they work together and talk all night long. Off the record, catchers will tell you they sometimes get calls, both behind the plate and at the plate. When a catcher is hitting, an umpire might give him the benefit of the doubt on a borderline pitch, but warn him not to take that pitch again — next time it might be a strike.
Catchers with the gift of gab — guys who are funny or interesting — definitely have an advantage when it comes to schmoozing umpires.
And blocking a pitch with nobody on is just one more way to get on an umpire’s good side.