Games » Oakland AthleticsApr11
Playing the game right
The Kansas City Star
After four hours, nine runs, 16 hits, eight walks and almost 400 pitches, the Royals may have lost this game because shortstop Alcides Escobar did not take two steps forward.
Escobar has a great arm. Shortstops with great arms sometimes rely on those great arms too much. If you have a weak arm, you charge every ground ball you can. You need to shorten your throw. Moving forward puts you on the balls of your feet, brings your upper body forward into a better fielding position and provides momentum for a throw. But if you lay back on a ground ball and count on that great arm to make up for all the things you’re not doing, you’re going to be in trouble on any bad hop or momentary bobble. I don’t know if Alcides felt he had to play the ball the way he did, but if he had the chance to move forward and didn’t, it was a mistake.
To be fair, I could have picked on any number of bad things that happened in this 12-inning game: Brayan Pena sailed a throw into left field that allowed a runner to score, Bruce Chen walked a leadoff batter who later scored and, of course, closer Jonathan Broxton walked two batters and hit two batters — one more than the average number of bases on a baseball field.
But I wanted to pick the smallest thing I could think of to make this point; you have to play the game right all the time. Even after four hours and 400 pitches. Even when you’re tired. If Esky steps forward, maybe he’s in a better fielding position, maybe he gets the second out of the 12th inning and even if Broxton still walks the next two batters, maybe the game ends on Coco Crisp’s grounder to second.
A few things that didn’t go well
• Speaking of Coco Crisp, he came up in the 12th inning with one out, the bases loaded and the Royals leading by a run. The odds of doubling up Crisp were not great. Broxton needed a strikeout, not a grounder. I wondered whether Pena would ask Broxton to bounce a breaking pitch in order to get a swing and a miss. (The catcher taps his mitt on the ground to let the pitcher know what he wants.) Asking your pitcher to bounce a pitch with the tying run on third base takes confidence in your ability to block a pitch. The Royals faced the same situation against the Angels with Peter Bourjos at the plate, and Pena didn’t call for a ball in the dirt that time, either. On the other hand, maybe Brayan had another plan to get a strikeout, but it just didn’t work.
• First-base coach Doug Sisson, who is doing everything in his power to raise my baseball I.Q., once told me to watch the quality of the pitch after a pitcher attempts three straight pickoffs. Well, Royals starter Bruce Chen attempted four in a row, and when he finally delivered the ball to the plate, Jonny Gomes hit it into the seats. Bruce has thrown quality pitches after numerous pickoff attempts, but this time the pitch was up in the zone. Doug Sisson has made me aware of how much a fast base-runner can affect the quality of the pitches thrown to a batter.
• Chris Getz once told me that when Pena throws to second base, the throws sometimes tail to the first-base side. Chris comes out in front of the bag to make sure he can move laterally with the throw, if necessary. When Gomes stole second in the sixth inning, Brayan’s throw sailed and Getz made an acrobatic play to keep the ball on the infield. When Yoenis Cespedes stole third base in the second inning, Mike Moustakas couldn’t keep Brayan’s wide throw on the infield and the run scored.
• Speaking of Cespedes, when he got hit by a pitch in the 12th (something Broxton clearly did not want to do), he stared Jonathan down. This reminded me of something Jason Kendall once said: Guys who want to seem tough stare down the pitcher. Guys who are tough go get them. Kendall’s theory was that if you think it’s personal, charge the mound. If it’s not personal, get your butt down to first.
• Once again there were too many walks and high pitch counts. Two walks scored and the Royals lost by one, so it’s easy to see the consequences of not throwing strikes.
A few things that went right
I write a lot of positive stuff about ballplayers in general and the Royals in particular. Major-league ballplayers are among the best athletes in the world — but they’re not perfect. So when they mess up on the field, I write about that, too. In every game, ballplayers make mistakes. In every game, they do good things, too. Here are some of the good things from this game:
• Once again, let’s start with Alcides Escobar. He hit a pop fly to right field in the seventh inning and never stopped running. Esky ended up on second base when Oakland right fielder Jemile Weeks missed the ball. The play was scored an error by a scorekeeper, whom I’m guessing has never tried to catch a pop fly with the wind howling.
• Eric Hosmer once again kept the ball on the infield after a bad throw. (Not every outstanding play requires an out. If the fielder saves a base, or in this case, two bases, that’s good enough for me.) As I’ve said before, Hosmer’s ability to knock down short hops allows the other infielders to try spectacular plays — and every once in a while they make one.
• Several times ground balls have been hit up the middle, and I’ve expected to see the ball make it to the outfield, but a middle infielder was positioned right in front of it. Of course, I don’t know how many times an infielder should have been positioned in front of a ball that did make it to the outfield, but over the course of the first six games of this season, it looks as if someone is doing a good job of scouting.
• A ground ball hit right at a fielder who is playing a shift usually means that the pitcher hit his location.
• When Hosmer scored what looked to be the winning run in the top of the 12th inning, Jeff Francoeur did a small thing right. He was on deck and acted as a base coach. A runner coming home can’t see a ball coming from left field or center field, so the on-deck hitter gets in the runner’s line of vision and signals which side of the plate the runner should aim for. Hosmer was going for the third-base side, but he shifted at the last second to the first-base side and beat the throw.
• Another great diving catch from Alex Gordon. He’s also starting to have some of those hard-hit outs fall in.
OK, enough for now. I’m taking tomorrow off and going to watch the Royals work out in preparation for the home opener. Some of these guys haven’t been home since January, and they’re pretty eager to get back to KC and settle in.
Hope to see you out at Kauffman Stadium on Friday.