There have been many “signature” moments in what has been through 142 games, a magical season. Those moments have been positive. The Alex Gordon walk off. The Nori Aoki grand slam. The stolen win in Toronto.
Tuesday provided us with another signature moment. However this one was not positive.
The Royals opened the ninth facing struggling Tigers closer Joe Nathan trailing by two runs. Aoki and Omar Infante, lead off the inning with back to back singles. Then, in quick order:
Alex Gordon strikes out swinging.
Jerrod Dyson gets picked off second.
Salvador Perez strikes out swinging.
The standings show the Royals and Tigers tied atop the division. Although if you factor the suspended game against Cleveland as a Royal loss (which if you watched any single moment of baseball on Tuesday, you know is a long shot for them to put up any kind of a fight before recording three outs) they are actually a half game behind the Tigers. Isn’t that the most Royals thing ever? Yeah, they’re tied for first with 19 games to go, but even that comes with an asterisk. A “oh, yeah, don’t forget” sort of disclaimer.
Nineteen games is a lot of baseball. The Royals are now showing up in the Wild Card standings again. The A’s free fall means both Wild Card spots are in play. Three teams for two spots. It’s not the division, but it’s an invite to the postseason party.
Still, there’s simply no sugarcoating this one. It stings.
Let’s start with the pinch running. When Infante singled to move Aoki to second, Ned Yost sent Terrance Gore to first. Fine. If Gordon lines one to the gap, we’re going to have a tie game. If Gordon singles, we have a run in (probably) and Gore has a strong chance of going first to third, where he will be with no outs. Three cracks to tie the game. Sure, we’re talking Royals offense, but I still like those odds. Besides, with the Tiger defense… But I digress.
The Gordon strikeout was difficult. The last pitch was a wicked slider that was in the zone all the way until the end when it broke off the inside corner of the plate. It was ball four, but the pitch was so nasty you understand the swing. That’s one of those tip your cap moments to the pitcher.
Up next, Perez. He swings at strike one way off the plate.
Suddenly, Yost goes to his bench and brings Dyson out to pinch run for Aoki at second.
Sorry, I just don’t understand this timing. In the end, it’s not a huge deal, but here’s what I think happened. Yost purposefully waited until after the first pitch to Perez. He sent Dyson out there to mess with Nathan. Disrupt his rhythm. Or something. This is Yost as his most Yostiness. Trying to “outsmart” the opposition. Throw a wobbly closer a little more off his game. It’s just kind of silly. But that’s Yost. Here’s a thought, though. If the possibility existed you would pinch run for Aoki, why wouldn’t you hold Gore back for that duty and put Dyson at first. Allegedly, Gore is the faster of the two. The throw on a double steal usually goes to third. I don’t know. Put your fastest guy as the lead runner. Besides, Dyson has burners of his own.
With Dyson on second and Gore at first, this happened:
Oh. My. God.
How does this even happen? You are inserted to run the damn bases. That means you’re supposed to be smart. Don’t get thrown out on the bases and for god’s sake, don’t get picked off. You are incredibly valuable as a baserunner. No TOOTBLANS. Under any circumstances.
I’ve watched a lot of Royals baseball. I’ve seen some incredibly stupid plays. I’ve seen fundamentals that would make a third grader blush. I have never, ever seen such a bone-headed play with the stakes so high. And I saw Lonnie Smith play for the ’85 Royals. What Dyson did off second base is an unpardonable sin. It was unquestionably the worst moment of 2014. Nothing else comes close.
Watch the video again. I dare you. Watch it and take your temperature. I don’t see how you can watch that clip and not have your blood boil. So stupid. So asinine. I like to think I maintain kind of an even keel where I don’t get too high, nor do I get too low. Again, I’ve seen a lot over the last 30-odd years of watching this team. But this… This made me feel something. This made me experience an emotion I haven’t felt about this team for a long, long time.
Pure anger. How on earth could you allow yourself to get picked off? When every out, every run could be the margin in a pennant race, how could you be so goddamn careless? Jon Morosi sent this Tweet after the game:
Jarrod Dyson: “I was put in to do a job. Every time I’m in, I’m looking to steal.” He said he “lost focus” on Nathan, leading to pickoff.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) September 10, 2014
Lost focus? Are you kidding me? Again. One job. One stinking job. And you failed. You failed because, in your words, you “lost focus.” Unreal. Unacceptable. Unforgivable. I like Dyson and think he’s brought some value to this team. He’s been a key guy for this team. But he blew it on Tuesday. Absolutely blew it
After the Dyson pickoff, Perez was still at the plate. The outcome felt preordained.
Just awful. Perez’s plate appearances have devolved to the point where I dread watching them. He’s so lost. And he’s hitting cleanup.
This time of the year, with the division on the line, all losses will sting. Some sting worse than others. And some will leave a mark long after the initial jolt of pain subsides. This one is going to linger. So awful.
Other things happened in this ballgame. Jason Vargas walked guys and allowed a home run, something he hasn’t done lately. Lorenzo Cain had four plate appearances, saw a total of nine pitches and still managed to strikeout twice. Billy Butler was MIA.
Yes, this is going to leave a mark.