Games » Oakland AthleticsAug15
The at-bat of the year
The Kansas City Star
Let’s see, Chris Getz saw 11 pitches and doubled to score the winning run. (Several people called this the at-bat of the year. Manager Ned Yost said that if it wasn’t, it was in the top five). Will Smith pitched without his best stuff and still put up a quality start and a win. The Royals are now 9-5 in August. And the defense put on more spectacular show than the average Fireworks Friday.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar made at least three spectacular plays in this game. On one, he went back to the outfield grass and gunned out the runner at first. The other two involved 360-degree spins and throwing a dart to Eric Hosmer at first. Mike Moustakas dove for a ball to his right, realized he dove too soon and crawled into position to catch the ball.
After the game, Smith talked about the defense behind him and how often it bailed him out. Will said he had zero fastball command and struggled for much of the game. Yost said the fact that a young pitcher without his best stuff could battle and keep his team in the game was a very good sign. Smith gave up two runs in seven innings. I wonder what he would do with his good stuff.
• Alex Gordon led off the game with a single, and Escobar did not follow that with a bunt. Oakland’s third baseman, Josh Donaldson, was playing in, and that might be why Alcides hit away. (When you’re at a game and a guy with speed comes to the plate, check the third baseman’s position. You might be able to guess what will happen next.)
• Esky was safe on a fielder’s choice, but the Royals did not have a man in scoring position. Alcides took care of that on his own, stealing second and advancing to third when the catcher’s throw hit him in the leg. The infielder who covers has to do everything he can to get between the ball and the runner. The ball bounced off Esky, he advanced to third and scored on Billy Butler’s grounder to Josh McDonald.
• With two outs in the seventh and the Royals trailing 2-1, Hosmer doubled to left field. Lorenzo Cain battled with two strikes and doubled off the fence, driving in Hosmer to tie the game. Getz then followed with another double to drive in the winning run.
• Getz was down 0-2 and then saw nine more pitches, fouling off five that were too close to take, before getting the big hit.
• On Cain’s double, Oakland’s left fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, went back to the fence and jumped, but as soon as he did, he gave up on the ball, turning to look at the chain link he was about to hit. When one of the Royals’ outfielders plays the wall well, we should appreciate it. A whole lot of major-league players get uncomfortable once they hit the warning track.
• In the eighth inning, Escobar hit a flare behind first base. Esky did not come out of the box hard, and he didn’t turn on the afterburners until he was near first base. Alcides got a double, but a good throw would have had him.
The little things
The idea that “little things” don’t win ballgames has been expressed more than once by people commenting on this site. Everyone is free to reach his or her own conclusions, but as for me, I completely disagree. Look at the play on Escobar’s steal of second. Cliff Pennington was not in position to keep the ball from hitting Alcides when the catcher threw to second. If Pennington had kept himself between the ball and the runner, Alcides would not have made it to third and subsequently would not have scored.
Oakland lost by one run.
Big things are nice. Everyone likes home runs and shutouts, but over and over again I see games won and lost by little things. Being in the correct position to take a throw. Blocking a pitch in the dirt. Backing up a play. Moving a runner over. I’m sure teams would love to have 25 guys who are all capable of doing big things, but they don’t. That’s why the guys who do the little right are so valued by the people who play the game.
If you haven’t already seen Bob Dutton’s story, you might not know the Royals are changing their outfield philosophy. They are going to start playing the outfield deeper. I asked new outfield coach Rusty Kuntz how much deeper, and he said five to six steps. The Royals are making this change for a variety of reasons:
• As the season goes along, players’ legs get tired, and they don’t cover as much ground as they did earlier in the year.
• The temperature goes up and the ball flies further.
• The playing surface takes a beating, and balls that were slowed down by lush grass earlier in the season start scooting through the gaps.
• Pitchers lose velocity, and a fastball that snuck by a hitter in May gets hammered in September.
The Royals’ outfielders will continue to shift laterally as the count changes if the batter is someone who cuts down on his swing with two strikes. Some hitters don’t. Their job is to pound the ball, and that doesn’t change with two strikes. Other hitters are more likely to go to the opposite field if they are trying to avoid a strikeout by letting the ball travel deeper in the zone before pulling the trigger.
Like just about everything else in baseball, there’s yin-yang aspect to this. Play deeper, and you’ll take away some extra-base hits, but you also will give up more flare singles in front of the outfield. Playing deeper also will reduce the chances of an outfield assist. The Royals and their fans will get a chance to see how this new philosophy works out between now and Oct 4.
The infield grass
I asked groundskeeper Trevor Vance about the grass thinning as the season went along, and he told me they cut the grass at Kauffman Stadium every day. At the beginning of the season, the infield and outfield grass is cut to a length of one inch. To counteract the thinning of the grass that happens as the weather heats up, the infield grass is now being cut to the length of one and a quarter inches, but the outfield grass is still an inch high.
Royals Rusty Kuntz on outfield positioning late in the season
Kansas City Royals coach Rusty Kuntz discusses with Lee Judge how seasonal changes constitute changes in how the team positions outfielders. 8/16/12 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)