Games » St. Louis CardinalsJun18
You can't defend a home run
If there were a way to defend a home run, I think the Royals would have found it in this game. In the sixth inning, Melky Cabrera went deep to the centerfield wall and perfectly timed a leaping catch for the first out. Mike Moustakas went into foul territory and made a long throw to nail the runner for the second out. And Eric Hosmer made a diving stop for the third out.
The inning before, Melky went to the wall to field a Matt Holliday double, threw a strike to Alcides Escobar, who did the same to Matt Treanor to nail Ryan Theriot at the plate. Alex Gordon also had an outfield assist when Moustakas cut off his throw and caught Yadier Molina off base.
The final outstanding defensive play of the evening was Jeff Francoeur’s handling of a Colby Rasmus hit that went to the fence in the bottom of the eighth. It looked to be a sure double, which would have set up a perfect scoring opportunity for the Cards, but Frenchy played the carom just right (off to his glove side so he could turn and throw in one motion) and held Rasmus to a single.
It looked like a big play until Matt Holliday parked one over the wall because there’s just no way to defend a home run.
The silver lining
I assume we’re all looking for the silver lining here (I know I am), and the Royals improved defense was hard to miss, even though they lost 5-4. Ned Yost said last year’s team would have given up nine runs in this game. That’s how much better the 2011 Royals are athletically. I know that every year fans are supposed to be satisfied with promises of future improvement that never seems to come, but this year seems different.
For the first time in a long time, you can see this team is close and imagine a few improvements that get it over the hump.
Here’s a test. Last year, Tim Bogar asked me to think about the roster in terms of plus/minus players. A plus player helps you win; a minus player helps you lose. Tim asked me to rate the players on both offense and defense and then asked, “How many plus/plus players do you have?” In other words, how many guys were helping the team win on both sides of the ball?
At the time, I came up with one: David DeJesus … and when I asked around, a lot of people agreed. Now ask yourself: How many plus/plus players do the Royals have this season?
The answer should give you hope.
One of the reasons I wanted to come to an out-of-town game was to see how different things can be on the road … and they are. Ned Yost came out to his pregame news conference, and there was hardly anyone there. That gave me a chance to have a long conversation with Ned, and, of course, it was interesting.
We talked about pinch hitting in interleague play, and he told me how he plans to handle it. Billy Butler with a runner in scoring position, and he hopes to have Billy hit out of the No. 9 spot most of the time. If the Cards want to pitch around Billy, that will get them back to Alex in the leadoff spot. Mitch Maier to lead off an inning because then he doesn’t have to run for Mitch the way he would Billy. It will be Wilson Betemit to keep an inning going, and if it’s a sacrifice bunt situation, Jeff Francis, which saves a legitimate hitter for later.
Saturday night, Billy hit in the pitcher’s spot in the top of the ninth. I assume Ned was hoping Billy would go yard or at least get on base and then Mitch would have come out to run. Billy saved Ned some managing by striking out.
After Friday night’s win, Jeff Francoeur walked by in the clubhouse, grinned and gave me a high five. “Lee shows up, and we get hot! He’s our good-luck charm!” Of course, Frenchy was kidding … sort of. In a sport where effort can often seem unrelated to results (over the long run it’s not, but over the short run it sure feels that way), superstition takes hold easily.
It’s so easy for things to go out of balance that players want nothing to change when they’re going good. “Maybe the way these lucky socks make me feel is why we’re winning. I don’t know, but I’m sure not going to mess with it.” As Crash told Annie in “Bull Durham,” “If he thinks he’s winning because he’s not having sex, then he’s winning because he’s not having sex.”
So if you show up unexpectedly and the team wins, it might be you, and they want you to stick around. I showed up in Toledo, Ohio, to watch the Tidewater Tides play the Toledo Mudhens. The Tides had been on a losing streak and won four straight after my arrival. The players literally begged me to cancel my plans to go home (being a dope, I didn’t) and get on the team bus and go to the next city with them.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what if a team loses after you arrive? Same principle. Clearly, you’re upsetting some kind of karma and need to leave as soon as possible. When the Colorado Rockies went on a losing streak after my arrival, the clubhouse guy told the assistant who was driving me to the airport to call “as soon as this @#$#&@ jinx’s feet leave the ground so we can start winning some ball games again.”
I’m writing this Saturday morning, and I’m 1-0 and I’m good luck. Lose tonight and that starts to waver. Lose Sunday, and they’ll tell me to get the @#%$ out of town. It’s a tough game.
(OK, game’s over and I’m 1-1. My fate gets decided tomorrow.)