Games » Chicago White SoxSep19
Houdini in the fourth
The Kansas City Star
It was the fourth inning, the Royals were up 1-0 and the White Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out. Fortunately for the Royals, Harry Houdini was on the mound (if you’re young, Google him). OK, it was actually Bruce Chen, but Harry would have been proud of the escape act that Bruce put on.
Dayan Viciedo popped up to Mike Moustakas on a slider for the first out. Alexei Ramirez popped up to Eric Hosmer on a slider for the second out, and Tyler Flowers struck out looking on a backdoor curve. (A left-handed pitcher, like Chen, throws it to a right-handed hitter, like Flowers. The pitch starts in the direction of the left-handed batter’s box and then curves into the strike zone at the last second.)
After the game, I asked Bruce whether he had intentionally pitched up in the zone to Viciedo and Ramirez. Knowing they were looking for a ball to hit to the outfield, did he give them pitches a bit too high that resulted in pop-ups on the infield? Bruce started laughing and said no. He just got the pitches in on their hands, and they popped up because they couldn’t get their arms extended.
The Sox didn’t score in the fourth or in any other inning. Chen faced the first-place White Sox, threw six and two-thirds innings of scoreless baseball and won his 11th game.
Harry Houdini lives.
• Alcides Escobar had three hits and now owns the single-season record for hits by a Royals shortstop. (Assuming I wrote down that down correctly — he either got the single-season record for hits or he got a hit single. I just know it’s something good.)
• There were three situational at-bats that did not go well in this game:
1) In the first inning with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, Billy Butler struck out. (On the other hand, two innings later he did great in the same situation and hit a sac fly to score the first run of the game.)
2) In the fourth inning with a runner and third and fewer than two outs, Eric Hosmer popped up on the infield.
3) In the seventh inning with a runner on second and no outs, Johnny Giavotella struck out. At a minimum, you would like to see Johnny hit the ball to the right side and move the runner to third. (Although sometimes a hitter in this situation is given a sign to just go ahead and drive the runner in. And in his defense, Gio never got a good pitch to hit to the right side.)
• Naturally, it’s pretty easy for me to sit in the press box, sip a cup of coffee and write about what hitters ought to be doing — but there is a big-league pitcher on the mound who knows exactly what the hitters ought to be doing, and he’s doing everything he can to prevent it.
• The TV broadcast often shows you the top speed a pitcher has thrown, but it might be more informative if it also showed you the slowest speed a pitcher has thrown. Changing speeds and separation is part of what gets hitters out.
• In one inning (I think it was the second), Bruce threw a high of 89 mph and a low of 75 mph.
• Escobar hit a ball back through the box that went off the foot of Chicago starter Chris Sale. Hitters often are taught to hit the ball back through the middle, and here’s why. Picture the ball’s line of flight to the plate. Now picture the bat at a right angle to that line of flight. The barrel of the bat (the only usable part — everything else is handle or the very top end) is now “squared up” to the ball. That presents the biggest hitting surface to the pitch and means the hitter is right in the middle of his swing. It’s kind of like a punch hitting at just the right moment — not too soon or too late.
• Balls that are hit at this point or some of the hardest-hit balls you will see. There is a reason center field is the deepest part of any ballpark.
• Greg Holland came in for the save in the ninth with a 3-0 lead. He got Orlando Hudson to ground out, A.J. Pierzynski to strike out and then gave up a double to Alejandro De Aza. The ball went over Jason Bourgeois’ head in center field, but don’t blame Jason. He was positioned in because the majority of balls drop in front of an outfielder. Manager Ned Yost said he was going to play the outfield to catch the seven balls that drop in front, not the one that goes over an outfielder’s head.
• If De Aza had been the tying run, then the Royals would have backed up Bourgeois. This is called playing “no doubles” (keep all hits to singles) and the sign is a hand behind the head, meaning “don’t let anything go over your head.”
• With two down and De Aza on first, Holland went right after Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis could hit the ball onto Interstate 70, and the game still would not have been tied. Let Youkilis get on, and the on-deck hitter, Adam Dunn, would have represented the tying run. Youkilis did not get on.
Yup, he did
Tuesday night, Jeff Francoeur did think that fourth-inning double was out of the park. He couldn’t believe it when White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza got to the wall and gathered himself for a leap.
The ball was off the top of the wall. After the game, I asked Jeff whether he thought he could have made it to third if he had busted it all the way. Jeff said he didn’t think so. In fact, I would have been surprised if Jeff had tried.
Francoeur hit the double with two outs in the inning, and the ball was hit to left. That’s pretty much an automatic second-base shutdown for most runners. No need for a runner to push it to third when he already is in scoring position and it probably would take a base hit to score him.
Heading for third would only be done if the triple were 100 percent assured. With the ball in left field, it wasn’t. If there had only been one out, that would be different. Then Francouer would have to do everything he can to get to third.
While we were talking about the double, Jeff told me he had recently started choking up on the bat an inch or so. He said it wasn’t an end-of-the-year thing. (Hitters sometimes go to a lighter bat as the season drags on). Francoeur said he felt as though he had more quickness and better bat control. Being quicker means a hitter can wait longer, and that means he’s less likely to chase bad pitch.
Jeff uses a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat, so why not just go to a 33-inch model? We talked about that as a possibility, but both of us wondered whether the weight distribution would be different. With a 33-inch bat, Jeff would be back down on the end of the bat. Jeff is 8 for 21 with two doubles, a home run and no strikeouts since he started choking up.
(It didn’t work Wednesday night. Francouer was 0 for 4 with a strikeout. On the other hand, Jeff was 1-12 lifetime against Chris Sale coming into the game.)
Gordon and the green light
Tuesday night, the Royals got beat when Alex Rios got a 3-0 green light in the seventh inning and a hit a tie-breaking home run off Luke Hochevar. In the bottom of the ninth, Alex Gordon got to a 3-0 count, but didn’t even look to see whether he had a green light.
What was the difference in the two situations?
The Royals were down by one run, and Gordon was leading off the inning. If Alex had walked, then Billy Butler would have come to the plate representing the winning run. A leadoff walk would have been a good start to the inning. The Royals would have had three outs to move Gordon around the bases. Had there been two outs and Alex got to a 3-0 count, then a green light would make more sense. With only one out to go, play a long shot.
Here are a few more conversational highlights:
• Alex said he thinks the big difference the last two years has been hitting the ball to the opposite field. A change-up that he used to rollover and pull to second base he can now hit solidly to left.
• He thought he was more consistent in 2011. He’s had more ups and downs this season.
• Alex wanted to strike out less in 2012 but didn’t make as much progress as he had hoped.
• Gordon like hitting third better than first. He finds himself with more RBI opportunities.
• He does think he’s turned a corner and has a better idea of what he needs to do to be consistent.