Games » San Diego PadresJun29
Why the Royals couldn't pressure the Padres
Manny Mota once said, “Hit the ball in the air, three guys say, ‘I got it’. Hit the ball on the ground, nobody say %$#@.” (OK, I’ve got no idea if Manny Mota actually said that, but I was told Manny Mota said that and I’m sticking with my anonymous sources.) Whoever said it did a good job of explaining why the Royals lost this game: no offensive pressure on the Padres.
When a ball is hit in the air, one guy has to do one thing: catch the ball. When a ball is hit on the ground, it usually takes two guys doing three things to get an out: catch it, throw it, catch it. If the guy who hit the ball on the ground is fast, the pressure increases. If the guy hit the ball in the air is fast, it doesn’t make any difference. For example: Chris Getz hit three fly balls to the outfield before singling in the 8th. Getz is best when the ball is on the ground and any screw-up can turn into a runner. So three fly balls, but no pressure.
The other thing that puts no pressure on a defense is a strikeout. Jeff Francoeur struck out four times (three is a hat trick, four is called a ‘Golden Sombrero’) so once again, no pressure.
There’s a rule of thumb (I’ve mentioned this before) that says if you make more than half your outs by fly ball or strikeout, you’ll probably lose. You just haven’t applied enough pressure to the opposition. Go through the score book after this game and you’ll see that in every inning, at least two and sometimes all three outs were made by non-pressure plays: fly balls or strikeouts.
Of course, the Padres pitchers know they’re playing in a park only slightly smaller than Yellowstone and probably want you to hit the ball in the air, it probably isn’t going anywhere. The Royals made 22 of 27 outs by striking out or hitting fly balls and the only one that felt pressured was Bruce Chen.
OK, in the third inning the ball was popped up by the Padres pitcher and it was coming down behind the mound. In pro ball they don’t want the pitcher trying to catch anything he doesn’t have to, so Bruce Chen’s job was to point out the ball and get out of the way.
Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Chris Getz all converged. Middle infielders can call off corner infielders on pop flies because they have a better angle. Without being there to ask what happened, I don’t know who said what to whom. (Did I use ‘whom’ right? But then again, whom are you to correct me?)
If an infielder is camped, he’s usually yelling, “I got it, I got it, I got it.” If that’s happening, the middle infielder usually won’t run him off unless he’s still moving and there’s some doubt. (A worthwhile point: infield pops are all curveballs and drift back toward the mound. If you’re directly underneath a pop fly at its highest point, you’re about to be embarrassed.)
The other factor besides “infield drift” can be the sun. Balls that go into the sun are murder and even pros struggle with them. When you see a player looking up and shading his eyes with his glove, he’s checking on the sun and where it’s likely to be if he has to make a play on a fly ball. Apparently, the ball got into the sun and Hosmer bailed, which meant Mike had to make a last-second stab at the ball. It bounced out of his glove (have I mentioned the ball is also spinning like crazy?) and he dropped it. You’re going to see an E5 in the paper, but it’s a damn tough E5.
Moving the runner over
(I’ve meant to write about this a couple dozen times and today provided an opportunity: so here we go.)
In the second inning, Alex Gordon led off with a double. The game was scoreless, so his run was meaningful. Jeff Francoeur came to the plate and the usually strategy in this situation is to hit the ball to the right side on the ground. If you get a hit, so much the better, if you make an out, at least the runner is moved over to third with one down.
(Just to complicate things, they have a sign that tells the hitter not to worry about moving the runner, just go ahead and try to drive him in. Frenchy is the kind of hitter they give that sign to: an RBI guy.)
So, assuming the hitter is going to try to hit the ball to the right side and the pitcher wants to prevent that, here’s what you might see: with a right-handed batter at the plate, the pitcher wants him to pull the ball. You might see off-speed stuff or hard stuff (sinkers are popular), but it’ll usually be down and in. The pitcher wants a ground ball to short or third. If the pitcher wants to get ahead and is looking for a swing and a miss, he might give the hitter something that looks good for hitting the other way on the outside corner, but runs off the plate and can’t be reached.
With a lefty at the plate, you tend to see hard stuff, down and away, once again hoping for that grounder to short or third. As with the right hander, they might stick a pitch on the inside corner that looks good for pulling, but is so far in or so off-speed that the batter can’t keep it fair.
If the pitcher can paint the hitter into a corner by getting ahead, he can then force the hitter to swing at his pitch and get the ball hit exactly where he wants it to go.
(Time out for history: Mike Shannon was forced to come in to play third for the Cardinals because of injury (as I recall) and Bob Gibson turned to him and said, “It’s coming to you.” Sure enough, the next pitch was hit at Shannon. He ran into the dugout and asked Gibson how he knew the ball was coming to third and Gibson said, “You have no idea what the hell we’re doing out here, do you?”)
Once again, not sure if that story is exactly correct, but it ought to be. (Actually, I’ve heard two versions of that, once told by Mike Shannon and once told by Bob Gibson, but the point remains the same: there’s a plan to all this.)
Anyway, now you can look for that battle when it happens and it’s one of the most interesting dramas in baseball.
P.S. Frenchy took all the drama out of where the ball would go by striking out.
The reverse shutdown inning
We’ve talked about the “shutdown inning” that you hope a pitcher provides when your offense has put up some runs. Same goes in reverse: when the other team puts up some runs, like the Padres did when they scored four in the third, you want your offense to respond. It doesn’t have to be four, or three, you’re just hoping for anything that sends the message that you’re not going to curl up on the floor and die. Sometimes the message is for the other team and sometimes it’s for your own.
In the top of the 4th, the royals went 1-2-3, not a good message for anybody.
P.S. That’s 81 games, we’re halfway home.