Games » Los Angeles AngelsSep15
A fantastic finish
The Kansas City Star
It started with a single by Alex Gordon. The Royals were down 2-0 with one out in the ninth inning. Zack Greinke, the Angels’ starter, had pitched a great game: eight and a third innings, five hits and, with two outs to go in the ninth, no runs on the board.
Then Alex got that single, a soft flare the other way. Because Alex singled, the tying run was coming to the plate, and Billy Butler was that tying run. Billy was about to have his fourth at-bat against Zack. In his previous plate appearance, Billy had crushed a deep fly ball to center field.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia didn’t give Billy another shot at Zack. Scioscia went to his pen and brought in Ernesto Frieri to close the game. Frieri began the night with a 1.91 ERA and had held opponents to a .132 batting average.
Frieri has a good fastball and likes to throw it. Billy figured it was the percentage pitch, looked for it — and got it. A 94-mph four-seam fastball. Two- run homer to center field. Game tied.
Three pitches later, with the crowd still buzzing over Billy’s blast, Salvador Perez got the same pitch: a 94-mph four-seam fastball. Sal pulled his heater to left. Right away, Royals manager Ned Yost thought it was gone — then it started curving foul. Curving, curving, curving until it hit the foul pole. Game over. The Royals snatched a ninth-inning win from the Angels 3-2.
A fantastic finish.
• Of course none of what the offense did in the bottom of the ninth would have mattered without another superb effort from Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals’ starter, who allowed two runs, five hits and one walk in eight innings. His price tag keeps going up.
• After Alcides Escobar singled in the first, Greinke tried to pick him off about 78 times. (My math could be wrong on that, but Zack threw over a lot.) Some of those pickoffs could have been all Zack, but many pickoffs are called from the bench. The coaches know the runner’s tendencies and signal for the pitcher to go over to first base.
• If you’re watching a game on TV, you can see the catcher tell the pitcher to pick by flipping his thumb toward first.
• A pitcher who attempts seven pickoffs (OK, I was off by 71) can lose focus on the man at the plate. Greinke hung a curve to Alex Gordon, and Gordon singled.
• Escobar went first to third on Gordon’s single. With runners on the corners, managers often put on the contact play (the runner on third breaks for home on any grounder). This forces the defense to choose between throwing the runner out at home and attempting to turn a double play. Fail to turn two, and the offense scores. Cut down the runner at the plate, and the offense still has a runner at second.
• Escobar broke for home on Butler’s grounder and was thrown out at the plate. But that meant that the Royals still had a shot with Gordon on second and Perez at the plate. Sal grounded into a fielder’s choice, and the inning was over.
• Eddie Rodriguez, the Royals third-base coach, recently talked about the need to be more aggressive on the base paths against good pitchers. You’re not going to get a lot of hits against an ace, which means scoring chances are few and far between.
• When the matchup — pitcher vs. hitter — doesn’t favor you, find another matchup: catcher vs. runner or outfielder vs. runner.
• In the third inning with Escobar once again on first base, Gordon hit a double-play ball. Alcides tried to get to the Angels’ pivot man, Erick Aybar, to break up the double play. Aybar responded by dropping down (throwing from a low arm angle) to make Esky get down on the ground early. Esky had to choose: either slide early or wear one on the forehead.
• In the eighth, the Angels’ Torii Hunter hit a low line drive to right field. If you were watching the game, you know that Jeff Francoeur lost the ball in the lights. If a ball is on the ground or high in the air, there is no problem. Low line drives can reach the same height as the lights and stay there.
• Johnny Giavotella made his second error of the night on a double-play ball. His first error went off his glove. The second error was on a throw. I don’t know whether anyone keeps track of this, but at the amateur level I saw a lot of errors on attempted double plays. Fielders get in a hurry, the footwork can get complicated and the pivot man has to deal with a runner. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of errors are made on attempted double plays in the big leagues, too.
A look back
There was a lot of interest in Ned Yost’s handling of the bullpen Friday night, so let’s take a look back at the last few innings of that game.
