Games » Detroit TigersSep24
Top of the line
The Kansas City Star
To understand the problem the Royals faced Monday night, let’s look at two at-bats. It was the fifth inning, the Royals were down 2-1, but they had the tying run on third and a go-ahead run on first. There was only one down. Jarrod Dyson came to the plate needing to get the ball in play to score the runner on third base.
Unfortunately, the problem the Royals faced Monday night was Justin Verlander. Here’s what Verlander threw Dyson: an 89-mph changeup for a ball, an 97-mph two-seam fastball for a called strike, an 81-mph curve for another called strike, an 89-mph slider in the dirt and a 99-mph four-seam fastball for a swinging strike.
Dyson got five different pitches at five different speeds with five different trajectories.
Then, with two outs, Alcides Escobar stepped in the batter’s box. Here’s what Verlander threw Esky: a 98-mph four-seam fastball that was fouled off, an 84-mph curve in the dirt, an 83-mph curve for a swinging strike, an 84-mph slider for a ball and a 100-mph four-seam fastball for a swinging strike.
With the game on the line, Verlander threw his best fastball of the night. It must be nice to have a 100-mph heater in your back pocket to pull out whenever you need it. After the Royals faced Verlander earlier this season, Chris Getz called him a “top of the line” pitcher.
Looks like nothing has changed.
Just to make matters worse, Verlander didn’t walk anybody. He made the Royals earn the two runs they got.
Not a good outing for Luke Hochevar: 7 1/3 innings pitched, five earned runs. If your offense is only going to be able to score two, you’ve got to hold the other team down to one. Luke didn’t come close.
Verlander is 6 feet, 5 inches tall. If you’ve seen the video of me talking to Bruce Chen, you’ve seen that he towers over me — and I’m 6 feet tall. After games I sometimes share a crowded elevator with the ballplayers. These are big guys. I think anyone who yells insults at one of them, needs an up-close look. (Insulting big, athletic men who are very competitive is really not a good idea.)
Verlander’s usual M.O. has been to start games throwing in the low nineties. He started this one in the mid-nineties. The Royals jumped on him the last time they saw him, maybe that’s why he decided to gas it up right away.
Dyson’s first assist came when he made a tough catch of a fly ball off Quintin Berry and caught Austin Jackson too far off first. This is one of the toughest reads for a base runner: a possible catch by an outfielder coming toward the infield. Get too far off the base and if the ball is caught, the runner can be doubled up. Don’t get far enough off the base and if the ball drops, the runner can be forced.
Even though it’s a tough play, Austin Jackson probably made the wrong decision. If the ball drops and the runner is forced, it’s one out. If the ball is caught and the runner is doubled off, it’s two. Runners need to make sure they can get back if the ball is caught.
Jackson’s mistake was probably caused by Dyson’s speed: he didn’t think Jarrod could get to that ball. When a player has unusual talent, he can fool the opposition by doing something that dosen’t seem possible — like Francoeur‘s throw to get Shin-Soo Chin.
In the 2nd inning, Mike Moustakas cut in front of Alcides Escobar to take a ground ball off the bat of Andy Dirks. Moose did not get Dirks, but third baseman are taught to take anything they can from shortstops; they’re moving toward first, the shortstop is going to his backhand side away from first.
Alex Gordon hit an opposite-field home run, apparently aided by the wind. Smart pitchers will use the wind by forcing hitters to hit the ball directly into the breeze and then let the wind knock the ball down.
In the 5th with Francoeur on third, Tiger catcher Alex Avila blocked a pitch in the dirt. Scoring from third on a pitch to the backstop has gotten trickier since they installed those ground level advertisements behind home plate. The ball now has several different surfaces it can hit and nobody is sure which one will come into play. Runners can be halfway home by the time it’s clear the ball has struck something solid and is coming right back to home plate.
Dyson got his second assist when Jhonny Peralta tried to stretch a single into a double. Peralta probably got misled by a scouting report that said Dyson couldn’t throw.
The Dyson situation is interesting and here’s why: every day Ned Yost comes down to the dugout before the game and answers questions from the media. The health of players is a big topic and Ned is often vague or less than fully informative.
But now you can see why: when the Indians were in town, why advertise that your centerfielder couldn’t throw? Now that the Royals are in Detroit, why advertise that Dyson’s arm seems to be feeling better (assuming it is, but it sure looked better).
Saving a surprise for the opposition can be an advantage.
Back to the game notes
Things got a little nutty in the 5th inning after Peralta was thrown out by Dyson: Alex Avila walked, Omar Infante singled and Austin Jackson doubled. Avila scored and Infante was stopping at third when Jeff Francoeur’s throw back to the infield got away from Alcides Escobar. Infante scored, but Alex Gordon was backing up the throw and picked up another outfield assist when Austin Jackson tried to advance to third and Gordon threw him out.
Gordon being in the right place at the right time is a big deal. How many times has Alex backed up that play and nobody noticed because the ball didn’t get away? But baseball will punish you if you back up the throw 99 times and neglect to do so the 100th time: that will be the time the ball gets away.
If you ask people to name team leaders, Gordon’s name will come up. But not because he’s vocal — everyone says Alex leads by example. Backing up second on a throw from right field meant an unexpected out and prevented Luke Hochevar from facing Miguel Cabrera with a runner in scoring position. That’s leading by example — be where you’re supposed to be, do your job.