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JUDGING THE ROYALS Royals did what good teams do: Beat up on a bad team

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 2:57 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 4:18 p.m.

Everybody loves the big pitching matchups — your ace faces their ace, number one against number one — but those games are toss-ups and either team could win. Then there are the games you should win and can’t afford to lose; not if you’re going to put together a winning record. This was a game the Royals should have won and they did. When you face a team that’s 15 and 24 and they’re using a fill-in starting pitcher with an ERA over 11.00, it’s an opportunity—the Royals needed to win this game.

The Royals beat the Angels 9-5.

To many baseball people, a game like this is more of a must-win than a game against Chris Sale or Justin Verlander. They all count for one in the win column, no matter who you beat. Beating up on bad teams is what good teams do.

(Just to keep this in perspective: I can’t remember who said it, but some coach or manager was asked if the upcoming game was a "must-win." They said no, World War II was a must-win — which is probably the right point of view.)

Game notes

First inning: Angels catcher Chris Iannetta tried to pick Alex Gordon off first base, but Gordon got back safely. When he dove back to the bag, Gordon touched the outfield side of the base. When a throw comes from the infield, base runners tag the back of the bases. The width of the bases makes throws and tags just a bit longer and that makes a difference.

Second inning: With two outs Mike Moustakas hit the ball down into the right field corner. Moose went for two and it was probably the right decision: if Mike stayed at first base it might take two hits to score him. Getting to second with two outs meant Mike could score on one hit and he did—Salvador Perez’ double. Maybe Moose would have scored from first anyway, but being on second made it a sure thing.

Third inning: Jarrod Dyson walked, Alcides Escobar singled, Alex Gordon walked and Billy Butler came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out. This was the kind of moment that decides ballgames: the starter, Barry Enright had already been pulled, but if relief pitcher Mark Lowe could get out of the inning with minimal damage—one or two runs—the Angels would still be in the game. If the Royals could have a big inning, the odds of winning would go way up.

Veteran players say that in big confrontations, the person that can back off has a better chance of succeeding: try to throw the ball as hard as you can and it straightens out and gets whacked. Try to swing as hard as you can and your head pulls off the ball and the pitch you should have crushed gets fouled back.

Hitters can get overanxious in big at-bats and they want to succeed so badly that they get out of control, swinging at anything close. Billy Butler did not chase the first slider he saw or the first fastball; with the count 1-1 Billy saw a slider to his liking and shot it into left field for a two-run single. Getting two runs right there was a big deal; jumping out to a lead can relax a team and guys start feeling it: things are going well.

After Billy’s single, Eric Hosmer walked, Lorenzo Cain doubled, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez made outs, but Elliot Johnson singled and Jarrod Dyson tripled. When the smoke cleared the Royals had scored seven runs in the inning, which was good—they weren’t going to score again until the seventh.

In the bottom of the third Mike Trout doubled, Albert Pujols singled and that led to an interesting moment: Pujols’ hit went to left field and Alex Gordon came up with the ball and a chance to throw Trout out at home plate. Instead Gordon threw the ball to second base, which was a very cool thing to do. Alex passed up a chance to pad his assist total because the run didn’t matter and it made more sense to keep Pujols at first base. Gordon put the team first.

Meanwhile, Albert was over at first base, pointing at the sky and thanking God for letting him drive in his 23rd RBI in a game his team was losing by seven runs.

Fourth inning: With an 8-2 lead Wade Davis walked the number-nine hitter. When a team gets a big lead they need to go for the kill: ballplayers will tell you not to let a team that’s beat hang around and make a game of it. One of the ways you can let an opponent back in the game is by walking people. Davis walked three, Aaron Crow walked one and Kelvin Herrera walked two.

Fifth inning: Another way to let a team get back in the game is by throwing away at-bats. During the third inning the Royals hitters were very patient: if they did not get the pitch they were looking for they took it, and when they did get the pitch they were looking for they teed it up. You’ll often see teams that have a big lead go flat because the hitters lose discipline; they think they’ve got all the runs they need and start going to the plate and hacking. For example: in the fifth inning Mike Moustakas took a swipe at an 0-1 curve on the black away. There’s nothing much a hitter can do with that pitch and Mike proved it by hitting a weak grounder to second base.

When Angels GM Jerry Dipoto played with the Cleveland Indians Jim Thome made a routine out in a nothing game and came back to the dugout furious. Jerry didn’t get what the big deal was; it wasn’t a crucial situation. Thome said: "You never give away an at-bat." Hit .299 for a season and you’ll be sorry if you mailed it on occasion. Let a team come back on you and you’ll be sorry you didn’t take every at-bat seriously. Professional hitters need to battle for every at-bat in every game.

Don’t forget Guthrie and Hochevar

I’ve mentioned this after the last two games, but it’s worth mentioning again: Monday night Luke Hochevar threw three innings in a blowout and Tuesday night Jeremy Guthrie threw seven innings in a loss.

Those two performances meant that Ned Yost had everybody in his bullpen available and Wednesday night he used his "Big Four" relievers: Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland. Even though it was not a save situation the lead was never comfortable and the Royals have an off-day on Thursday. That meant Ned could use everybody and still have them available for the weekend series against the Oakland A’s.

But he couldn’t have used all four relievers if they’d been used up the last two days. Thank Guthrie and Hochevar for that.

What’s up with home run calls?

The umpires’ inability to get a home run call right made news recently, but it’s worth knowing why those calls are getting harder.

Owners want to sell tickets and they especially want to sell tickets close to the action, so fans are physically closer to the field. Look at old photos of stadiums and you’ll see how much more foul ground there used to be—Kauffman Stadium is no exception. But when fans are on top of the action, they can—and do—interfere with balls in play. Allowing fans to lean over the outfield wall can lead to a Jeffrey Maier moment: a fan can change the outcome of a game by getting involved

In many stadiums the solution has been to add a railing directly behind the outfield fence to prevent fans from leaning over and interfering with a fly ball. But that’s led to a different problem: when a ball might be a home run, but hits something and comes back on the field; what did it hit? If it was the top of the outfield wall it might be double, if it was the railing right behind the outfield wall, it’s a home run.

Now throw in electronic outfield field-level scoreboards (the ones that have advertising on them in-between innings) and things get really tough; the glare of the scoreboard can be blinding and it’s hard to tell what the ball hit when you’re staring into what could pass for a neon sign. I can tell you from personally experience that when an outfielder makes a catch up against one of those scoreboards, it’s almost impossible to tell what happened—everyone in the press box immediately looks at the TV monitors to see the replay.

Apparently, umpires have had the same experience and feel like getting those calls right has become more difficult. That’s one of the reasons it’s become more common to see a crew leave the field to check replays. Umpires still need to get the calls right, but I thought it was worth letting readers know what they’re up against.

But the crew that did not know the rules about a pitcher having to face at least one batter is on its own.

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