Games » Milwaukee BrewersJun13
The secret to exciting baseball
The Kansas City Star
Here’s what the last two games have taught me: if you pitch well, play good defense and don’t score a lot of runs, you’ll have some exciting baseball games.
First inning: Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki leads off the game. The Royals appear to defend him the same way they defend Derek Jeter, but in reverse (Jeter’s a righty, Aoki hits from the left side). Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson are playing Aoki to hit the fastball the other way (they’ve moved closer to the left field line) and Jeff Francoeur stays put in case Jonathan Sanchez makes a mistake with an off-speed pitch—that’s the pitch Aoki can pull.
There’s one critical difference from the way the Royals play Jeter; they’re playing shallow…and that will come up later in the game.
Gordon leads off the Royals’ half of the inning with a double and Yuniesky Betancourt does his job: he hits the ball to the right side and Gordon moves to third. Billy Butler grounds out to short and Gordon scores.
Third inning: The Brewers strike back with an infield single, a bunt single, a bunt single and an infield single to Alcides Escobar. The game is tied 1-1 and the ball hasn’t left the infield.
Fourth inning: Sanchez has been pitching extremely well, one hard-hit ball so far, but then runs into trouble when he walks Cody Ransom and George Kottaras. Edwin Maysonet then hits the ball to hell-and-gone, but Jarrod Dyson runs it down in deep center. Jarrod has just saved at least one run, maybe two.
Fifth inning: Dyson tries a bunt of his own, but Milwaukee pitcher Randy Wolf finishes in good fielding position and is able to make a play. Jonathan Sanchez falls off to the third-base side which makes him more vulnerable to bunts.
Sixth inning: Two outs, score tied, Billy Butler on first and Jeff Francoeur hits the ball down into the left field corner. Billy chugs into third and Eddie Rodriguez sends him home. Frankly, I would have been surprised if Eddie had done anything else. If Eddie stops Billy, he’s counting on Mike Moustakas getting a hit off the left-handed Wolf. The Milwaukee starter had already handled Moose twice and hitting with runners in scoring position has not been going well lately.
I’ve known a few people who have made a living standing in the third-base coaches box. They’ll tell you there are times you send a runner knowing he’ll get thrown out if the other team handles the ball perfectly. But in some cases, hoping for an off-line throw still presents a better chance than the alternative. The Brewers handled the ball well, Billy was out easily, but sending him still seemed like the right call.
Seventh inning: Score 2-1, Moustakas leads off the inning with a walk. Ned Yost lets Alcides Escobar hit away. Esky hits into a double play and a promising start goes to waste. After the game, a fan calls in to a radio show to complain about Yost not bunting in this situation. (Clearly, Ned is going to get criticized no matter what he does, so he might as well do what he thinks is right.)
If Ned had used Esky (hitting .288 at the start of the game) to bunt, Jarrod Dyson would have faced a left-handed pitcher and if that didn’t work out, Humberto Quintero would have to drive the run in with two outs.
Eighth inning: Quintero leads off with a single and, once again, Ned chooses not to bunt. Understandable, since he’d be using Alex Gordon to sacrifice. Yost sends Chris Getz out to pinch run, but Francisco Rodriguez has shortened up his motion and is getting the ball to home plate too quickly for Getz to steal. Gordon flies out and Yuni hits into another double play to end the inning.
Bunt or hit away: both have risks.
Ninth inning: Playing Aoki shallow hurts the Royals when he splits the left-center gap for a double. The Brewers bunt him over and he scores the third Milwaukee run. Aoki scores when Brayan Pena picks up the bunt, feels he has no time to set his feet and makes a wide throw to first base. This is one of the reasons teams lay down bunts: if you constantly hit away, people play where they want and make plays that are familiar and comfortable. Bunting can force people into attempting throws they normally don’t make. That’s what happens to Pena.
In the bottom of the inning, pitcher John Axford sets up the Royals by walking Hosmer and Moustakas, then gives up a triple to Escobar. Game tied. We go to extra innings. Deadlines are missed.
Eleventh inning: Butler singles, Hosmer walks and Francoeur hits a shot into left field. This time Eddie Rodriguez stops Billy at third. I can’t tell if the crowd is booing Eddie or saying “Moooose”, but I suspect it’s a combination of both. The fans who were so sure Eddie shouldn’t have sent Billy in the sixth are now sure Eddie should have sent Billy in the 11th.
Once again, it appears Eddie has made the right call: nobody is out and the Royals have three shots at scoring Butler. It only takes one, Moose walks and there’s your ballgame.
One on one
Once again, I got some time with Yost, and here’s what I learned:
We’ll see him play for one run more often when the team isn’t hitting. He doesn’t see the point in playing for the big inning when the big inning doesn’t seem likely. As long as the one run matters, he’s likely to go for it.
Ned brought in Jonathan Broxton to close the game Tuesday night, even though the hitter leading off the inning, Aramis Ramirez, has good numbers against the Kansas City closer. Ned believes the closer is the closer and if you start messing around with those roles, you’re going to pay for that down the road. If the closer makes a mess (Broxton did) let him get out of his own mess (Broxton did), not a mess created by somebody else. Give them a clean inning to work with.
Ned wasn’t going to get a reliever up while Luis Mendoza had a no-hitter going. He didn’t want Luis to look down in the pen and see someone warming up, but Ned made sure the pen knew that if Mendoza gave up a hit, he wanted Aaron Crow up fast.
Ned said he doesn’t believe in managing strictly by the book. Every situation is unique and he may make a decision that doesn’t follow accepted “by the book” managing. He played for a tie on the road in Pittsburgh because he felt his bullpen was in better shape than the Pirates’ and big innings have been hard to come by. He figured, get it tied, then worry about the win.
Mr. Robinson’s new neighborhood
I ask Clint Robinson the difference between Triple-A and the big leagues, and he tells me about his first major league at-bat. He was facing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer, Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan had the whole deal, closer music, weird facial hair and great stuff.
The first pitch was 96 MPH on the black away. In Omaha, Clint would not want to swing at that pitch. A pitch like that would be the best the pitcher could do and Clint could count on something a little more hittable on the next delivery.
In the big leagues, Clint thought that might be the best pitch he was going to get and maybe he should’ve swung. Sure enough, two back-foot sliders later, Clint was headed back to the dugout, carrying his bat. Clint tells me he’s not overwhelmed and he knows he can make the adjustment. He’s just got to jump on that first hittable fastball he sees — up here, he may not get two.