Last night’s five run debacle in the bottom of the ninth brought back memories of some really, really bad Royals’ teams of the past. Although charged with just one error in the inning, the Royals committed enough gaffes and bobbles to make one wonder if the ghost of Chip Ambres was not lurking somewhere near.
Let’s start at the beginning.
After Melky Cabrera mashed a three run homer in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a four run lead, Ned Yost opted to go with Aaron Crow instead of Joakim Soria to start the bottom of the inning. Soria, who had not pitched since throwing 11 pitches on Sunday, was already warm when the decision was made to switch to Crow. I can only assume that the primary driver behind this decision was that the bottom of the ninth was no longer a save situation.
I did not like this move at the time (my wife will sign an affidavit stating such). Crow jumped ahead of both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon 0-2, but yielded ground ball singles to both. Does Chris Getz get to Joyce’s ground ball? Maybe, but more on that in a minute.
In comes Soria, entering a game in the middle of an inning for just the fourth time this season and just the second time since April. Now, it should not matter to an expeirenced reliever when they come in, who is on and who is up. In the convuloted world of closers and bullpen management, however, relievers seem to have all sorts of comfort zones and I am pretty sure the Royals were outside of Soria’s at this point.
Don’t get me wrong, going to Soria was the right move at this juncture. The problem was that Yost should have stuck to his plan despite Cabrera’s home run and let Soria start the ninth inning (particularly considering Crow has been nursing a dead arm or sore shoulder or whatever we are calling it this week).
Okay, Soria is in and promptly is tagged on a ‘double’ by Evan Longoria. I note the ‘double’ in that Melky Cabrera, who had spent the ninth inning changeover yapping at some fans who had been razzing him, fielded the hit and threw to third instead of second. Does Longoria go to second if the throw is headed that direction instead? The angle on television I saw was not clear, but both Ryan Lefevbre and Frank White (two guys who make a living generally making excuses for the players) seemed to think that Cabrera threw to the wrong base and allowed Longoria to turn a single into a double.
The relevancy of that play immediately came to light when Ben Zobrist grounded out to second baseman Johnny Giavotella. There are a lot of variables that come into play, but there was a chance that, had Longoria been standing on first this was a double play ball. I don’t know, the defensive positioning, the pitch selection and likely Zobrist’s approach at the plate all are different given where Longoria is on the bases, but I do know that there is a much better chance to turn a double play if the runner is on first instead of second.
Next up is Casey Kotchman who grounds to Giavotella’s right and right into the play that, according to Lee Warren is the most troublesome for the rookie second baseman. Johnny bobbles the backhand, turns and jump throws to first to give Kotchman a hometown infield single. Again, not sure Chris Getz does or does not make that play: Chase Utley does and probably a fair portion of major league regulars at the position do as well.
After Soria strikes out B.J. Upton (easily one of the most dislikable players in the league), Sam Fuld triples into right center. Fuld is fast and that ball was a triple from the beginning even with Jeff Francoeur fielding the caroom well and firing a strike to cut-off man Johnny Giavotella.
Now, Giavotella is young and just failed to make a play and, as you might expect, tries to make up for it. His throw to third was good right up until the time that it hit the sliding Fuld’s foot. The two good throws gave the Royals a slight, slight mind you, chance to throw out Fuld, but I’m pretty sure he’s safe regardless. Let him have his triple and hope that Soria gets Kelly Shoppach and the Royals at least get to play more baseball.
At any rate, here is a question that I don’t have the answer to. Where was Joakim Soria in all of this? Obviously, he would have been moving to back up home as soon as Fuld hit the ball, but once the play started heading towards third, should Joakim have been up the line to back up an errant throw to that base?
I will be honest in that one replay of what happened was enough for me to turn off the television before seeing if I could locate Soria on any of the replay angles. I do know that in the bottom of the eighth, in a similar situation, Greg Holland could be seen busting his tail up from behind home up to third to back up a possible play there. Again, not so much a criticism as a question and, honestly, maybe not even a relevant one.
At any rate, it was simply a horrific display of baseball in the bottom of the ninth, but these sorts of innings even happen to good teams sometimes and to young teams more often. The latter, of course, is what the Royals are: young.
Ned Yost could have inserted Chris Getz into the game for defense in the ninth, but that does not do Johnny Giavotella any good in 2012. I know, a lot of you are tired of playing for next week or next year or the year after that, but the Royals need Giavotella to learn what he can and cannot do and when he should and should not do it. That is what this seven week experience is all about for both him and Salvador Perez: getting used to making big league decisions in the big leagues.
Let’s face it, with the possible change of one outfield position, last night’s lineup is going to be the 2012 lineup and could very well be the 2013 lineup as well. They are going to have some ugly innings out there. That they do post a stinker more often than we would like is not an indictment of the lineup or, dare we say it, The Process.
Last night sucked and there might be others like it as the Royals play out the string in 2011, but I can live with that if this same group or something close to it makes the move from ‘young and promising’ to ‘youthful and good’ by next year.