Games » Oakland AthleticsJun3
Getting your money’s worth
The Kansas City Star
Let’s say you packed up the car, loaded the kids in the back seat, drove out to Kauffman Stadium, paid for parking, bought tickets, found your seats, sat down, watched one play, then turned around and went home. You still might have gotten your money’s worth — as long as the one play you saw was Alex Gordon’s catch and throw in the fifth inning.
This is one of the reasons to watch professional sports — the chance that a great athlete will do something amazing and you’ll be there to see it.
Let’s set the scene. The Royals were up by one run in what was turning out to be a pitcher’s duel between Oakland’s Tommy Milone and Kansas City’s Vin Mazzaro. Each pitcher had given up four hits (an Eric Hosmer homer accounted for the one run) and both teams were scrambling to find another run.
Mazzaro led off the fifth with a walk to Adam Rosales — not what you want to do in a one-run game — and the next batter, Collin Cowgill, hit a single, putting runners on at first and second. Cliff Pennington bunted the runners over (clearly the Royals’ Ned Yost isn’t the only manager who finds the sacrifice bunt useful on occasion).
Josh Reddick then hit a fly ball that seemed destined to find the seats in foul territory down the left-field line. Gordon sprinted over, just in case. The ball boy grabbed his stool and cleared the area. Alex briefly considered letting the ball drop. The throwing angle would be awful and Rosales might tag and try to score.
At the last second, Alex reached out and caught the ball, palm up. He bobbled the ball slightly, and, just as he feared, Rosales tagged. Moving on a dead run, Alex controlled the ball and made a snap throw while off balance — looking for all the world like the third baseman he used to be.
The throw had to go over the runner. There was no clear throwing lane. Catcher Brayan Pena was waiting at the plate, and Rosales was bearing down on him. Brayan was like an NFL receiver going across the middle—the ball’s on its way, and he knows he’s going to get crushed after it arrives.
But Pena held on to the ball to complete one of the best plays you ever will see at a ballpark. If you only saw one play Sunday afternoon and this was that play, you got your money’s worth.
First inning: With a runner on first base, Alcides Escobar knocked down a ball headed up the middle and flipped it to Johnny Giavotella, who was covering second base. Johnny couldn’t make the grab, but it prevented the runner from going first base to third. That play, while not resulting in an out, possibly saved a run when the next batter hit a fly ball to shallow centerfield. It could have been a sacrifice fly without Esky’s play.
Oakland starter Tommy Milone was running cutters in on right-handers. The A’s had their third baseman near the line because any righty who got the bat head to that cutter would probably have to pull it down the line.
Second inning: Eric Hosmer crushed a ball to center field for a home run. Eric has made an adjustment to his swing, taking a smaller stride and getting his front foot down sooner. Eric smoked the ball in all three plate appearances Sunday. This didn’t look like a hitter who needs to go to Omaha to get his confidence back.
Third inning: Alex Gordon doubled. He made the decision to head for second when he saw the outfielder moving sideways to field the ball. Sideways movement = weak throw. Johnny Giavotella did a nice job moving Gordon to third with a fly ball to right, but Billy Butler (the key hitter in this scenario because he did not need a hit to score a run) struck out and Jeff Francoeur lined out to end the inning.
Fifth inning: Jarrod Dyson singled and stole second. The steal paid off almost immediately when Gio singled and Dyson scored. The Royals have adjusted their base stealing and now feel they have the right guys stealing in better situations.
Sixth inning: The wrong guy stole in the wrong situation. (Actually, that’s inaccurate, but I couldn’t resist the line.) With Eric Hosmer at the plate and the count 3-2, Yuniesky Betancourt took off for second base. Hosmer said after the game that it wasn’t a straight steal. The runner starts because the hitter is either going to walk, put the ball in play or strike out. A strikeout will often require a breaking pitch, and that puts the odds in the runner’s favor.—it takes longer for the pitch to get to home plate.
The one thing the runner can’t do is get picked off. Betancourt got picked off. He did not make sure Milone was going to the plate. And then — just to make it look really bad — Yuni didn’t slide at second base.
Eighth inning: With the Royals leading 2-0, Mike Moustakas came out to play third base, and Betancourt was shifted to second. Despite the fact that Johnny Giavotella had a good day defensively, making at least three outstanding plays (by my count), the Royals feel that this alignment makes them better on the defensive side of the ball.
After the game, I asked Ned Yost whether he figured left-handed pitcher Tommy Milone was done (he was) and Moustakas would get to hit against a righty leading off the eighth (he did). Ned said it didn’t matter. The Royals had a lead, and Yost needed to protect it with his best defense. So, of course, Yuniesky immediately made an error at second base. By my count, which could be off, the Royals have made six errors at second base since Chris Getz got hurt.
Hosmer started a nice double play — it didn’t hurt that Oakland’s Kila Ka’aihue was running — to cover the error and end the threat.
You might think playing baseball once in a blue moon would be difficult — and you’d be right. Mitch Maier told me it is easier to keep his defense going than his offense. Apparently, facing coaches throwing batting practice at 3:40 in the afternoon does not completely prepare you for major-league pitchers dealing the hard stuff at 7:10 that evening.
Mitch says he tries to find some way to contribute every time he gets on the field. His timing may be off at the plate, but if he can help on defense or on the base paths or in any other phase of the game, he feels OK about making a positive contribution to the team.
I’ve been told that it’s hard to be a leader when you’re not a starter. Maybe so, but it appears you can still be a role model.
Correlation is not causation, but …
According to my scorebook, since Alex Gordon got moved to the leadoff spot, he has gone 10 for 28, walked four times and hit five doubles. Heck, even if I’ve counted wrong, that’s pretty good hitting. I asked him whether hitting leadoff changed anything, and Gordon said only the first at-bat.
In the game’s first at-bat, Alex knows the pitcher is going to come right at him (you don’t want to walk the first hitter of the game) and knows the pitcher is going to come after him with fastballs (you don’t want to show your off-speed stuff until you have to).
I asked Gordo whether he takes the first pitch of the game, and he said not every time. He has to swing once in a while to keep the pitchers honest.