Games » Toronto Blue JaysAug24
Walks that score
When we were putting together this website, I asked Tim Bogar, the third-base coach for the Boston Red Sox, for advice. Among other suggestions, he advised me to keep track of walks or hit batters who score. He said I would be amazed at the damage they do. Wednesday night’s game is a perfect example. Two of the Royals’ three runs came from Alex Gordon after Gordon got on base by being hit by a pitch and taking a base on balls.
One of the Blue Jays’ four runs came after Royals starter Luke Hochevar hit Yunel Escobar with a pitch and then gave up a bomb to Jose Bautista. (By the way, that scenario made two observations seems timely: Yunel was hit when he dove to the outside corner and Hoch came inside. Bautista hit the home run when Luke went to the slide step and left a slider up. Both possibilities have been brought up on this website in the last few days. I’m not saying I told you so, but I’m coming dang close.)
On the other hand, Brett Lawrie’s triple came on a pitch where Luke didn’t use the slide step, so it’s not the only time Hochevar leaves a pitch up. Walks and hit batters who scored didn’t do all the damage in the game, but they made the difference.
Some other stuff
• The Blue Jays are pitching Jeff Francoeur in, just like a lot of other teams. They want him to get out in front, pull the ball foul and then open up the outer half. If the Blue Jays pitchers get the pitch in on their hands, they can get him. But if they get the pitch in and down, Frenchy is very good at dropping the bat head and golfing the pitch.
• The infield defense can play deeper on the turf because the ball gets there faster. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella made a terrific play to get Adam Lind, and he was halfway out to Francoeur in right field when he caught the ball. That also was a nice bit of pitching by Hochevar. They’ve got the defense swung around to the pull side for the left-handed Lind, so when you see that 4-3 in the box score, it’s all part of a plan.
• Mike Moustakas had two hits, one clean and the other caused by Jays left fielder Eric Thames not taking charge on a pop fly. Moose’s defensive problems (he had two errors) came from two fundamental mistakes. He didn’t throw at the head of Eric Hosmer (or if he did he missed by a long way), and he didn’t get his hands out in front. The head is right smack dab in the middle of the arms and the right target for most throws, and if the hands aren’t out in front on grounders, your head moves when the ball arrives and you lose track of its flight.
• I don’t know if catcher Salvador Perez was thinking along these lines, but trying to pick off Yunel Escobar after Escobar got hit by that pitch was a smart move. Any time players or teams get upset, running a play that takes advantage of their emotional state is a good bet. They’re not thinking clearly. Take advantage.
Did Hosmer come off the bag on the Moustakas throw Tuesday night?
If he didn’t Tuesday night, Hos probably did some other time. Here’s the deal: One of the tricks first baseman use to get calls is coming off the bag early. You can buy your infielders a few inches on the throw.
The trick works if you pop off the bag and throw the ball around the infield every time you get an out. And then one night, you pop off early. Umpires at first watch the runner’s feet and listen for the pop of the ball in the first baseman’s mitt. Whichever one happens first determines the call. If the first baseman can come off the bag just slightly, the umpire might make the call he was trained to. The pop beat the foot. The runner’s out.
Of course, smart umpires know the tricks of smart first baseman and try not to get fooled. In this case, Hosmer probably didn’t come off the bag early, but it was close.
Winning on the road
The Royals are in the middle of a brutal road trip, and the other day, manager Ned Yost was getting asked about why teams play better at home than on the road. He meandered around a bit, but eventually came to what seems to me to be the main reason. You can build your team to suit the place you play. If you’ve got a giant outfield, you should have fast outfielders. If it’s a small park, you should have power hitters. If you build your team correctly, you should have an advantage at home.
The other thing is familiarity. You should know how your ball park plays and have an advantage.
The third reason teams play better at home is rarely discussed by professional athletes and is best illustrated by yet another Clint Hurdle story:
I was taking a men’s amateur team to a national tournament for the first time, and I wanted to talk to Clint about handling pitchers. How many innings, how many days rest, how many pitches could a reliever throw and still be used the next day?
We got on the plane, and shortly before landing in Phoenix, the pilot got on the intercom and said, “The plane has been drunk dry. There is no more alcohol, and you can all thank the Kansas City Rockies.” And that was just the beginning. My center fielder was so hammered the night before a double header he had to support himself against a wall. My left-handed reliever was searching for a bigger drinking glass … and he was drinking bourbon.
As you might have guessed, we had a lousy tournament. Afterward, Clint called me and asked how things had gone. “Have you ever seen one of those old Westerns where the Indians get into the firewater and go nuts? That was my team.”
Clint was laughing pretty hard and said, “So you found out it’s hard to win on the road.”
“Is that what that’s about?”
“Lee, when you’re at home, your players are at home! When you’re on the road, you don’t know where they are.”
I’m not accusing the Royals — or any other athletes — of partying their way out of a win, but if it happened, it wouldn’t be the first time.
A bird in the hand
(As I’ve already mentioned, my son Paul is going to take over for me occasionally later this month. I’ve encouraged him to write some things for the site, and here’s his first effort.)
In the bottom of the third with two outs, Blue Jays second baseman Mike McCoy hit a shot to left-center field that looked like trouble. Even with catcher J.P. Arencibia on first, a double to the gap with two outs probably would score Arencibia and cut the Royals’ 2-0 lead (at the time) in half. Gordon and Cabrera both charged the gap, and Melky ended up getting there just in time.
I didn’t think the catch deserved to be awarded an outstanding defensive play, but it was noteworthy for a few reasons. Despite Melky’s offensive consistency, questions have been raised about his range in center field
On this play, Melky caught what would have been a two-out, one-run double from McCoy and ended the third inning. And Melky made another outstanding play to end the Blue Jays’ three-run bottom of the fourth.
Melky’s defense may not be perfect , but that doesn’t mean he can’t get the job done. While a lot of Kansas City fans clamor for Will Meyers and Lorenzo Cain to be brought up, I am reminded of the old saying, “A bird in the hand … .” Sure, bring up Meyers and Cain and see how they develop, but sacrifice Melky and his excellent bat for the sake of players who might one day be good?
With Jeff Francoeur re-signing this week and Alex Gordon in left, the corner outfield positions seem pretty much set for the next few years. Can we really afford to sacrifice Melky’s bat? You can’t move him to any other position, and the Royals can’t bump Billy Butler at DH.
Of course, Melky’s catch of McCoy’s line drive in the third doesn’t mean there aren’t shortcomings in his defensive game, but it does show you that he is capable of tracking down and catching a hard-hit ball in a big left-center gap.
So Melky’s not a perfect player, but between his 74 RBIs, 16 homers, .300-plus average and 12 outfield assists, he’s damn good. And do you wanna bet on a guy who’s damn good or a couple guys that are unknown?
Pickoff attempts at first base with Royals Eric Hosmer
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer demonstrates to Lee Judge how to set up for a pickoff at first base. July 22, 2011 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)