Games » Minnesota TwinsSep11
How to handle a blowout
The Kansas City Star
In the top of the eighth inning with the Royals already leading 7-0, Alcides Escobar stood on third base. Alcides had just tripled to left field. That’s how bad things went for the Minnesota Twins. It’s hard to triple to left field. Third base is right there. That is why most triples are hit to right field or right-center field, where it is a much more difficult throw for an outfielder.
Headed for almost certain defeat and with the fans leaving in droves, Alex Burnett, who was pitching for the tied-for-last-place Twins, threw a wild pitch. Escobar scored, and the Royals led 8-0.
So what is the correct protocol when one team is beating the other badly? Running up the score is frowned upon, but what that means can be vague. How many runs are enough? The manager in one dugout may be thinking of a different number than the manager in the other dugout. And what manager wants to ease up on an opponent only to have them stage a late-inning rally? If that happens, your kindness can look like foolishness.
The best approach to a blowout I ever heard came from Russ Morman, a former Royal. You don’t change the way you play. You change the tactics. If your team has a big lead, you don’t bunt, steal or hit and run, but you continue to play hard. You still go first to third and second to home, you still break up double plays whenever possible, and you certainly score from third on a wild pitch. It wasn’t Escobar’s fault that Burnett threw a wild pitch. It wasn’t the Royals’ fault that they eventually scored nine runs.
You take your win and enjoy your good fortune, but you don’t gloat or show up your opponent. Tomorrow it may be their turn to score nine.
• Minnesota’s Ben Revere singled to lead off the first inning. Jamey Carroll followed with a single to left field, and Alex Gordon ran a good route to the ball. Gordon’s hustle kept Revere from even thinking about going first to third, and that set up an attempted double steal later in the inning. Salvador Perez went after Carroll, the trailing runner, and threw him out.
• Going after the trailing runner in a double steal is often a smart move. The runner on first has to make sure that the runner on second is really going, and that can make the trailing runner a step late.
• With multiple runners on base, that catcher will step in front of the plate and signal to the infielders where the ball will be going if the runners take off.
• In the top of the second with a run already in, Jeff Francoeur on second and Eric Hosmer on first, Lorenzo Cain hit a routine fly ball to left. The fly ball was routine, but the sky wasn’t. At that time of night, the sky is more gray than black, and a high fly ball can get lost in the twilight.
Minnesota left fielder Josh Willingham signaled that he had lost the ball (arms out to the side), but he didn’t get much help from his shortstop, Pedro Florimon. Infielders are supposed to point at fly balls headed to the outfield so an outfielder who loses the ball can check the infielder in front of him and figure out where he should be looking. It appeared that Florimon never made a signal.
• The ball dropped behind Willingham. Francoeur and Hosmer scored, and Cain pulled into third with a triple. Give credit to all the base-runners for hustling and running the ball out. You run out a hundred fly balls in case one drops.
• A Johnny Giavotella-Alcides Escobar double play ended the third inning. The pitch before the double play was in the dirt, and Perez blocked it, keeping the double play in order. No blocked pitch, no inning-ending double play.
• Jeff Francoeur led off the fourth inning and worked the count to 3-0. It’s possible Frenchy could have gotten a 3-0 green light in that situation, but that wouldn’t seem likely. A walk is a good start to an inning. Green lights on a 3-0 count are more often used with two out and no one on with a power hitter at the plate who can drive the ball and possibly homer or at least double. The other time you might see a 3-0 green light is with a hot hitter and runners in scoring position.
• Leading off the eighth inning, Eric Hosmer doubled, and Johnny Giavotella did a nice job hitting behind the runner to move Hosmer to third. The ball got through the infield, and Hosmer scored. Look for the Royals to take advantage of Twins center fielder Ben Revere’s throwing arm whenever they can in the next two games.
• Hosmer had three hits, including an opposite-field home run, and hit the ball hard all five times he came to the plate. If I’ve done the math right, Hosmer has hit .302 over the last month of baseball.
• Later in the eighth, Cain got hit in the head by an 83-mph slider. If it had been intentional, the pitch would have been a fastball. Pitchers don’t intentionally hit batters with breaking pitches.
• This is the scary part of hitting. You’re standing at the plate looking for any clue that will let you know what pitch is on its way. Arm angle. Release. Spin. Anything that tells you what will happen in the next split second.
The seams on a slider form a red dot as it hurtles toward you. So you pick up the “slider” message, try to hang in so you’ve got a chance when the pitch breaks over the plate and — too late — you realize the pitch isn’t going to break. That was when Cain ducked.
• As manager Ned Yost said after the game, the pitches that glance off don’t scare you as much as the ones that ricochet back toward the mound. The pitches that continue to the backstop are glancing blows. The pitches that bounce back toward the infield hit the batter square.
In the grand scheme of things, four pickoffs in 55 games may see inconsequential, but for two things. Getting an out without throwing a pitch to a guy holding a bat is a psychological lift for everybody, especially the pitcher.
The other factor is what it does to the other team’s base-running. In Sunday’s Royals-White Sox game, Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez tried to go first to third in the seventh inning and was thrown out by Jeff Francoeur. Give an unseen assist to Salvador Perez. If Ramirez shortened his lead at first because Perez likes to pickoff runners (and if Ramirez didn’t, he should have), that would have meant Ramirez was a step slower getting to third base. And that helped Jeff Francoeur.
Salvy’s ability to throw behind runners shortens their leads and makes them a step behind where they would usually be when going first to third, second to home or getting down to second base to break up a double play.
The downside of a catcher who likes to pick off runners would be balls that are thrown away. But the upside — besides the runners that the catcher throws out — are the runners he allows his teammates to throw out.