Friday night the Kansas City Royals took a 6-5 lead over the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning; the Royals needed three outs to secure their 70th win of the season.
When the left-field bullpen gate opened and Wade Davis walked through it, 25,000 people seemed to think it was a good idea; they gave the Royals closer one of the loudest ovations heard in Kauffman Stadium this summer.
Twenty-one pitches later, some of the same people were having second thoughts.
Davis hadn’t pitched since July 27. Should Ned Yost have used Davis in a save situation the first time back? Maybe it would have been better to find Davis an easy inning before asking him to close a game with a one-run lead.
Let me put it this way: If Wade Davis tells Ned Yost he’s ready to go and feels sharp and then Ned uses Kelvin Herrera to close the game and Herrera blows the save, everyone would be calling Ned the dumbest manager in baseball.
When the best closer in the game says he’s ready to close, you use him.
The ninth inning
When a reliever comes in a game, the catcher usually goes to the mound for a brief conversation. The reliever knows what pitches were working well in his bullpen warmup; the catcher knows how the opposition hitters are swinging the bats that night. The catcher gets to see what the reliever has during his eight warmup pitches, but they need to get on the same page as quickly as possible.
Davis threw a fastball for his first pitch, but it didn’t go where he wanted it to and it hit Ian Kinsler.
Davis then fell behind Jose Iglesias 2-1 and that’s a fastball count. Hitters gear up for a heater and pitchers either need to throw something off-speed or a very good fastball in a very good location. Davis threw a fastball, Iglesias fouled it back and it appeared the Royals closer got away with it.
But the foul tip hit Salvador Perez in the mask.
The injury delay
When catchers take a foul tip off the mask umpires will typically by them recovery time by coming out in front of the plate and throwing the pitcher a new baseball. If necessary, the umpire will further delay the game by cleaning home plate.
But when Salvador Perez takes a foul tip, he often requires a visit from the trainer before continuing and that delays the game — it can take a pitcher out of his rhythm.
Nobody — least of all me — can say for sure what effect the injury delay had on Davis. The next pitch he threw was a cutter that got smoked past shortstop Alcides Escobar. With a runner on first base it appeared the Royals were playing their middle infield at double play depth — in on the dirt, not back on the grass — and that had a negative effect on Escobar’s range.
The ball was hit so hard it not only got past Escobar at short, it also got past Alex Gordon in left field. After Iglesias doubled, Miguel Cabrera singled; two runs scored and the Tigers took a 7-6 lead they’d never give back.
The injury delay may have had absolutely nothing to do with subsequent events, but it sure didn’t help.
So what was Hosmer doing?
When double steals work they look brilliant; when they break down they look awful — and this one looked awful.
In the seventh inning with runners on first and third and nobody down, Kendrys Morales struck out and Salvador Perez hit a shallow fly ball for the second out of the inning. The Royals were down to their final out and Alex Gordon was facing Shane Green.
As of this morning, Gordon is hitting .143 off Green. In seven at-bats, Green has punched out Alex three times and in 2016 once Alex gets to two strikes he hits .089. So when Green had Alex 0-2 the odds of Alex getting a hit weren’t good and the Royals were desperate enough to try a double steal with Hosmer on first and Cheslor Cuthbert on third.
The idea was for Hosmer to break and then stop if the Tigers threw the ball to second base. If that had happened, Cuthbert was supposed to break for home. But Tigers catcher James McCann pump faked and Hosmer bought the fake and stopped between bases.
Cuthbert never broke for home and Hosmer was run down for the final out of the inning. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you ask players to do something they don’t normally do.
It looked awful, but letting Gordon swing away with two strikes wasn’t much of an option either — and Green struck out Gordon to start the eighth inning.
Are the Royals playoff worthy?
After the botched double-steal attempt, somebody got on Twitter and said the Royals are not playoff worthy. Deciding which teams are worthy of the playoffs must be a huge burden for such fans, but fortunately, baseball already has a system in place to decide just which teams are playoff worthy — it’s called the regular season.
If the Royals are playoff worthy, they’ll be in the playoffs and if they’re not, they won’t.
So now that the burden of deciding which teams are playoff worthy has been lifted from our shoulders, we can all relax and try to enjoy meaningful September baseball for the fourth year in a row.
Let’s just hope the remaining games aren’t as heartbreaking as Friday night’s loss to the Tigers.