Games » Seattle MarinersJul18
Billy was born to hit
The Kansas City Star
“Billy was born to hit.” That was what Mitch Maier said not long before he left the Royals. Manager Ned Yost called Billy a “special hitter.” Last night, with the game tied at 7 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Billy Butler stepped to the plate to face Seattle reliever Josh Kinney. Before he left the dugout, Billy said he was going to take the first pitch.
Butler figured Kinney wouldn’t throw him a first-pitch fastball and he would get a slider instead. Billy wanted to see the slider — live and in person — get a good look at the release, the spin and the pitch’s movement. Once Billy knew what to expect from the slider, he would be ready to hit.
Billy got the slider he expected for a first-pitch strike. Kinney then doubled up and threw another slider low and away. After the game, I asked Billy whether he was then expecting a fastball in a 1-1 count. Billy said no, not really. If Kinney had thrown three sliders in a row, Billy would not have been surprised. But Butler figured he could react to a fastball or adjust down to another slider.
He reacted to a fastball. Home run. The Royals won 8-7.
Second inning: After Seattle starter Kevin Millwood went through the first inning 1-2-3, the Royals jumped all over him in the second. So what changed? I asked Alex Gordon that after the game, and he said Millwood always throws a lot of fastballs, and in the first inning everyone was watching to see whether he would keep up that pattern.
By the second inning, the Royals’ hitters were ready and jumped on Millwood for three runs.
Third inning: You might have noticed that Millwood and Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo were having a hard time getting on the same page. They had not one, but two meetings on the mound while trying to decide what pitch to throw to Mike Moustakas. So what was up?
Billy Butler was standing on second base.
When an opposing base-runner is on second, the catcher changes the signs. That means the pitcher has to remember what system they agreed to use beforehand. So you often will see a meeting to get things straightened out.
Sixth inning: Chris Getz walked to lead off the inning. He then advanced on a wild pitch with Alex Gordon at the plate. Gordon hit a ground ball to Getz’s right, and Chris then pulled off a difficult base-running move.
When a runner is on second and there is only one out, the runner usually does not advance on a ball hit to his right. Otherwise, the shortstop would move to his right, pick up the ball and make a short, easy throw to third base to cut down the lead runner.
But that happens when the runner breaks right away and the shortstop can see he has an easy out. On this play, Getz retreated slightly on Gordon’s ground ball, waited for the shortstop to throw the ball and then took off for third. This base-running play requires speed and timing. Getz has both.
After the game, I asked Alex whether he had seen the jump that Chris Getz got on Gordon’s flare double just beyond third base. Brayan Pena had to hold his ground because a runner on third doesn’t have a good angle, but Getz was on second and broke right away.
Alex said, “Getz is a ballplayer.” That’s the ultimate compliment in a major-league clubhouse. It means the player in question understands the game, hustles and does the small things right.
Seventh inning: A passed ball might have cost the Royals a run. Jesus Montero advanced from first base to second on a passed ball by Brayan Pena. Kyle Seager doubled, and Montero scored. With two outs, running on contact, maybe Montero scores anyway — but the passed ball made sure of it.
Eighth inning: With the score tied at 7, the Mariners had the potential winning run on third base with one out. Royals manager Ned Yost brought in his infield, and the batter, Dustin Ackley, hit the ball to Getz. Getz, made a bad throw home — I guess he doesn’t do everything right — but Brayan Pena saved the day and a run by going to his right, handling the short hop and diving back to the plate to get the runner, Brendan Ryan. The first replay made it look as though the umpire had missed the call, but by the third replay, it was clear Ryan hadn’t touched the plate before he was tagged.
Major-league infielders will tell you there are times they have to grab it and gun it. There is not time to get their feet set or their arm in the proper throwing position. When that happens, they count on their athleticism or the athleticism of the guy receiving the throw to save the day.
This appeared to be one of those plays. Chris got it there, but Brayan saved the day.
• Hosmer is coming out of the three-hole, at least for a while. One of the things you notice when being around a team is that things are the way they are until they’re not. You can be told three days in a row that the Royals are going to ride it out with Hosmer hitting third, and on the fourth day he’s moving down in the order.
• Aaron Crow pitched in the seventh inning. Before the game, I asked him about starting versus relieving. Aaron said he likes both. Relievers have a chance to play every day, but starters know when they are going to pitch. Relievers have a chance to get right back out there after a bad outing, but starters have a chance to make up for one rough inning with five good ones.
Whatever happens, Aaron said he won’t be starting this year. He would need time to stretch out the innings, and that would probably mean a trip to the minors or waiting until the off-season to start the process.
A minor adjustment
Ask a player who has recently taken a trip back to the minor leagues what the difference is between Omaha and Kansas City and you will get a lot of different answers, all of them interesting.
Chris Getz said that one of the first things he noticed was overall speed. It was easier to find a gap in the outfield in Triple-A than in the big leagues. Pitcher Everett Teaford talked about the extra information available in the major leagues.
Teaford said that in the minors, he might be able to get away without locating his curve for two or three outings before people noticed and began to lay off that pitch. Teaford says that in the big leagues, you can’t get through a game before someone picks it up.
Hitters are looking to eliminate pitches they have to worry about, and if they get a report that says a pitcher can’t throw his curveball for a strike and only throws his changeup to right-handers, two-thirds of that pitcher’s arsenal may be out the window.
Getz agreed about the wealth of information available to big-league players. They get reports on opposing pitchers and hitters. They watch video. In Triple-A, hitters often have to watch warm-ups to see what the guy on the mound has.
Teaford also said pitches that get a swing and a miss in Des Moines get spit on in Chicago. You make what you think is a perfect pitch in the big leagues, and the batter won’t swing until you show you can throw that pitch for a strike.
The bottom line for fans is this: Those minor-league numbers do not automatically mean success against major-league competition. It’s in a different league.
P.S.: And the food is worse. A postgame meal in the minors might be lunch meat and a loaf of bread. A major-leaguer down for a quick visit in the minors is expected to pick up a “spread” or two during his stay. A spread usually means ordering catered food for the other players and picking up the tab.