Games » Los Angeles AngelsJul25
The worst inning of the year
The Kansas City Star
There’s a difference between playing poorly and losing. Losing is when the other guy beats you. Playing poorly is when you beat yourself. On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals went a long way toward beating themselves. Having watched every pitch of every inning of every game since Opening Day, I thought the second inning of this game was the most poorly played inning of the year.
Two innings into a game against Jered Weaver, the Royals already had made two errors, three mental mistakes, thrown two wild pitches, failed to score a run for themselves and given two runs to Angels.
First inning: With one down and two strikes, Jered Weaver throws a pitch up and in to Alcides Escobar. Players know pitchers will come inside, but they don’t like any pitch above the shoulders. Getting hit in the arm or back is one thing, but taking a fastball to the head is life-threatening.
Why pitchers come up and in — or at least used to on a regular basis — is immediately apparent when Weaver locks up Escobar on a fastball down the middle. Hitters are not too eager to lean out over the plate once a pitch has just missed their head.
Next, Weaver drills Lorenzo Cain in the thigh. If a pitcher wants to hit a batter, he throws the pitch belt high behind him. The batter’s natural reaction is to back up on an inside pitch, and the batter will back up into the pitch. This pitch looks more like a pitcher trying to move a batter’s feet. Cain hit a home run the night before, and pitchers will sometimes try to rob a hitter of his power by moving his feet and affecting the base of his power.
In the bottom of the inning, the Angels’ Mike Trout doubles, moves to third on Torii Hunter’s single and scores on a wild pitch. Catcher Salvador Perez, who usually is so reliable about blocking pitches in the dirt, has a curveball get past him.
Breaking pitches thrown to the outside corner usually change direction and bounce back toward the middle of the plate. (Fastballs continue in their original line of travel.) But for some reason, this breaking pitch continues in its original line of travel. That means Sal’s positioning is wrong, and instead of the ball hitting his chest protector, it hits his right elbow and gets away.
After bouncing one curve that costs him a run, Royals starter Luke Hochevar may be reluctant to bounce another and hangs one to Mark Trumbo. Trumbo singles, and Hunter moves to third. After a Kendrys Morales groundout and an Alberto Callaspo double, the Angels lead 3-0.
Second inning: The worst inning of the 2012 season starts with a Mike Moustakas double. Angels right fielder Mark Trumbo loses the ball in sun, and it lands behind him.
A hitter sometimes makes the mistake of coasting out of the batter’s box when he believes he’s hit a routine fly ball, but that’s not what Mike does. He sees Trumbo is having trouble and runs hard all the way, but then shuts it down as he approaches second base.
Whether Mike assumed he should stop at second because there were no outs or third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez was telling him to shut it down is impossible to say without talking to the people involved, but Trumbo was just throwing the ball in from right as Mike was putting on the brakes. Getting to third base seemed possible, if not easy.
The base-running decision immediately costs the Royals a run when Perez hits a deep fly to right. Moustakas moves up to third but should be scoring a run. Moose never makes it home, and it appears the Royals have just given away a run.
The bottom of the inning starts with a single by the Angels’ Peter Bourjos. Eric Hosmer makes an error on a sacrifice bunt by Bobby Wilson, and both runners are safe. Then Mike Moustakas gets a double-play ball from Mike Trout, steps on third, but bounces the throw past Hosmer. Wilson and Trout move up to second and third. Torii Hunter singles to left, and Wilson — who should have been out on his bunt attempt — scores, followed by Trout.
Alex Gordon tries to throw Trout out at home on the fly. Gordon overthrows the cutoff man, and Hunter moves in to second while the ball is in the air. Then Hochevar throws his second wild pitch, allowing Hunter to move into third.
Mark Trumbo then hits the ball back to Hochevar, and the Royals pitcher appears to have forgotten the number of outs. Luke never looks Hunter back to third, and the Angels score another easy run when Hochevar throws the ball to first. Angels lead 6-0.
Third inning: Weaver drills Cain once again. Once again, it doesn’t appear to be intentional, but the Royals’ No. 3 hitter has been hit twice, and Escobar and Francoeur have had pitches thrown up around their heads. Pitchers have to protect their hitters by letting the opponent know there’s a price to pay for pitching inside. So far, Hochevar has not come inside on any Angels hitter.
A pitcher who refuses to protect his hitters because he doesn’t want an angry confrontation on the mound or wants to protect his ERA is not considered a good teammate, and someone may tell him so. At this point, both teams probably expect Hochevar to do something about what’s happening.
The bottom of the inning begins with a leadoff walk to Alberto Callaspo and a Howie Kendrick single. Maicer Izturis doubles down the right-field line, and the Royals come to life. Jeff Francoeur hits relay man Yuniesky Betancourt, who gets the ball to Salvador Perez. Sal stretches to his right while blocking the plate with his left leg. Home-plate umpire Bob Davidson originally calls Kendrick — who is trying to score from first — safe, but then sees where Perez has his left leg, realizes there’s no way Kendrick could have tagged home, and reverses the call.
Angels manager Mike Scoscia comes out to argue and then immediately has Izturis try to steal third with one down. This is a common move by some managers: put a play on right after there’s been some distraction on the field. The attempt to catch the Royals napping doesn’t work. Perez throws out Izturis (Moustakas makes a difficult catch and tag on the other end), and the threat is over.
Fourth inning: Bobby Wilson leads off with a home run, and now, with the Royals down 8-0, Hochevar comes inside on a batter, drilling Mike Trout. It appears the ball actually hits Trout’s bat — which would make it a foul ball, not a hit by pitch — but all three sides, the Royals, the Angels and the umpires, have been waiting for Hochevar to retaliate, and Davidson wastes no time ejecting him.
Fifth inning: It may be a coincidence, but even though Cain strikes out in the top of the inning, Weaver does not come inside. Escobar singles, Billy Butler homers and the Royals are finally on the board.
Sixth inning: Despite their performance in the early innings, the Royals have accomplished one of their pregame goals: Jered Weaver is out of the game. He has used 101 pitches to get through five innings. When a pitcher is really good, sometimes all you can do is hang close, take pitches and hope to get to the opponent’s bullpen early enough to get back in the game.
Eighth inning: Everett Teaford, who replaced Hochevar in the fourth, has slowed down the Angels with four scoreless innings. Angels reliever Scott Downs, with an 8-2 lead, walks Butler, gives up a single to Perez and then a home run to Francoeur. Suddenly, the Royals have a chance, down 8-5.
Just as suddenly, the chance is gone.
Teaford gives up a leadoff single and is replaced by Louis Coleman, who gives up back to back home runs. The Royals go on to lose 11-6.
Even in this game, there were some things to like. After a disastrous beginning, the Royals fought back, playing good defense from the third inning on. The offense did not give up, putting up six runs after being down 8-0. Teaford pitched well in relief, but — you can’t make this many mistakes and beat a pitcher like Weaver.
Playing for one
Many readers have been critical of Ned Yost for playing for one run early in games. But the Royals are 31-14 when they score first and 10-42 when the other team scores first. That may or may not be meaningful. If you score more often than the other guy, it would seem you also have a better chance of scoring first. In other words, scoring first may be a byproduct of winning, not the other way around.
On the other hand …
Scoring first is a psychological advantage (it can create the expectation of defeat in the other team), and it may make your pitcher more aggressive. A pitcher with a cushion is more likely to be aggressive and throw strikes when the man at the plate can’t hurt him.
When the Royals get back to Kansas City, I’ll ask Ned his opinion on the value of scoring first.