Games » Minnesota TwinsSep8
The key play in this game happened in the fifth inning, and it’s probably not the play you’re thinking about. (You are thinking about it, right? Just sitting at your desk, looking at this web site instead of doing your job, thinking, “I wonder what the key play in last night’s Royals’ loss was?”) Lucky you, I’ve got an answer.
At least I think I do.
OK, up by one, fifth inning, two out and Zack Greinke walked Jose Morales, a .200 hitter. (I could write several paragraphs on that right there, but I’ve got other fish to fry.) The No. 8 hitter, J.J. Hardy, singles, and Morales moves to second: tying run now in scoring position.
Then Matt Tolbert singles, and the Royals start the process of giving the game away. Morales heads for home and right fielder Jai Miller comes up throwing. Wilson Betemit, playing first, is the cutoff man, and he’s positioned on the infield grass.
Hardy is going first to third, and then it happens: Tolbert takes off for second, right in front of Betemit. It’s by design: When the run scoring is important enough (and this was the tying run), a trailing runner will sometimes try to advance right in front of the cutoff man. The runner does everything but shout, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” The idea is to get the ball cut and trade an out for the run at the plate.
So Tolbert was willing to give the Royals the third out of the inning in order to tie the game up. Miller’s throw wasn’t so hot and short-hopped Betemit. Wilson booted the ball and let it roll away, and Tolbert was safe at second.
THEN Denard Span hit the two-run triple that everyone will remember. The Twins tried to end the inning with a tie, but the Royals wouldn’t accept the gift.
The gift that keeps on giving…
Another walk scored, and the Royals lost by one. How many times have I written that this season? In this three-game series, the Twins walked five, the Royals walked 13. The Twins’ philosophy is to throw strikes anywhere low in the zone. In the minors, they don’t want their pitchers worrying about hitting corners. Just throw low strikes and the Twins will live with the results.
The Royals have a similar philosophy — the Twins just execute it better.
All of this little stuff adds up: walks, cutoffs handled poorly, pitches not blocked correctly. None of it seems that big in isolation, but put it together and it’s another loss. The good players think small: one pitch at a time, one play at a time, one inning at a time. They know if they do the small things right, the big things (like winning) will fall into place.
The Twins excel at turning these players out…the Royals need to.
More stuff to watch…
As I’ve pointed out before, watching the catcher’s mitt can be instructive. It tells you how much control the pitcher has that night. Lots of movement: poor control. Little movement: good control. If the mitt does move, it’s better if it moves down. A pitch down is a ball, a pitch up could be a souvenir.
You can also watch for some classic pitch sequences. Memorize these and you can irritate friends and strangers by predicting the next pitch. So here goes:
With two strikes you’ll often see a fastball up out of the zone. The catcher will sometimes partially stand up. The hitter gets a great look at the ball because it’s at eye level. He just can’t hit it. Swings go down (so go tell your dad thanks for telling you to swing level, it’s impossible), and once the bat starts down, you can’t get it back up. If the hitter lays off the high pitch, you’re very likely to see a breaking pitch down on the next offering. It offers a big change in eye level, velocity and trajectory.
If a hitter fouls a ball straight back, that means his timing is right on, he’s just under it a bit. The last thing the pitcher wants to do is throw the same velocity, but lower: That would solve the hitter’s problem for him. So once again, if the pitcher has a ball to waste, you might see another pitch the same speed, but slightly higher. If the hitter fouls this one back also, the same speed, but slightly higher. The pitcher “climbs the ladder” until he finds the plane that the hitter can’t reach. The other tactic when a pitch is fouled straight back is to change speeds.
Say a borderline pitch is called a strike. The pitcher will throw the same pitch, but even more outside, lower or higher. This usually happens early in the game. The pitcher is trying to establish the zone and figure out what the umpire will give him. If the umpire keeps giving him more and more, the pitcher will eventually throw the damn thing into the dugout.
This can be dangerous. If the umpire is giving a ball or even two off the outside corner, the hitter is forced to dive to that corner to cover that pitch. A hitter who fouls back a pitch off the outside corner is likely to get something up and in on the next pitch to keep him honest. A hitter diving to the corner and a pitcher going up and in can be a bad combination for the health of the hitter.
If you see that pitch up and in (or at least around the hands), anticipate a pitch low and away next. The pitcher will pitch up and in to clear the low and away lane and pitch low and away to clear the up and in lane. They’re sneaky that way.
So far, all we’ve looked at is location, and there are still a whole bunch of other factors: change of speed, batter’s stance, movement, and which way the wind is blowing, not to mention the infielder the pitcher doesn’t want handling the ball.
That’s the great thing about baseball: You’ll never know it all…but it’s fun trying.