Judging the Royals

Two plays that changed the game when Royals beat the Twins on Sunday

Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon made a sliding catch with the bases loaded in Sunday’s game.
Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon made a sliding catch with the bases loaded in Sunday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the book “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis tells a story about a man named Eric Walker. Former Oakland A’s General Manager Sandy Alderson wanted to think about the game in new ways and commissioned Walker — an aerospace engineer — to write a pamphlet. In that pamphlet Eric Walker concluded defense was at most, no more than 5 percent of the game.

If Eric Walker had watched the Twins play the Royals, he would have reached a different conclusion.

Over the past four games the Twins have had trouble on the defensive side of the ball. Outfielders charging in on balls hit over the heads, failure to communicate on pop flies, trouble picking up the ball cleanly and throws that had a better chance of hitting a beer vendor than anyone wearing a Twins uniform.

And Sunday’s game was a perfect example.

Royals pitcher Danny Duffy has been pitching lights out lately, but on Sunday didn’t have his best stuff. Specifically, Duffy was having trouble with fastball command.

So Duffy was, at times, missing spots and counting on his defense to make plays behind him. And on Sunday, his teammates were making a lot of plays. Lorenzo Cain made a diving catch, Raul Mondesi ran back and made a difficult catch on a flare over his head, Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar both made outstanding plays, but today we’re going to focus on two defensive plays that changed the game.

Alex Gordon in the second inning

With the game scoreless in the second inning, the Twins had the bases loaded and one out; Kurt Suzuki was at the plate. If Suzuki hit a fly ball to the outfield, the runner on third could tag and score and Suzuki did hit a soft fly ball down the left field line.

Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar converged on it; Gordon called off Escobar and made a sliding catch — a catch many outfielders couldn’t make. But even after the catch, the Twins had a chance to score a run.

With a lesser arm in left field the runner on third — Trevor Plouffe — might have tried to tag and score. After all, Gordon was sliding across the ground after making the catch. Add that to the fact that Duffy was on the mound; when you’re facing a top-of-the-line pitcher, you won’t have a lot of scoring opportunities, so you push your luck on the base paths.

But Gordon has the reputation for throwing runners out, so Plouffe held at third and it was a good thing he did; Gordon popped up off the ground and threw a one-hop strike to home plate — Plouffe would have been out.

After the play, Plouffe looked at his third-base coach and made a gesture that seemed to say there wasn’t much he could do about it; that’s Gordon out there.

Royals manager Ned Yost discusses Danny Duffy, eight-game winning streak 

Jorge Polanco and the sixth inning

In the sixth inning, the game was tied 1-1; despite not having his best stuff, Duffy was getting outs, but Twins pitcher Ervin Santana was matching him.

With two outs, Cain hit a soft grounder up the middle, but Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco missed the ball. It was scored a hit, but probably (OK, make that definitely) should have been an error — it was a play Alcides Escobar makes all the time.

Eric Hosmer made the Twins pay for their mistake with an RBI double and the Royals took a 2-1 lead; a lead Kansas City pitching and defense would make stand up for the win.

So Gordon made a play that robbed the Twins of a run and Jorge Polanco missed a play that gave the Royals a run.

Walker should have been there.

Getaway Day

There are the rules that are in the rulebook and then there are unwritten rules and, unlike some guys with their own TV shows, I find the unwritten rules fascinating.

And the unwritten rules often concern how the written rules will be interpreted.

For instance: if a highway speed limit is 75 mph, I’m pretty sure we all think we can fudge that up to 80. If you foolishly passed up that last rest stop and really have to go to the bathroom, make it 89. If we got stopped and ticketed for going 76 mph in a 75 mph zone most of us would be outraged.

Bottom line: we all have unwritten rules and here’s one you may not know about.

Getaway Day is the day teams have to travel and umpires are in the same situation. So after the game on Sunday, the Twins had to fly home and the umpiring crew had to fly to whichever city they were headed to next. The Royals have a day off today so they got a break.

But since most of the people who participated in Sunday’s game had a plane to catch, everybody wanted a quick game. And if umpires have somewhere else to be, don’t expect to get borderline calls. I doubt an umpire would call a pitch that’s clearly outside the zone a strike, but if it’s close, that call is going the pitcher’s way. And as long as the umpires call it the same way for both teams, it’s fair.

Sunday’s game was played in two hours and 25 minutes.

And here’s what I have to say about that: could the umpires start calling every game like it’s Getaway Day?