Glaring as the difference might be in hindsight, there tends to be a narrow, fuzzy line between the wisdom of seeking to make things happen and allowing them to unfold.
Maybe that’s true in a lot of things, actually.
But it’s certainly so when it comes to baseball and a Royals team whose magic the last two seasons has been enabled by its share of calculated gambles.
“We win those situations a lot more than we lose them,” manager Ned Yost said after a key risk went wrong in a 2-0 loss to Washington on Monday at Kauffman Stadium. “And I mean like 8-10 to 1 more, and those are odds that are worth gambling on.”
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Perhaps the best signature of that abandon was Eric Hosmer’s mad dash home from third base on a fielder’s choice in Game 5 of the World Series. The run tied what proved to be the clinching game, won by the Royals 7-2 in 12 innings.
Yes, a scouting report informed the decision to pressure Mets first baseman Lucas Duda to make the play.
Yet it still came down to this:
“It’s just the way we play the game; we’re aggressive,” Hosmer said after the game. “We don’t play the normal style of baseball according to some people. It’s just the way we do it.”
That’s exhilarating stuff when it pays off, as it so often has the last few years for the Royals.
But it’s still deflating when the aggressiveness seems reduced to recklessness.
Which is the sort of thing that might happen if your team, say, has lost five of its last six games and is just a day removed from a 27-inning scoreless streak — as the Royals were entering their game Monday.
Now, there were many reasons the Royals lost this game, not the least of which is that basically no one other than Hosmer is hitting.
But the pivotal point was a gambit gone awry.
With two on and two out in the third inning and cleanup hitter Kendrys Morales stepping up against Gio Gonzalez one at-bat after Morales had blasted one of his pitches to the brink of the left-field bullpen, Lorenzo Cain set out to steal third base.
Although Cain went five for 13 over the weekend in Seattle, he entered the game hitting .230 after finishing third in American League MVP voting last year.
No doubt he was eager to resume a catalyst role.
“He was just trying to create an opportunity for something to happen right there,” Yost said, “and it just didn’t work out.”
But even while Yost noted getting to third would have allowed Cain to score on a wild pitch or infield hit, there wasn’t enough to be gained to make up for the odds of being thrown out and thus becoming one of baseball’s fundamental no-nos — making the last out of an inning at third.
Meanwhile, Cain is one of the fastest men in baseball, so he would have scored if Morales mustered a hit (because the slow-footed Morales rarely manages an infield hit).
Instead, Cain was vaporized at third, ending the inning and setting a tone of futility even if it was for an admirable reason.
“They’re pushing the envelope a little,” said Yost, acknowledging the recent funk is messing with judgment.
The venture backfiring might have been merely a footnote.
If right fielder Paulo Orlando had made a better read of Ryan Zimmerman’s line drive in the first inning, he would have been on trajectory to have a chance at a challenging catch instead of just chasing as the Nationals were on the way to a 2-0 first-inning lead.
Make that play, and the dynamics of the game are different.
Moreover, the Royals reverted to their recent woes with runners in scoring position (four for 34 during the five-game losing streak they snapped on Sunday.).
That was particularly acute in the eighth, when Alcides Escobar’s leadoff double was squandered as Nationals pitchers struck out Cain, Hosmer and Morales.
This is lingering longer than anyone would like, but this is a ways from being worrisome.
This remains very much the same team that won the World Series.
But no team, none, makes it through a 162-game season without lulls. Sometimes, those even come as late as September — when last season the Royals evoked panic by going 11-17 as they fiddled with getting ready for postseason play.
Besides, much of what has made the Royals a marvel the last few years is the way they defy numbers and convention and create their own mojo.
(And, sorry, Mike Jirschele stopping Alex Gordon at third in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against the Giants is not evidence otherwise … because sending him would have been not a risk but unconscionable desperation).
They’re still at their best when they play to their personality and push the line.
Just not when it’s skewed by squeezing too hard.
“That was just a bad read, bad jump,” said Cain, who acknowledged he was just hoping to make something happen. “Shouldn’t have gone.”