So last night I went to the Royals-Cardinals game in St. Louis with one of my best friends. Being a Cardinals fan, he doesn’t follow the Royals much, so I filled him in a bit.
I told him I like when the Royals play National League teams and don’t have the DH rule, because their pitchers are some of their best hitters. To prove my point, James Shields, the Royals’ starting pitcher, went two for two with a single, a double, a run scored and a run batted in.
Shields got the Royals’ first hit, in fact.
“I hope the rest of you guys are taking notes!” I yelled.
Nori Aoki, the next hitter, wasn’t. He promptly lined out.
In the fifth inning, the Royals were losing 4-0 but they started to rally. They had a run in, a runner on third, and James Shields coming up to the plate. Normally your pitcher is the last guy you want hitting in that situation.
“He’s our best hope,” I said. Another Royals fan sitting nearby nodded grimly. Shields promptly doubled to left center, then scored on the next play. At least Aoki didn’t waste his pitcher’s hit a second time.
Shields got into a jam in the sixth–that long inning and all the baserunning may have gotten to him, now that I think about it–and the Royals’ manager, Ned Yost, went to the mound.
“Don’t tell me he’s bringing in Aaron Crow,” I said.
Yost brought in Aaron Crow.
Aaron Crow is a good pitcher and a Mizzou graduate, but he’s not very effective with runners on base. To the tune of 70% of his inherited runners score.
“Watch him give up a three run homer with one runner on,” I predicted grimly.
“Wait. How’s that even possible?” my friend asked.
“Don’t question the Royals,” I said.
Inexplicably, Crow pitched out of the jam. I guess at some point you have to regress to the mean, and that night was Crow’s time to do it.
Mike Moustakas, the Royals’ struggling third baseman, was another target. “He fields like Brooks Robinson,” I said. “And he hits like a 90-year-old Brooks Robinson, unfortunately,” I said. He was hitting about .150 coming into the night.
But Moustakas made an error, and flubbed two other plays that could have been errors. Eric Hosmer saved him from another one by making a nice grab and a nice tag at first base, a call that Ned Yost appealed successfully.
My friend wasn’t impressed with him. “They seem like an OK team, except that third baseman doesn’t do anything to help them,” he said.
Moustakas did go one for four with a run scored, so he raised his average to .154.
Later in the game, he observed, “You know, they really do like to swing the bat. They might do better if they’d just go up there and not swing the bat at all for a couple of innings.”
“Yeah. At least they don’t swing at pickoff throws to first anymore, but if it’s near the plate, they’re swinging.”
He’s right though. If you make the other team throw some pitches, you get to see what they have, and you wear the other pitcher down faster. That’s something the Yankees do extremely well, and it’s one reason they keep winning even with players who are well past their prime.
Oddly, they did make Cardinals pitchers throw 148 pitches for the night. The Cardinals only made the Royals throw 145 pitches. But the Cardinals had three hitters who made the Royals throw 20 or more pitches to them. Only Alex Gordon did the same for the Royals. But James Shields made the Cardinals throw 10 pitches to him, and he only batted twice. You think I’m kidding when I say the Royals need to be taking notes on how their ace pitcher swings the bat. I’m not.
I told him the story of Bubba Starling, a former Royals first-round draft pick who’s been struggling in the low minors, hitting like Moustakas. Suddenly this year he started hitting, and when asked what happened, he said he tried to remember what his high school coach told him. Translation: He quit listening to his Royals coaches and he started hitting.
In the ninth inning, the score was tied, with Omar Infante on second base and Eric Hosmer at the plate. Hosmer was supposed to be the next great Royals power hitter. Or maybe the first great Royals power hitter, since George Brett wasn’t the traditional power hitter. But at the age of 24, he’s become a singles hitter, kind of like a 44-year-old Pete Rose but with a better glove.
“Hosmer! Think back to high school and forget everything you’ve learned since!” I yelled.
He promptly hit a double, driving home Infante for what turned out to be the winning run.
Both teams went back and forth all night, which surprised me a bit. They’ve both struggled with offense, and I wondered if it was going to be like watching two teams full of pitchers hitting all night.
The Royals won 8-7, but left six runners on base. The Cardinals left seven.
“Clutch,” I said. “I can just imagine a Cardinals hitter walking up to John Ulett and saying he wanted to use something from the band Clutch as walk-up music. And he’ll say, ‘You haven’t earned that.'”
Yep. There’s a reason I’m not an announcer. I make Bob Uecker’s character in the movie Major League sound like a hopeless romantic.