October 1st, 2014

Won and Done

Our English language-our vocabulary of words, if you will, is limited when it comes to describing the Wild Card game we watched last night. The Royals and Athletics are as different as two teams can be. One can pound the ball out of the park, as the Athletics did last night. One can bunt, run, and do the little things that put pressure on the defense. That’s exactly what the Royals did last night.

Before we totally destroy the managing ability of the Royals Ned Yost, we have to remind ourselves that it was likely a joint decision to bring Yordano Ventura into the game. Yes, Ventura had just started Sunday. No, he was not used to working out of the pen. Yes, the Royals have a deep group of pitchers who have worked in relief all year. But pitching coach Dave Eiland probably had a hand in the decision. The ultimate call was made by Ned Yost. He’ll live with that forever. But he lives with it as the winning manager of the 2014 American League Wild Card game.

As bad as that decision was, consider some of his the other decisions. Putting on sacrifice bunts at the right time. Attempting seven successful stolen bases. Putting the correct runner in at the correct time to steal those crucial bases. Inserting rookie Brandon Finnegan in a pressure situation and getting tremendous results. Sending Josh Willingham up as a pinch hitter with successful results. We need to credit Ned Yost for those moves as much as we criticize him for throwing Ventura at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Last night’s game showed how important a running game can be. As those who have read my work in the past know, one of my pet phrases is “speed kills.” It does. Speed puts pressure on the defense. Five defensive plays have to be made on a stolen base attempt: 1) the pitcher has to get the ball to the plate quickly, 2) the catcher has to transfer the ball from glove to hand, 3) the catcher has to pop up from his crouch correctly and in a timely manner, 4) the catcher has to make an accurate throw to the base in a timely manner and 5) the infielder has to put the tag on the runner. Five plays with only two outcomes. Safe or out. The Royals were safe seven times. In crucial situations.

Bunting is a lost art and for many, a lost and wasted out. However, with a team that doesn’t have great power and has to rely on playing more situational ball to score runs, the bunt is a major tool. Having guys who know how to bunt saved the bacon. Having guys that can run made all the difference in the game. Know much about Terrance Gore? Not many people did until last night. He’s so fast he can turn off a radio and get out of the room before the music stops. Speed kills. Jarrod Dyson? Stealing third in a pressure situation? Who called that play? I doubt he did it on his own. Maybe he did. He can really motor, no doubt about it.

So now the Athletics are home watching the postseason. They’ll enter next season without Yoenis Cespedes and perhaps without Jon Lester. They won’t be able to turn to Addison Russell to play shortstop. He’s with the Cubs. I think he’ll be one of the finest hitting shortstops in the game in three or four years. He’s young and has multiple tools that just need refinement. It was a gamble by the Oakland brass. If they had won, Lester would have been in a position to bring home a World Championship. But they lost.

I think Bob Melvin is one of the finest managers in the game. I still don’t know why he was dismissed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. But he was. Even as good as he is, Melvin raised a question or two for me. Where was Adam Dunn? Couldn’t he have provided a long ball threat somewhere and at some time in 12 innings? Did he leave Lester in too long? I said on twitter I thought he was tiring. He lost the edge. The sharp cutter turned dull. Pitches were nowhere near the strike zone far earlier than his ultimate exit from the game. But a manager knows his pitcher. His pitcher tells him how he feels. The manager trusts and believes or he doesn’t.

When the Royals ran at will against Derek Norris it showed that Melvin made the right call by starting catcher Geovany Soto. He must have had a sense of what was coming. But Soto got hurt. Can’t fault Melvin for having to go to Norris.

Other plays had impact. Shortstop Jed Lowrie displayed little to no range. It’s an issue and a position that the Athletics will have to address. Could Josh Donaldson have stopped the game winning bash by Salvador Perez? I’m just asking. Maybe.

The Royals ran themselves out of an inning when Billy Butler got too anxious and took off too early on a double steal plan. It killed a rally.

The game was terrific. The announcers were outstanding-especially Ron Darling. He was right on the money all night long.

Tonight we see the second chapter of the Wild Card showdown. Pittsburgh and San Francisco square off. We have no idea what to expect. I do know this-both Madison Bumgarner and Edinson Volquez will give everything they have to get their club to the next level of play. We have to fight ourselves and not compare tonight to last night. Each game is its own work of art. Each game is as unique as our fingerprints. We have to enjoy tonight and be thankful we witnessed one of the great games the sport has ever offered. Thank you small ball. Thank you big bombs by Brandon Moss. Thank you stolen bases. Thank you for a pitching decision that will have us wondering and talking about it for years to come. Thank you Royals and Athletics. You proved why baseball is such a great, great sport. Anything can happen in any game. One won. One is done.

And thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com

That’s it. I’m don.