Games » Chicago White SoxJul6
When the Chicago Cubs were just a few outs away from going to the 2003 World Series (right before you-know-who reached for that foul ball), former pitcher Al Leiter, who was the TV analyst hat night, was asked what the Cubs had to do to close out the game. His answer?
Break the game down into its smallest elements, and make sure each task is handled correctly. I thought the advice was so good, I wrote it down and stuck it on my bulletin board. Whenever I screw up (and trust me, I’ve had a lot of experience) it usually is because I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I “thought big” and didn’t take care of the details that would make the big thing happen. (Boy, I hope you guys are enjoying a description of my personal philosophy … but what’s all this have to do with the Royals?)
Just like the 2003 Cubs, the Royals need to think small. How do they become a winning team, go to the playoffs and win a championship? Throw strike one. None of the big things will happen if the small things aren’t handled correctly.
Take this game and Bruce Chen (finally). He pitched six innings, and, according to my scorebook, here were the counts when the White Sox put the ball in play or struck out: 1-2, 1-2, 2-2, 0-2, 3-2, 0-2, 3-2, 1-1, 1-1, 0-1, 0-1, 1-2, 3-2, 1-1, 3-2, 0-2, 0-1, 1-0, 3-2, 0-2 and 0-1.
Notice anything? There was only one at-bat in which Bruce was behind. He was ahead or even in the count all day. That meant he could use all his pitches and expand the strike zone. Reliever Greg Holland pretty much did the same thing and so did closer Joakim Soria. Throwing strike one is a small thing that can make a big thing happen.
Like taking a series from the White Sox.
A key moment
Chen gave up one run in the sixth inning. The bases were loaded with one out, and he walked Adam Dunn. Then he faced Paul Konerko. Had Chen given up another walk or a hit, or even a long fly ball, and this was going to look like a very different ballgame. He started Konerko with a slider, low and away at 84 mph, and Konerko was way out in front. Chen next threw a changeup at the same exact spot at 79 mph, and, once again, Konerko was way out in front.
So, what’s a smart hitter thinking at that point?
Stay back. Don’t jump at the pitch. Wait as long as you can. Bruce humped it up, threw a 91 mph fastball (he must have got a running start), hit the exact same spot and locked Konerko up for strike three. That’s veteran pitching. A pitcher has to know which batters will adjust and which batters will keep falling for the same trick. Konerko is smart enough to adjust, and Chen used that against him.
Holland gets ahead
A few weeks ago, Greg Holland said his improved results this season were because he was pitching ahead in the count. For the most part, he showed that in this game. He would throw strike one (either a fastball or a slider) and then expand the zone.
He didn’t give up any runs, but he did make one mistake: walking off the mound, convinced he had thrown strike three to Brent Morel (if memory serves and it often doesn’t). Anyway, umpires don’t like that, and they have long memories.
Holland had showed up home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. Remember that name (because I probably won’t) and see whether he has issues with Greg in the future.
Frenchy likes his arm … but if I had it, I’d like it, too
As I think I’ve demonstrated, Jeff Francoeur has a very good arm. Often, guys who have good arms like to show them off, and that can be used against them. Here’s an example. Chicago’s Alex Rios hit a single to right on the sixth inning and took a wide turn at first base. Frenchy threw behind Rios, hoping to trap him off base. Rios scrambled back. So no harm, no foul, right?
But a smart base runner who sees that, might take a wide turn, act as if he’s caught off base and head for second when Francoeur lets go of the ball. That was exactly what happened to Jeff earlier in the year and he admitted he had been “deked.” (Short for “decoyed.” … Hey, I know you guys probably already know this stuff, but just in case.)
In fact, every mental mistake Francoeur has made involved his arm and making throws that allowed trail runners to advance. Other guys might make mental mistakes by forgetting how many outs there are or by forgetting to back up a base, but Frenchy’s mistakes have all been “mistakes of enthusiasm.” (That’s what Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson called it, and I love the term.) Jeff isn’t being dumb or not paying attention. He’s just letting his natural optimism (Hey, maybe I can get that guy!) lead him into hot water.
I still would like to have Frenchy in right field any day of the week because sometimes he is right. He can get that guy.
A team player
The last few days we’ve been talking about team players and how they react to adversity in their personal performances. You can’t beat Alex Gordon’s response when he was asked about striking out four times on Tuesday. Gordon said he normally would be upset, but the team won, so who cares?
The old first-and-third move
It never works, so why do pitchers still do the fake to third and throw to first pickoff move? Because sometimes it does work. Guys do get picked off, but more commonly, guys give their team’s plans away. In the first inning of Wednesday’s game, White Sox pitcher Edwin Jackson tried it with Chris Getz on third and Melky Cabrera on first. Jackson almost got Melky, which may have been a sign that Melky was going to take off for second. That meant the White Sox could change their plans accordingly.
The same thing happens in a sacrifice-bunt situation. The pitcher throws over, not to get the runner, but to see whether the batter will show bunt. Not every successful pickoff ends in an out.
Getting the steal sign
Unless you bring a stopwatch to the game (and there’s nothing stopping you), it’s unlikely you will know the pitcher’s time home. If you do bring a stopwatch, time the pitcher from the moment he gets into his set position until the ball hits the catcher’s glove. If it’s more than 1.3 seconds, you may see a steal.
If you don’t want to carry a stopwatch (good Lord, are you going to bring a radar gun next?), just watch the pitcher’s front foot. The higher he picks it up, the longer he’s taking to get the ball home.
Just one more piece of information that you can use to irritate the fans sitting next to you.