More crazy baseball between the Royals and the Tigers. Nothing much separated the two teams this weekend.
Sunday, the added foe was the rain, as the two teams waited out an hour and a half rain delay before finishing off a rollercoaster ride to what had been a fairly pedestrian game.
We will get to that in a moment.
At one point, the Royals grounded into 15 consecutive outs. Yikes. I know Shane Greene is a sinker ball pitcher, and as Uncle Hud would like for you to believe, a ball low in the zone can be hit on the ground. Still, 15 consecutive ground outs… Five innings of batters where every single guy put the ball on the ground? I didn’t get a screen grab until the rain delay, but this is a nice representation of how the Royals night went through the first eight innings.
The red dots represent the outs. The blue are the hits. And remember on these, the dots are plotted where the fielder picks up the ball. The cluster of red dots in shallow right is the teeth of the shift, which by my count stole two or three hits from the Royals. The other dots are Escobar pop ups. If you had turned the game on in the third inning and watched through the sixth, you would have been surprised to learn the Royals actually hit back to back doubles at one point in the game.
The crazy thing is, the game was tied going into the ninth thanks to a boneheaded play by Omar Infante. In the third inning with two outs, Anthony Gose dropped down a perfect bunt on the first base side of the infield. Infante charged and really had no chance to get the speedy Gose, but instead tried a circus-type behind the back flip that sailed over Eric Hosmer’s head and allowed Gose to get to second. Really, there was no need for Infante to force that kind of play. It was unwarranted, especially given the early stage of the game where Young was dealing and there were already two outs. Even with a runner on first, I’d like my chances.
Instead, Ian Kinsler rips a belt-high slider that was down the heart of the plate into center and Gose scores easily. Tie game.
Of course, no one could have known that at that moment, both pitchers would have flipped the cruise control switch. Young lasted six innings and 83 pitches. Really, I was surprised he was pulled at that point. He makes it look so effortless and had the bottom half of the Detroit lineup to face in the bottom of the inning. I’m sure you don’t want Young facing a lineup for a fourth time. Especially if that guy is named Miguel Cabrera and he has scorched a pair of liners to third base in plate appearances number two and three. But I’d like my chances against J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos.
Hey, this is Ned Yost’s team and he’s still working that Royals Devil Magic to some degree. Oh, yeah… He also has a damn fine bullpen at his disposal.
The wrong call was to bring Luke Hochevar in in the ninth inning with the rain pouring. Never mind, it was the second night in a row he was going to pitch. It was risky because the umpires could (and did) stop the game at any time in the inning. I know Hochevar threw only three pitches in his outing on Saturday which is probably why Yost though he could go back to back for the first time since the Tommy John surgery. But he did have to warm up on Saturday, so it’s a little more exertion than just three simple pitches. And he had to warm up on Sunday. And when the rain got so heavy they couldn’t continue, Hochevar was spent.
That left Jason Frasor in to face the heart of the Tiger lineup with the game on the line. The Royals bullpen is stacked. But with the suspension to Kelvin Herrera, it’s not as stacked as it should be. Still, having Frasor in to face the heavy lumber in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game… How does that happen?
Which brings me to another tangent: The built-in stupidity of leaving your “closer” in the bullpen in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road. I know 28 or 29 other managers would do the exact same thing Yost did on Friday. That doesn’t make it right. Some people tweeted at me in the aftermath that Yohan Pino had to do a job and that was to get through the ninth. Well, sure. But if you have a job in front of you (i.e. getting outs in a high-leverage situation) and you have two options of who you can turn to to get those outs, wouldn’t you naturally go to the guy who is the better pitcher?
I know The Cartoonist said that it was the correct call to bring in Pino, because if the Royals take the lead in the 10th and you’ve already used Holland, then who’s going to pitch? To me, that kind of thinking is horribly shortsighted. Run your best pitchers out there and see what happens. I just hate it when my team loses and their best available reliever never gets into the game. Besides, at that point Friday, the Tigers had already used their best reliever (old friend Joakim Soria), so who knows what happens if Holland gets three outs in the ninth to force extras. Maybe the Royals explode all over the Detroit bullpen for four runs. With that cushion, even Pino could pitch the tenth to seal the win. That’s the whole thing about baseball. Saving players for situations that may never happen is folly. Use your best. Always.
We finally got to see Greg Holland in the 10th and he brought his own high wire. A single and three walks were sandwiched around a really brilliant double play to save the Royals. It shouldn’t be lost that Hernan Perez – who was in the game only because the Tigers pinch ran for Miguel Cabrera an inning earlier – was the guy up in the bases loaded nobody out situation who hit into said double play. (See? It’s not just Yost who has tactical moments of “WTF?” It afflicts all managers. Again, still doesn’t make it right.)
Finally, Holland whiffs Yoenis Cespedes to end the evening. It was a game where the Royals didn’t really have any business winning, but somehow prevailed. I guess it’s the baseball gods giving favor after Pino literally threw Friday’s game away. The Royals won two of three from Detroit and have taken four of seven overall so far. Buckle up. I imagine it’s going to be like this all summer.