Games » Detroit TigersAug6
Key moments in the game
If you think about it for a minute, there are nothing but key moments in a one-run ball game, but let’s look at three:
First moment: In the first inning, Royals starter Danny Duffy walked two Detroit batters, Brennan Boesch and Magglio Ordonez. The Royals could have survived the double and single that followed, but the two walks made them hurt. Before the Royals ever came to the plate, they were down two runs to Tigers starter Justin Verlander. Verlander came into the game with a 2.24 ERA, so statistically he already had two-thirds of what he needed to win the game after half an inning.
Second moment: The Royals had gotten to Verlander in the fifth (Jeff Francoeur’s home run) and tacked on two more runs in the seventh. The score was 4-3, Brayan Pena was on second, Mike Moustakas was on first. The fact that there were two outs was a bit of an advantage. Pena could have taken off immediately from second without waiting to see whether the ball was caught. Almost any single would have scored him and tied the game. Alcides Escobar was at the plate and had just spit on two Verlander curves. Two balls and no strikes is a fastball count. Esky and everybody else paying attention knew this was a big pitch. If Esky got a hittable fastball and smoked it, that would have tied the game.
Verlander, who started the game throwing 92 to 93 mph, is smart enough to leave something in the tank. He can spot his heater at those speeds and still get outs. But in this situation, he needed something special to get out of the jam, and he stepped on the gas. Alcides got a 98 mph pitch, up and in. Esky saw the fastball and reacted (and 98 mph doesn’t give you a lot of time to think about what you’re going to do). Alcides triggered, the ball was in on him and he popped out to the catcher. Verlander left the mound with the Tigers still leading 4-3.
Third moment: By the bottom of the eighth, Verlander was out of the game and reliever Joaquin Benoit was in for Detroit. This was what the Royals had been waiting for. All you can do against a pitcher like Verlander is try to stay close and get to the Tigers’ middle relievers. The Royals did that. If they could have tied the game, they would have kept Jose Valverde, the Tigers’ closer, in the bullpen. But the Royals couldn’t get a run across, and the league leader in saves shut them down. This is the ball game, not the ninth. In the eighth, Alex Gordon flew out deep to left, Mitch Maier put together a nice at-bat for a walk and Billy Butler grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The Royals did what they could in the ninth, but Valverde was in and the game was over.
Other game stuff
When you face a really good pitcher, it changes the game in some unexpected ways. If Justin Verlander only needs three runs to win, you need to make sure he doesn’t get those three runs. You have to bring the infield in sooner and push it on the base paths (which probably led to Eric Hosmer getting picked off second). You can’t let runs score assuming you will get them back later, and you can’t be passive about running the bases assuming you will get more hits.
Before games, the clubhouse TVs show the other team’s starting pitcher in action. The players might talk to you, but they make little eye contact. They are watching the guy they have to face in 90 minutes. So I asked Eric Hosmer what he looks for as he watches video, and he said, “Their ‘out’ pitch.” The pitch the opposing starter goes to when he’s in a jam or when he needs strike three. His nastiest stuff. So what is Verlander’s “out” pitch?
“He’s got a ‘get-me-over’ curve (a curve with less break thrown early in the count, when the pitcher is convinced the hitter won’t swing at anything off-speed) and a hard curve. And if he thinks you’re looking for that hard curve, he’ll throw 103.” Don’t exaggerate, Eric, it’s only 98.
Hos also said that when you see a curveball spin and the pitch is above the strike zone, get ready. That ball is going to drop in for a strike. If you see a curve ball spin in the zone, spit on it. That ball is going to run out of the strike zone. Oh yeah … and while you’re doing all that, remember that you might get a pitch in the high 90s under the chin.
Pitchers try to get inside on Jeff Francoeur. A pitcher knows Frenchy is looking to pull the ball early in the count, and the pitcher throws a fastball that looks hittable but continues to run in on Frenchy’s hands. Francoeur then pulls it foul or rolls over and hits a weak grounder to the left side. But if the pitcher misses down, Frenchy will drop the bat head and golf it like Tiger Woods before he got caught screwing around. In the fifth inning, Verlander missed down, and Frenchy got out a three-wood.
I’ve written myself notes the last few nights that Melky Cabrera might be playing hurt. He rolled his ankle sliding back to first base a few nights ago and hasn’t looked 100 percent since. Saturday night In the top of the fourth, Jeff Francoeur ran a long way to catch a ball that probably should have been Melky’s, but Cabrera just couldn’t get there. People (mainly people who don’t play sports themselves) will ask why an athlete might hurt his team by trying to play hurt. Here’s the secret: They all play hurt.
By this time of year, everyone is banged up, but they keep going out there. Knowing when you’re too hurt to perform is hard, especially when you have trained yourself to play through pain. Someone else often has to recognize that you need to sit down. After the fly ball that had to be covered by Frenchy, Royals manager Ned Yost pulled the trigger and sent Mitch Maier to pinch-hit for Cabrera.
The cement mixer
In the fifth inning of Friday’s game, Royals starter Felipe Paulino threw a “cement mixer” to Detroit batter Wilson Betemit, and Wilson whacked it down into the right field corner for a double. A good slider has tight spin. As the pitch comes in, the hitter will see a red dot formed by the spinning seams about the size of a dime. A “cement mixer” is a bad slider. The spin is much looser, and the dot becomes a larger whirl … like a cement mixer (hence the name).
Some hitters see spin, others don’t. Tony Gywnn said he never looked for it. Some hitters swear by it. Some hitters will tell you you’re not going to see spin in the poorly lit parks in the minors and you better find other clues to identify pitches.
Which brings me to my buddy, Russ Morman. It all seemed pretty confusing, so I asked Russ whether I should try to see the spin on the ball. “It won’t help you,” he said. OK, I guess it’s not worth the effort. Then, later, I heard Russ saying he was having trouble picking up the spin.
“Hey, I thought you said seeing the spin doesn’t help.”
“No. What I said was, ‘It wouldn’t help you!’ “
With friends like him, huh?
One last thing
The Royals just fought the best pitcher in the American League to a standstill. Take heart.