The bottom of the eighth inning started well for the White Sox; they were up 6-4 and had reliever Jesse Crain on the mound. Crain started the game with an ERA of 0.53 and had Mike Moustakas in a 1-2 count — then Mike got a hittable fastball. Moose singled to left, and that brought the tying run to the plate. David Lough was the hitter, and he singled on a soft flare to right center; now it was Elliot Johnson’s turn at the plate.
With the tying run now on first base, everybody expected Johnson to bunt, and he did. The Sox had the play set up; third baseman Jeff Keppinger retreated to the bag and Crain got on the ball quickly — get the lead runner and the tying run would remain at first base. Crain got in a hurry, missed the ball and everybody was safe. Because of Crain’s error, the tying run was on second base and the winning run was on first.
Bases loaded nobody down and Crain showed why he had an ERA of 0.53: he struck out George Kottaras and Jarrod Dyson. It appeared Crain was using an approach we’ve seen before; once runners are in scoring position, throw the hitters off-speed stuff. Kottaras got a slider, a curve, a slider and a fastball up around the head that probably set up the final pitch: a curveball for a swinging strike. Once someone has buzzed the tower at 95 MPH, hitters aren’t too eager to lean out over the plate.
One down, bases still loaded.
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Jarrod Dyson got a first pitch fastball up and in, fouled it off with a check swing and then saw a curve, a fastball out of the zone, a slider and a changeup. Dyson struck out on the change and Crain was almost out of it.
Two down, bases still loaded.
Crain now had Alex Gordon at the plate and pitched him carefully; two sliders and a fastball, none in the zone. Alex didn’t chase, Crain finally threw a 3-0 fastball for a strike and Alex took it. Back to the slider and Crain missed with it. There wasn’t much margin for error, but walking in one run may have been more desirable than giving Gordon something to hit and possibly giving up two. Crain and the White Sox still had a one-run lead and Alcides Escobar at the plate—bases still loaded.
Esky got a fastball (Crain couldn’t afford to walk another hitter) and fouled it off. Ahead 0-1, Crain went right back to his off-speed stuff and threw two sliders; one missed, one didn’t. Now there was no need to throw another fastball and Crain didn’t—he threw Alcides a 74-MPH curve and the Royals shortstop hit the ball to the Chicago shortstop and that should have ended the inning.
Remember when I wrote that Alexei Ramirez had the reputation for being great on difficult plays and scuffling on some of the balls hit right at him? Well, this one wasn’t right at him, but Ramirez did have time to think. It was a makeable play just to his right and the ball ate him up. Two runs scored and the Royals took the lead for good.
The White Sox gave the game away and the Royals took it, 7-6.
*The first six pitches James Shields threw missed up-and-in on his arm side. When that happens the pitcher is usually opening his glove side too soon and you’ll see catchers point at their own glove-side shoulder to remind the pitcher to stay closed. In this case, George Kottaras went to the mound and talked to Shields and got him back in the strike zone.
Shields had one down and the bases loaded when Adam Dunn hit a rocket at Eric Hosmer. The ball went off the Royals first baseman for a hit and two runs. They say you have to get the good pitchers early and James Shields is a good pitcher. The Sox scored two on the play.
*Shields threw 31 pitches in the top of the first and the Royals only saw seven pitches in the bottom half of the inning. That ran Shields back out to the mound with almost no rest and by the end of the second inning, Shields was at 48 pitches. A long early inning can come back to haunt a pitcher—the guy might get exhausted tired in one inning, escape without giving up a run, but get whacked an inning or two later. The Sox scored two more in the third.
*The White Sox scored those runs on a ridiculous Adam Dunn homer to centerfield. Shields threw Dunn a 2-1 changeup, down in the zone. The Chicago DH was out on his front foot and reaching for the ball—he hit it 412 feet. The story on Dunn is that he has holes in his swing, but hit a hot spot and he’ll crush the ball.
*Jarrod Dyson had a good game: a single, a home run, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. The Royals generally want Dyson to keep the ball out of the air—hit it on the ground anywhere to the left side and Dyson has a chance—but I’m sure they’re grateful for a stray bomb once in a while, just as long as Jarrod doesn’t start hitting the ball in the air on purpose.
*Shields early pitch count took its toll and he was out after five innings. That broke a string of 29 consecutive starts in which he pitched six innings or more— that’s a workhorse.
*Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game and now has a batting average that starts with a 2. Hitting .207 might not seem like a big deal, but after being so far down for so long, a hitter likes to see his average moving in the right direction.
*J.C. Gutierrez replaced Shields and threw a scoreless sixth, but I felt like someone put NyQuil in my Starbucks—J.C. was working very slowly. I got interested and started timing him: according to my stopwatch, he was taking between 25 and 30 second between pitches. Working slowly can make things tough on a pitcher’s defense—and they don’t have Starbucks out there.
*The Royals threw out two base runners on pitchouts which might lead a cynical person to think they’ve got Chicago’s steal sign—either that, or they’re very good at guessing.
*Kelvin Herrera came close to taking the loss after he gave up two runs in the seventh. Herrera came in with a runner on first base and issued a walk to Jeff Keppinger. With runners on first and second, Kelvin gave up a two-run double to Gordon Beckham on a 100-MPH fastball—but Herrera had thrown nothing but fastballs up until that point. Generally speaking, throw seven fastballs in a row and even though they’re 97 to 100 miles an hour, someone’s going to time one.
After Beckham hit the ball over Jarrod Dyson’s head and the damage was done, Herrera started mixing it up and got the next two batters.
Impressive batting practice
Sunday morning the Royals took some early batting practice and when I looked over, George Brett was taking some hacks. George is now 60, but the dude can still hit. There it was, the old familiar stance: weight over the back foot, bat cocked on the shoulder, nothing but line drives and hard grounders. George slashed a few the other way, then drove some to the right-field warning track. It was over very quickly and I was glad I was there to see it—it brought back a bunch of memories.
Afterwards, George said he’d lost power—he never cleared the fence—but George Brett with a bat in his hands will hasn’t lost the power to impress.