Games » Minnesota TwinsJun29
90 feet from disaster
The Kansas City Star
The Royals had a three-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. How hard could it be for Jonathan Broxton to get the save? Tying run on second, nobody out hard. Before the inning was over, the tying run was on third. The Royals were 90 feet from disaster.
So how did this three-alarm emergency come about?
Luis Mendoza pitched eight innings, struck out five, gave up one earned one and saved the Royals bullpen for what will be a tough doubleheader Saturday. Mendoza, who in the past has struggled when facing a batting order for the third time (they’ve hit .452 off him) breezed through the Twins order for the third time in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings. After the game Ned Yost said Mendoza had given him no reason to remove him from the game and the Royals starters need to pitch deeper into games when possible.
Mendoza was at 115 pitches so even if Ned sent him back out for the ninth, even a relatively clean inning would have Luis close to 130 pitches. So Ned brought in Broxton. Yost has said that “your closer is your closer” and he’s not inclined to let someone else create a mess, then ask Broxton to get the team out of it. Considering Broxton’s habit of creating his own mess, this seems like a wise policy.
The Royals closer walked the leadoff batter, took a single off the leg, then gave up a double to Joe Mauer and still did not have an out in the inning. Time for the Houdini act: now that there was a real emergency on hand, Broxton got a grounder to short that froze Mauer at second, a fly ball to center that allowed Mauer to tag and advance to third and, finally, a pop up to Mike Moustakas to end the game.
If Jonathan Broxton were a fireman, I get the feeling he’d show up at your burning house, tell you he was going to let the blaze really get going just to make things interesting and then put out the fire. And he’d probably make it work. Jonathan Broxton has a 2.05 ERA and 20 saves, fourth best in the American League.
First inning: Alex Gordon leads off the game with a hustle double. Yuniesky Betancourt steps to the plate and has one of two jobs: move the runner over or drive him in. The third base coach has a sign he can give hitters to tell them what they should be trying to do. Normally, you’d expect a No. 2 hitter to be moving the runner over, but Betancourt has been swinging the bat well and left-handed Mike Moustakas is on deck. The Twins starter, Brian Duensing is also a lefty so it’s not out of the question that Betancourt is being asked to drive Gordon in.
Yuni grounds out to third on a pitch down and in, so he’s either trying to drive Gordon in or exhibiting lousy pitch selection for a guy trying to move a runner over. After Mike Moustakas grounds out, Billy Butler gets a two-out RBI — he hardest kind — and the score is Royals 1, Twins 0.
Second inning: On a 3-1 count a Duensing sinker doesn’t sink and Salvador Perez shows opposite field power, depositing the ball in the right field seats.
Alcides Escobar demonstrates good bat control, hitting the ball to the right side when Twins second baseman, Jamey Carroll vacates the right side to cover second base on a hit and run. Escobar has shown occasional power, the ability to handle the bat, bunt for hits and steal bases.
He also plays pretty good defense.
In the bottom of the inning the Twins score a run when Luis Mendoza buries a pitch and Salvador Perez, in what appears to be a rare mistake, tries to glove the ball instead of blocking it. Base runner, Trevor Plouffe advances to second, then scores on a Ryan Doumit single, Royals 2, Twins 1.
Fifth inning: Alcides Escobar bunts for a hit. One of the reasons Esky is hitting .318 is his ability to run. By contrast, Billy Butler is hitting .298 without the benefit of speed. Players refer to this as a “hard” .298, meaning it really reflects good hitting without too many cheap infield singles mixed in. Escobar scores on a Betancourt double, Royals 3, Twins 1.
Joe Mauer demonstrates why he’s such a good hitter: he doesn’t swing the bat until he has two strikes or gets the pitch he wants. Mauer doubles on a 3-2 slider, but Jonathan Broxton strands him at third base, Royals win 4-3.
Ahead of the game
After the game Ned Yost said he had Jose Mijares up in the eighth inning, just in case Mendoza had any trouble with the bottom of the order. The Twins had three-left handed hitters at the top of the order — Denard Span, Ben Revere and Joe Mauer — so Mijares was an insurance policy to be used, if needed, to get the ball to the back end of the pen.
I’m trying to pay more attention to Ned’s managerial moves. He did the same thing the other night: he got Kelvin Herrera up just in case Bruce Chen could not finish the 7th, but once Bruce made it through the inning, sat Herrera back down and went to Aaron Crow for the 8th. So Ned knows what he wants to do in the 8th and 9th inning each night, but has somebody ready in case the pitcher falters before he gets there.
Ned’s taken a lot of criticism for his managing — all managers do — but after watching him set up at-bats in the ninth inning with double switches in the seventh during interleague play (I wonder how many of his critics could have done as well), I’ve been impressed with his ability to generally stay ahead of the game. Managers who anticipate situations and put themselves in a position to deal with them are managing “ahead” of the game, managers who wait until a crisis strikes and then think about what to do are said to manage “behind” the game.
If you haven’t watched the video posted on the home page yet, do so. It’s well worth your time. It’s a video of Doug Sisson talking about the three ballparks the Royals will visit on this road trip. Each park is different, each park changes the game.
Of course we’re all aware of how parks affect hitters, but they also affect pitchers, defenses and base running. For instance: in Fenway the rules of thumb used in a trip around the bases change in some important ways. The old adage is “never make the first or third out at third base,” but the Green Monster changes that. A runner on second base is not assured of being able to score on a base hit to left with two outs. Because of his proximity to home plate, a leftfielder with a good arm can make the runner stop at third. Because of this, teams visiting Boston take more chances to get to third base regardless of the number of outs.
After visiting St. Louis and talking about playing left field in Busch Stadium with Alex Gordon, I saw how things changed for him in Houston. And that led me to think I ought to explore this topic further. Doug Sisson was on board and said he’d be willing to shoot a video before every road trip and give us a preview of what we’ll see.
Here’s what he had to say about Target Field: it’s a pitcher’s park and that means the guy on the mound can bite off a bit more of the plate if necessary and still keep the ball in the yard, the ball does not carry well. (It also helps if you have guys who can go get the ball playing outfield.)
Right field has some oddities: a small balcony that overhangs the field and a variety of surfaces for the ball to hit. If it hits above the padding on the right field wall, the ball will come off very hard, if it hits padding, not so much. Guys who play in a park for 81 games should have an advantage of guys who play just a few games there.
If a ball is questionable, the Royals want one fielder attempting to make the catch and another back on the grass playing the carom. If you see two guys on a warning track and the ball gets away from both of them, you’ve just seen a mistake.
During the video Doug says a really interesting thing: the Royals outfielders are throwing people out on the bases because they play shallow. They position themselves to defend the good pitch, not the bad one. If a pitcher jams a hitter and a flare falls in front of an outfielder, that’s on the outfielder. If a ball is launched over the head of an outfielder, that’s on the pitcher.
(By the way: we should all be grateful to the Royals. I get a lot of compliments on this site, but it all starts with the Royals providing their knowledge and insight. I was watching the video and wondering how many teams have coaches explaining their outfield philosophies on video in an attempt to help fans understand and enjoy what they see. If you’re a Royals fan — and I guess you must be if you’re reading this — you’re lucky.)
Before I forget
Doubleheader tomorrow. I’ll post after the first game and again after the second. If you miss the first one and want to read it later, go to the “By Game” section and it will be available there.