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Ervin Santana and the Royals lose it in the fifth

“After I got the first out,” Santana said, “I don’t know what happened. It was ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four. I took a deep breath and tried to find it. But I didn’t find it.”

That quote is from Bob Dutton’s story on Thursday’s 8-4 loss to the Yankees. Santana was talking about what went wrong in the fifth inning. The Royals started the bottom of the fifth up 4-3 and ended it down 7-4 — they never had another lead or scored another run.

Some baseball games have pivotal moments throughout, some games turn on one inning. On Thursday afternoon, it was the fifth.

The inning started fine. Austin Romine hit a pop fly to Eric Hosmer for the first out.

Then things started to break down. Santana walked Ichiro Suzuki on four pitches. That’s what Ervin was talking about when he said he tried to find it and couldn’t. After Ichiro walked, he stole second and moved to third on Derek Jeter’s groundout to second base. With two out and first base open, the Royals chose to intentionally walk Robinson Cano; probably because they wish they’d walked him Wednesday night. (Cano hit a 400-foot bomb worth three runs less than 24 hours earlier.)

After the intentional walk to Cano, Santana issued an unintentional walk to Vernon Wells. The bases were loaded on three walks. After the game, Ned Yost said he kept expecting Santana to make a pitch and get out of it, but instead, Santana gave up three straight singles — all on fastballs — and the damage was done. If Zoilo Almonte hadn’t made the mistake of trying to go first to third and getting thrown out at third base, it could have been worse.

But it was bad enough, the Royals lost this one in the fifth.

Yankees 8, Royals 4.

Game notes

• I’m not a huge Yankee fan at this stage of my life. I was when I was a kid because they had Mickey Mantle and there was one game a week on TV and it seemed like it almost always featured the Bronx Bombers. But these days, I’m not a fan; they win too much and have too much money.

But it was still pretty cool when Derek Jeter walked out on the field. The place went nuts. When his name was announced for his first at-bat, the place went nuttier. And when he hit an infield single, the crowd got even louder.

I’ve heard too many good stories about Jeter to pull against the guy. Young Royals players talk about Jeter giving them encouragement and to them it meant the world; if Derek Jeter thinks I can make it, maybe I do belong. Never met the guy, but I hear good things.

• Jeter left the game with some tightness in his quadriceps and is going to have an MRI. Here’s hoping everything’s fine; he seems like a class guy who ought to go out of the game on his own terms.

• In the sixth inning, Derek Jeter had what ballplayers call “a professional at-bat.” With a runner on third and less than two outs, Jeter hit a groundball up the middle and Alcides Escobar threw him out at first. Pull that ball to third and the runner can’t score — the third baseman is too close to home. Hit a groundball up the middle and the shortstop will probably take the easy out at first. It’s a simple 6-3 in the scorebook, but when players see that they think, “That guy knows what he’s doing and can handle a bat.”

• Alcides Escobar hit a soft single to right field in the second inning; that base hit scored David Lough.

I’m under the impression that’s what the Royals want out of Esky: Hit the ball the other way and keep it as low as possible. Unless you’re a 20-home-run guy, pulling the ball and hitting the ball in the air is generally not a great idea.

• Before Wednesday’s game, I looked up Johnny Giavotella’s average on fly balls. It was .136. And it didn’t get any better — he flew out Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. Number two hitters and guys at the bottom of the order need to be line-drive- and ground-ball-oriented. Unless you have the pop to hit it out, don’t hit it up.

• Gio did have several nice plays on defense and went a long way toward right field to catch a pop-up the night before.

• Donnie Joseph replaced Wade Davis on the roster (Wade is on maternity leave) and, as usual, Ned got him into a game right away. Yost thinks the longer a player sits after getting called up, the more pressure he feels — if you can find a way to get him in a game, do it right away.

• Once again you could see right-handed batters taking a shot at Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch. Miguel Tejada, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar all hit fly balls that direction.

Pitchers keep the ball on the outer half to keep righties from pulling the ball down the left field line, but if the ball is elevated, they can take a shot at going down the right field line. Thursday afternoon, none of the right-handers made it work.

The right way to break up a double play

Elliot Johnson points to a scar on his shin and tells you where he got it: “A-Rod.”

According to Johnson, Alex Rodriguez is one of those players who “come after you.” Talk to veteran middle infielders and they’ll tell you it’s important to know which base runners “come after” the pivot man on a double play and which base runners give a less intense effort. The guys that come after the pivot man force the action; the pivot man knows he doesn’t have much time and may eat the ball and give up on the double play if things are taking too long. A base runner who has the reputation for loafing down to second base gives the pivot man more time to turn two.

On most double plays the pivot man will be the second baseman or shortstop. The pivot man’s job is to receive the first throw, pivot and make the second throw to first base. If a base runner hustles, he might be able to get to second base in time to break up the double play. The base runner does that by sliding hard at the pivot man’s feet; that will force the pivot man to move laterally or up and over the sliding runner and that might disrupt the throw to first.

But listen to Elliot Johnson for a while and you realize there’s a right way and wrong way to do it — if the base runner slides low and hits the pivot man in the ankle or shin, it’s a clean play — the pivot man did not get out of the way in time and it’s his own fault. If the base runner comes in “spikes high” and hits the pivot man in the knee or above, that’s not a clean play — spikes high can blow out a knee, even end a guy’s career, and that’s considered dirty baseball.

So next time you see a double play developing, check the base runner. If he peels out of the base path before he gets to second, he might be one of those guys with a reputation for giving less than his best effort on the base paths. If the base runner comes in hard and slides, check his spikes. If they’re aimed below the pivot man’s knee, it’s a clean play. If they’re aimed higher than that, you might see a different kind of athletic contest — a fistfight.