What a wild, wonderful, and weird – yes, weird – ballgame.
Back in the day, when the Royals were awful, they somehow always found a way to be interesting. As interesting as a god awful team could be. Thankfully, now they’re winning with regularity, they’ve managed to maintain that interesting characteristic. And then some.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the nuts and bolts. The 4-3 win over the Angels on Sunday night, capped off a homestand where the Royals went 8-2. They were this close to sweeping all whole enchalada. When you win eight out of ten, it’s seems kind of greedy to focus on the two that got away, so we’ll let that slide. They are also currently 12 games ahead of the Twins in the AL Central. They are six and a half up on the Yankees for best record (and home field advantage) in the AL. They also have the best home record in the league, at 42-20.
They now have 71 wins.
The win on Sunday was more difficult than most. They opened the game, like they always seem to open the games of late – by scoring some runs. Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch he saw and dropped a single to center. Ben Zobrist doubled down into the left field corner and Escobar scored all the way from first. A couple of things from that very second play of the Royals offense: Escobar got a great jump on the hit, and it was about time the Royals decided to challenge the arm of David DeJesus. I could be completely wrong here, but it felt like they had some other opportunities to run on DeJesus this weekend, but they played it safe. His arm is not good.
The Zobrist double was followed by a Lorenzo Cain ground out to second, which move Zobrist to third. He came home on an Eric Hosmer single, which marked the 10th consecutive game where he’s brought home a run.
I hope you were paying attention in the first inning, because if you were watching the game for offense, that was it. The Royals wouldn’t record another hit in regulation.
On the other side, Yordano Ventura pitched an erratic, yet effective game. His fastball was humming along, touching 99 mph. His curve showed some snap and his change was, at times, pure filth. The problem I saw was a tendency to overthrow when he got ahead in the count. We saw this a number of times in the game, but I’ll highlight the most egregious of instances: The at bat of Mike Trout in the sixth.
After a Calhoun triple to leadoff the inning, you’d have to imagine Ventura was looking strikeout to keep the run off the board. Makes sense. He’s striking out over 23 percent of the time this season, so while he’s always dangerous, it’s possible to get around him without damage. Ventura starts him off with a fastball on the outer edge and a curve ball that was a bit of a hanger, but completely froze Trout. Ahead 0-2, Ventura uncorked a pair of pitches where it just looked like he was trying to do too much. Here’s his pitch sequencing.
Pitch three was his fastest pitch of the night, and way up and out of the zone. The fourth pitch was spiked in front of the plate, got away from Salvador Perez, and allowed Calhoun to walk home to cut the lead in half. Ventura eventually came back (and may have picked up some luck when Trout checked his swing and fouled off pitch six) and again froze Trout on another curve. So Ventura was successful in his showdown against Trout, but the method wasn’t that great.
That’s not to take away from Ventura, or to suggest he dial things down. He was very good on Sunday. He finished with seven innings, five hits, one walk and seven strikeouts. If anything, his performance shows he’s on the right track.
Now, for this next section, I need to present with a caveat: I really, really (really!) dislike complaining about the umpires. It’s a loser’s lament. However, I think we can all agree home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott had a difficult weekend. By the time his home plate rotation came up, he had already had three calls overturned by New York. In a season where seemingly everything has been “upheld” because of “inconclusive evidence” to have three calls turned over in two games is something. And just as we had feared, his strike zone was a train wreck.
Not only was it wide, it was wildly inconsistent. Eventually, Perez was tossed. You can understand why he was angry.
Ball one (pitch four) was really in the zone. Strike three (pitch five) was both lower and further off the plate than the previous pitch. Was it a makeup call? Maybe. I lean to general incompetence. Sal had an extended conversation and was eventually run. In this instance, I question why Ned Yost was so slow coming out of the dugout. Perez stood there expressing his displeasure for quite some time. It’s a no-no to argue ball and strike calls, so why did it take Yost so long to get out there? In that situation, it’s his job to protect his player. Not being critical here, just wondering why that moment was allowed to continue for so long that Wolcott had no choice but to give Perez the thumb.
In the next frame, we saw something we just aren’t used to: A Wade Davis home run. It was a hanging slider that was crushed and untied the game.
It was looking like the Royals bullpen was going to give up a game for the third time in five games. That sort of stuff just doesn’t happen.
Jump to the ninth. The Royals haven’t had a hit since the first inning. Hosmer leads off against Angels closer Huston Street and draws a walk. After Morales hits a tapper back to the mound that advanced Hosmer to second, the Angels intentionally walk Mike Moustakas to pitch to Drew Butera, in the game after the Perez ejection. Butera has picked up a couple of hits, but has looked largely overmatched at the plate in his limited at bats. He fell behind 1-2 before he eventually drew a walk. That was a helluva plate appearance, given the moving strike zone behind the plate. The closest take was the final pitch of the plate appearance. I think Royals Universe was collectively holding their breath on that one.
With the bases loaded, up walked Alex Rios. To that point, Rios had impersonated a statue in right field and had gone 0-3. In other words, just another night. I imagined what would happen on social media if the most likely outcome occurred – which was a double play. In fact, in my highly unscientific methodology, I put the chances of Rios hitting into a double play at 95%. Chances for a sacrifice fly were just 5%. Rios made a joke of my projections and Aoiked a fly ball to right field, deep enough to tie the game.
The late innings featured the Royals defense that had gone almost the entire evening without making a highlight caliber play. First, Cain made a great running catch in right field. That’s notable because he was playing center. Rios, man. Second, Zobrist made a nice little running grab in foul territory after he moved to third.
With the highlight reel plays checked off the box of “Things the Royals do ever game” it was time to bring home a winner. In the bottom of the tenth, Zobrist got their first hit since the first inning. He advanced to second after Hosmer walked on another 3-2 pitch that wasn’t really close but felt that way given who was calling the balls and strikes behind the plate. Finally, Morales stepped up and lined a single to left, bringing home Zobrist and the Royals win.
Another night at The K. Another game with a strong October vibe. We’ve had plenty of these since the opener of the 2015 season. This has been a special summer in Kansas City. With the Royals in control in the AL Central, it looks like the baseball fun will continue a little bit into the fall.