Games » Detroit TigersSep1
The Royals don't give up
OK, if you need a pick-me-up, 5-5 on a road trip against contending teams is pretty good. Losing all five by one-run isn’t fun, but it’s better than being blown out. Coming back in this game about twelve times, after losing two heartbreakers in a row, is another good sign.
Maybe I just need to make myself better because I have to watch them, but I don’t think so. The Royals are playing some pretty interesting baseball, and it’s worth a fan’s time to watch them this September. That way, you won’t be caught by surprise by what they do next year. (I hope, because I’m going to have to watch every game in 2012 also.)
I’d like to think games like this are part of the process they need to go through to become a better team next season. Despite the one-run losses and tough times, the Royals aren’t giving up. Neither should the fans.
The fastball count
OK, what’s a fastball count? Generally it means a count in which the pitcher has to throw a strike and, because the fastball is the easiest pitch to control, it’s the pitch he’ll probably throw. Those counts are 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2.
Unfortunately, for pitchers, hitters also know the fastball counts and those are the counts where they feel they can do some damage. Hitting instructors (at least the ones I know) don’t want hitters trying to hit the ball out of the yard on every pitch. But if the hitter has power, these are the counts where he can look fastball and try to catch the ball out in front.
So pitchers have three options if they want to be successful: 1.) Stay out of fastball counts 2.) Learn to throw something off-speed for a strike in a fastball count or 3.) Throw a helluva fastball in a fastball count.
So what happened to the Royals’ pitchers when they found themselves in a fastball count against the Tigers in this game?
•First inning: Danny Duffy is in a fastball count 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1 to leadoff hitter Austin Jackson. Jackson gets the fastball he expects 3-1 and smokes it to Alex Gordon for a lineout. Danny finds himself in another fastball count 3-2 to Miguel Cabrera and throws a curve. Cabrera does not get the fastball he’s expecting and is out in front on the off-speed pitch, a strikeout.
•Second inning: 3-1 fastball to Alex Avila, he rips it foul. Another fastball 3-2, Avila flies out to Alex Gordon. A 2-1 fastball to Jhonny Peralta and Peralta sends it to the warning track in center field (somewhere just south of the Canadian border) and Melky Cabrera runs it down in the big part of the park.
•Third inning: Danny tries a 2-0 change-up, but can’t throw that for a strike, has to go back to the fastball, but doesn’t want to groove one when Ryan Raburn is looking for that pitch. Duffy ends up walking the leadoff hitter. The same thing happens when he falls behind Victor Martinez 2-0. Duffy tries to throw a curve for a strike, misses, and with the count 3-0, the Royals decide to intentionally walk the batter. (Danny threw ball four to the screen; intentional walks actually have to be practiced because pitchers have a hard time finding the right release point.)
•Fourth inning: 2-0 and Danny decides to go the “helluva fastball’ route. He hasn’t had much luck throwing off-speed in this count the last couple of times. Duffy does come up with a helluva fastball, right at the knees and Raburn takes, then goes on to fly out. Danny tries to paint fastballs again 2-0 and 3-0 to Brandon Inge and walks him.
•Fifth inning: 3-1 fastball to Delmon Young results in a hard grounder to Giavotella. Next Duffy gets away with a 2-1 fastball to Miguel Cabrera, then goes back to the curve 3-2 (it worked the last time he found himself in this situation with Miguel) and gets him to roll over for a 6-3 groundball.
•Sixth inning: Aaron Crow now pitching and he’s in a 2-0 fastball count to Austin Jackson. Crow grooves a fastball in this fastball count and Jackson takes. Very interesting: Why wasn’t Austin all over that pitch? The answer might’ve come on the next one: Aaron goes with a 2-1 slider and Jackson homers. I’ve got no way of knowing, but you might suspect that Jackson was sitting on a slider during those two counts and got it on the 2-1 pitch.
•Seventh inning: Louis Coleman on the mound, same deal: In a 2-0 fastball count, Louis throws a slider for a strike and Avila takes, so he wasn’t looking for the slider there. (Avila later went on to single 2-2.
So here’s the deal: When hitters got a fastball in a fastball count, they had a tendency to hit the ball hard somewhere, unless it was a really well-located fastball. When they got an off-speed pitch for a strike in a fastball count, they either took it or had a bad pass at the ball, unless they were looking for it. And if the pitcher couldn’t throw his off-speed stuff for a strike in a fastball count, he quickly found himself in a worse situation.
This pattern was even more pronounced with the Royals’ hitters. They did a lot of their damage when they got fastballs in fastball counts. Next time you watch a game, look for these counts. They often decide the ballgame.
The most important play in baseball
It’s the routine play. Every night I record what I consider outstanding defensive plays and they’re not all outs. Keeping the ball on the infield to prevent a run from scoring, blocking a pitch to keep a runner from advancing or an extraordinary effort to prevent extra bases all count for me. And yet, the Royals still barely average over three outstanding plays a game.
Knock out the plays where the Royals don’t get an out and you could safely say that in a 27-out game, 25 of the plays are fairly routine. That’s what makes it the most important play in baseball. It’s the bread and butter of baseball defense.
The importance of making the routine play was demonstrated when Johnny Giavotella dropped what seemed like a likely double-play ball in the third inning. Johnny had made three outstanding plays in the previous game but didn’t handle this more routine chance.
For some fans, it’s hard to appreciate the unspectacular but steady player. Baseball people don’t share that attitude: They like the great play, but they know they can live without. But they’ve got to have the routine one.
Because it’s the most important play in baseball.
Billy and the blogger
Not long ago, Billy Butler told me about a public appearance that was supposed to include a press conference with the media. The “media” turned out to be one blogger. The blogger wanted Billy to comment on his recent slump. Billy said, “Have you checked out my RBIs?”
As anyone could’ve predicted, when Billy started catching the ball out in front more often (right around the time the team visited Boston), he began to hit for more power, but it affected his batting average and on-base percentage. But he’s now tied for the team lead in RBIs.
Fans can’t have it both ways, no matter how much we’d like to. Give Billy credit for responding to Ned Yost when he said Billy should accept a little less average for a little more production.
Also give Mike Moustakas credit for ending up on second after his RBI single in the seventh. By advancing to second on the throw, Moose got the Royals an extra run on Johnny Giavotella’s single. Some first basemen neglect to get to the middle of the infield on throws home, and that allows trail runners to advance, knowing the ball can’t be cut.
Eric Hosmer does a great job of this, and you can often see him fake the cut and throw when a ball is headed to the plate, which freezes the trail runner.