Games » St. Louis CardinalsJun19
Results vs. effort
If all you care about are results, the Royals lost this series one game to two, so it was a bad weekend, and I’m officially a road jinx. But if you care about effort (and you should — it’s the first step toward understanding what you see), this was a good weekend. The Royals played good baseball, battled, came from behind, didn’t fold in situations when they might have in the past and showed they were becoming the team everyone hopes for.
A lot happened, so it’s a bit unfair to focus on just two pitches, but they were the two pitches that were hit for game-winning home runs. Saturday night’s pitch was a ball up from Greg Holland that Matt Holliday hit for the game winner. Nobody defended that pitch. Everybody said it was the only bad pitch Greg made that night. But it was in a bad location. Catcher Matt Treanor took some blame for it, saying the Royals were trying to go inside on Holliday, didn’t get there and got hurt. Matt said he thought maybe it wasn’t best call on his part.
Sunday’s pitch was from Tim Collins, a fastball that was down, but Skip Schumaker dropped the bat head at just the right time and drove it out of the park. Treanor said he thought it was a better pitch, even though the results were the same.
Those two home runs are what a lot of people will remember about this series, but if that’s all you remember, you’re missing some good baseball.
I’ve already written about tag plays at first and how the first baseman has to rotate counterclockwise when reaching in to tag a runner who is hustling down the line. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols either didn’t or couldn’t pull off that maneuver, and everybody saw the price he paid. If you’re coaching a kid’s team, make sure your first baseman understands this move. You might save somebody a broken wrist.
Esky’s weekend in the 8-hole
Before Sunday’s game, Alcides Escobar told me he had been getting nothing but junk whenever the pitcher was coming up behind him. The opposition pitchers know Esky doesn’t want to take a walk and have a pitcher trying to drive in a run, so they feel free to throw marginal breaking junk, knowing that Esky has to expand his zone.
That makes his weekend even more remarkable: 2-4 Friday night, 2-4 Saturday night and 2-3 with a walk Sunday afternoon. To give you an example of what we’re talking about, Escobar’s triple on Sunday came on the sixth straight slider he saw.
Sunday’s home run came on a 93 mph fastball (the 10th pitch of maybe the best at-bat of the year by anyone), but that was because Eric Hosmer was on deck. A good hitter behind you changes what you see.
Now that he is hitting this well, Alcides knows the league will adjust to what he’s doing. Opposing teams probably will start pitching him inside to take the opposite field away or try running stuff just off the outside corner of the plate to see if he will chase.
Do you have any Mr. Bubble?
That was the question Matt Treanor asked a clubhouse attendant Saturday afternoon. Matt wanted a towel and some Mr. Bubble so he could clean off his bat. (Wow. That sounds like a dirty euphemism, but it’s not.) Lots of hitters do this before a game, so they can see any fresh ball marks. They want to know exactly where the ball hit on bat’s surface. I thought maybe it gave Matt more information on how the pitch was moving and what adjustment he might have to make in his next plate appearance, but he said no.
He just didn’t like being reminded of how many times he had been jammed.
The day before
Saturday I talked to pitcher Danny Duffy about the next day’s start and what he does to prepare. The next day’s starting pitcher charts pitches, recording pitch, location and how the hitter reacted. It helps them focus on the opposition hitters and how they might want to pitch them the next day. I knew all that stuff, but Danny told me something I hadn’t heard before: He will ice his arm the day before pitching to keep the inflammation to a minimum the next day.
However much icing Danny did, I guess it wasn’t enough. He left the game with cramps. (Being a good father, I left the air-conditioned comfort of the press box to sit in the right-field bleachers with my son. It was smoking hot. I guess I’m not that great a father because I abandoned him like a straggler on the Oregon Trail in the seventh-inning stretch and finished up the game in the A.C. Don’t look at me like that. I was working! Working on not passing out at a Cardinals game.)
Walk this way
After Friday’s game, I wrote something about the effect of walks early in the game on the later innings. Think of it this way: If you walk three Cardinals and none of them is erased by a double play, you just bought Albert Pujols an extra at-bat. Walk four, and Matt Holliday gets one more plate appearance. Walk five, and Lance Berkman gets another chance to beat you.
The best policy is to pound the strike zone and live with what happens, and that’s why you hear coaches and managers harp on “limiting the damage.”
The Maytag repairmen of baseball
Here’s a bit of pseudo-journalism advice: If you’re looking for someone to talk to, try a coach, a backup player or a middle reliever. Middle relievers will tell you nobody wants to talk to them unless they lose the game.
So on Saturday Nate Adcock was leaning against the dugout rail, and I went over to talk. Here’s what I found out (some of which is probably obvious). His best pitch is his sinker. He throws it “middle down,” meaning he just throws to the middle of the plate, but low, and lets the pitch’s natural action move it to a corner. He said that if he’s ahead in the count 2-0, he probably will take that approach. The hitter’s in swing mode in that count and might see a pitch in the middle of the plate and trigger before he realizes it’s moving in or away.
When Nate’s trying to hit a spot with a little more precision, say moving the batter off the plate, he will use a straight four-seam fastball. He also has a change-up and has said his breaking pitch is a curve … then he said it was a slider.
“Dude, you just said it was a curve.”
Nate, laughing now, said, “OK, it’s a slurve. Actually, I don’t know what it is.” Nate said that depending on its release, the pitch might have more curve ball or slider action. He said the No. 1 thing he’s learned about being in the majors is “you can’t make a mistake.” A hung slurve that got popped up in A-ball will get hammered in the big leagues. Each pitch is important. A pitcher has to bear down on every pitch and not slop something up there just because he’s 0-2.
This conversation took place Saturday afternoon, and (as I’ve already discussed) that night I saw what he meant: Greg Holland, who has been lights-out for most of the season, was lights-out (according to Ned Yost, who had slightly better seats than I did) most of Saturday night. Greg made one bad pitch in his appearance, and Matt Holliday sent it up on the centerfield grass to win the game.
Tim Collins had one pitch ruin his outing Sunday.
And suddenly everybody wanted to talk to middle relievers.