Games » Baltimore OriolesAug12
The insurance run
The Kansas City Star
The game got away for good in the bottom of the eighth. Royals reliever Francisley Bueno walked left-handed hitter Nate McLouth to start the inning. Left-handed relievers exist to throw strikes to left-handed batters. Bueno didn’t do this, and the Orioles had their lead-off man on base. The Orioles were only up by one run with three outs to go — tacking on an insurance run would be huge.
The next batter, Adam Jones, hit a long chip shot behind second base. Chris Getz went back but had a tough angle. Luckily, Jeff Francoeur arrived in time to catch the ball, so Chris peeled off to give Jeff room.
Unluckily, Francoeur appeared to be staring into the sun, and the ball dropped in. Now the Orioles had two on and no one out. If Francoeur had caught the ball, the Orioles would have had one down and a runner on first — they would not have been able to sacrifice bunt the insurance run into scoring position.
Because the ball dropped, the Orioles had two on and nobody out and could then afford to give up an out to move the runners. That’s just what they did: sac bunt, runners moved up to second and third with one down. A runner on third with less than two outs forced the Royals to bring their infield in.
The batter was Mark Reynolds, and Aaron Crow was now pitching. Crow has a terrific slider, and he threw one past catcher Brayan Pena. McLouth scored on the passed ball, and the Orioles had their insurance run.
And the insurance run allowed closer Jim Johnson to be as aggressive as he liked. None of the Royals’ hitters who came to the plate in the ninth represented the tying run. Three walks scored in this game, and the Royals lost 5-3, so it’s pretty easy to see how much those walks hurt.
The Royals finished up the road trip 4-3 and start a series Tuesday against the Oakland A’s.
• Alex Gordon started the game with a single, and once again Alcides Escobar tried to bunt for a hit. It went into the scorebook as sacrifice, but after the game, manager Ned Yost said Escobar was bunting on his own. The bunt was laid down to the right side, which is not ideal with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. A righty falls to the right side when he finishes his motion.
• Earlier in the series, Escobar shot a single past Manny Machado at third base when Machado came in on the grass. If he was playing in again (TV didn’t show Machado’s positioning), that would explain why Esky pushed his bunt to the right.
• In the fourth inning, Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter tried to go up and in on Mike Moustakas. Hunter was aiming for the hole most left-handers have in their swings, but he slightly missed his spot and Moose homered. Apparently, 93 mph wasn’t enough to get it past Moustakas.
• Also in the fourth, Lorenzo Cain hit a fly ball to right and apparently thought he homered. Lorenzo didn’t exactly sprint out of the box. Assuming you’ve homered and not running hard — which was how Adam Jones got thrown out by Alex Gordon earlier in the series — is bad habit that will eventually come back on a player.
• One of the theories about bench players is that they don’t have to do anything to help you, but they can’t hurt you. Brayan Pena — who was catching Bruce Chen, giving Salvador Perez a day off — hit a sacrifice fly to score Billy Butler and later in the game reached over a railing to make a difficult catch on a pop fly. But he also had that passed ball in the ninth.
• Butler would not have been on third to be driven in by Pena if Eric Hosmer hadn’t turned an 0-2 count into a walk earlier in the inning. Hosmer’s walk moved Francoeur to second and Butler to third.
• When Billy tagged up and headed for home, the throw from Baltimore left fielder Lew Ford went over the cutoff man. Francoeur had the presence of mind to go back, tag second and advance to third on the airmailed throw.
• Hunter threw 36 pitches in the fourth inning. One 30-pitch inning is much more tiring than two 15-pitch innings, so it’s not just total pitch count that matters. Having a long, difficult inning early in a game usually takes a toll later.
• Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar executed a perfect hit-and-run in the top of the fifth. Fans can tell a hit-and-run from a straight steal by watching the runner. If it’s a straight steal, the runner will keep his head down and focus on second base. If it’s a hit-and-run, the runner will take a few strides and then look in to find the ball. It’s lucky that Gordon was looking in because he had to pause to avoid getting drilled by the ball Esky hit to right field.
• The long fourth inning took its toll, and Tommy Hunter was out of the game after the fifth.
• Chen got one out in the sixth and then walked two batters. The score was 3-3. The go-ahead run was in scoring position. Bruce had thrown 95 pitches, and the Orioles were sending four right-handed hitters to the plate before Chen would see another lefty, so Yost went to the pen and brought in Louis Coleman.
• Coleman could not get on the same page with Brayan Pena. That’s because there was a runner on second and Pena was switching to a different set of signs.
• At the major-league level, when a catcher looks into the dugout for a sign, it rarely is because the manager is calling pitches. Someone in the dugout is usually studying the opposing runner’s tendencies and calling the running game (pitchouts, pickoffs and slide steps) from the side. That allows the catcher to focus on calling the pitches and that allows the pitcher — if he trusts his catcher — to focus on executing pitches.
“Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe. He may solve the very secret of eternity itself. But for me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of the hit-and-run.”—Branch Rickey
Branch would have loved the hit-and-run that the Royals pulled off in the fifth inning. Here are some of the rules of thumb for using the hit-and-run.
Don’t do it with two outs. You’re asking the hitter to swing at anything the pitcher throws in the general direction of the plate. Don’t make the third out of the inning on a weak grounder.
For the same reason, don’t do it with two strikes. Don’t force the hitter to swing at a marginal pitch.
Don’t do it with three balls. Don’t force the hitter to swing at ball four.
Don’t do it with a runner who can steal the base without protection from the hitter.
Don’t do it with someone who strikes out a lot. It’s the perfect strike ’em out, throw ‘em out double play scenario for the defense.
Use the hit-and-run when your team is tied, down by one or ahead. Otherwise, possibly giving up an out to advance a runner into scoring position may not be worth it.
Use the hit-and-run when the man at the plate has good bat control. He needs to hit a grounder if possible.
Use the hit-and-run when you believe the hitter will get a fastball. If he doesn’t, at least your runner is in motion on a breaking pitch, and that will make throwing him out a bit more difficult.
Use the hit-and-run when you want to stay out of the double play.
(I once asked if Billy Butler was a hit-and-run candidate since he certainly is a double-play candidate. I was told the Royals didn’t want to force Billy to swing at a pitch he didn’t like. They want him to pick a pitch he feels he can drive somewhere.)