After six innings, Royals starter Bruce Chen had thrown 93 pitches and was due to face the No. 8, 9 and 1 hitters in the Angels’ lineup. Bruce had a 6-4 lead, and the hitters due up were a combined 1 for 7 at that point. Kelvin Herrera was not available (he had thrown two nights in a row), so Ned knew he was a man short in the pen.
Bruce came out for the seventh inning, got Alberto Callaspo out and then gave up hits to Chris Ianetta and Mike Trout. At that point, Bruce had thrown 105 pitches and was about to face the winning run in the person of Erick Aybar. If a starting pitcher takes a lead deep into the game, Yost — and a lot of other managers — don’t like to put that pitcher in a position to lose the game.
Chen’s pitch count was up. He was about to go through the order for the fourth time. And Aybar already had two hits off him. So Ned went to the pen. With Herrera unavailable, Ned was left with lefties Everett Teaford (being used as a long reliever), Francisley Bueno and Tim Collins. From the right side, Ned could call on Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress, Vin Mazzaro or Greg Holland.
Aybar has hit .339 against left-handers and .272 against righties, so Ned went with Coleman. Louis got Aybar to a 2-2 count and then gave up a double to right field. Ianetta scored, but Jeff Francoeur’s reputation for having a strong arm kept Trout at third. With first base open, Coleman intentionally walked Albert Pujols and then struck out Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick. The Angels scored a run in the seventh, but the Royals still had a 6-5 lead.
The Royals added a run in the bottom of the inning, and the score was 7-5. Aaron Crow came out to pitch the top of the eighth, got Vernon Wells on a grounder to short, gave up a single to Mark Trumbo and struck out Alberto Callaspo. Switch-hitting Kendrys Morales then pinch-hit for Chris Ianetta.
With Morales at the plate, let’s look at Ned’s options:
1) Let Aaron Crow face Morales: Crow was, in Ned’s opinion, pitching well. Crow has allowed right-handers to hit .277 against him, while left-handers hit .160. If you only look at those numbers, Crow facing Morales is a slam dunk decision, but let’s look at the other option.
2) Bring in Tim Collins to turn Morales around: Morales had hit .290 and slugged .467 against right-handers, .221/.456 against lefties. Collins had held right-handers to a .194 batting average, lefties hit .234.
Ned went with Collins. This turned Morales around to his weaker side. Morales, looking for a fastball, got one on the first pitch and homered. The game was now tied and Collins, who needed one more out to finish the inning, gave up two more hits and then hit Pujols with a pitch. The bases were loaded, and right-handed Torii Hunter was coming to the plate. Collins had faced four batters and retired none.
Ned had three right-handers left in the pen: Holland, the closer (who was unlikely to be used in a tie game in the eighth inning), Vin Mazzaro and Jeremy Jeffress. Mazzaro has a 5.77 ERA, and opponents have hit .323 off him. Jeffress has a 0.87 ERA, and opponents have hit .238 off him. Jeffress also walks almost one batter per inning. On the other hand, Jeffress strikes out more than one batter per inning, so he can be good or bad or both. Choosing between Mazzaro and Jeffress, Yost said he went with “stuff.”
Jeffress walked in the winning run.
As I’ve previously pointed out, managers, coaches and players have to make decisions before they know how the decisions will work out. Waiting for the results and then deciding what should have been done is a luxury reserved for fans and members of the media.
Saturday afternoon, Ned was asked about the decisions he made Friday night. Yost said that the hard decisions are the ones that are 50-50, but he wasn’t trying to put anything off on anyone else. It is Ned’s job to put the right guy in the right situation and accept the criticism when it doesn’t work out.
Clarification on the cutter
I talked with Dave Eiland, the Royals’ pitching coach, and he wanted to make sure I understood that he’s not in favor of eliminating Luke Hochevar’s cutter. He just wants Luke to limit its use. For Eiland, throwing it 5 to 7 percent of the time is the goal. Overuse of the cutter is the issue. Dave isn’t trying to take the pitch away completely.