It’s tough to say how Kansas City beat the Baltimore Orioles yesterday. Well, in truth it’s a pretty easy call – Alex Gordon‘s three-run homers (2). However in order to hit three-run homers, you have to get guys on base in front of the guy that hits the home run. The Orioles played every shift in the book yesterday (and really all series long); and in doing so it seems they played right into Kansas City’s hands.
The only shift that would have stopped Kansas City’s players from getting on base was one that would have plugged the middle of the infield. They hit a lot of balls back up the middle of a hard infield that seemed catered for that exact purpose. That’s partially my argument against playing all of these shifts – it probably does work most of the time. But when you get a team like Kansas City or Tampa who’s entire goal is to hit-for-average and in effect play small ball, it can also play right into their hands.
Ubaldo Jimenez struggled through five innings, in a park where he had previously pitched fairly well. Jimenez’s line: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 7 K. Kansas City got to him immediately in the game, as Brett Butler sent an RBI-single down the line in right in the first inning to give them a 1-0 lead. However Jimenez settled down a bit in the second and third, and the Orioles struck back in the top of that third inning. Following singles by J.J. Hardy and David Lough, Jonathan Schoop loaded the bases with a bunt that was designed to move the runners over. Nick Markakis‘ subsequent two-RBI single put the Orioles in the lead, and Manny Machado‘s sac fly-RBI put them ahead 3-1.
Kansas City got to within one (at 3-2) in the last of the fourth on Cain’s RBI-single. However prior to that we had a bit of controversy as Perez hit into the shift up the middle, and the Orioles netted what appeared to be a force out at second base in erasing Alex Gordon (who later scored). However Kansas City manager Ned Yost challenged the play, and the umpires ruled that Gordon was safe. Granted we don’t know what the umpires in New York were seeing, however at the very least the call appeared to me to be inconclusive (meaning that the call on the field should have been upheld). Had Gordon initially been ruled safe and Showalter had challenged, I would have anticipated the same inconclusive result.
With two runners on (one a walk and the other a Butler hit against the shift) in the last of the fifth, Gordon put Kansas City ahead for good with his first three-run homer of the day. The O’s had the tying run at the plate with nobody down in the seventh however Adam Jones struck out, Chris Davis grounded out, and Nelson Cruz flied out.
Following an Eric Hosmer lead off walk in the last of the seventh, Brett Butler once again came through with a double – putting two runners into scoring position. That brought Gordon to the plate again, and for the second consecutive time he smacked a three-run homer out of the park. Given the fact that Adam Jones attempted to bring the Orioles back in the ninth with a three-run
homer of his own, that in and of itself was probably the play of the game.
Part of the problem is that Oriole pitchers were nibbling on the corners all day. One thing I’ve noticed over a long period of time is that umpires aren’t so giving when it comes to called strikes when you try to nibble on the corners. Troy Patton was guilty of this in the seventh inning, as was Jimenez. Offensively, the O’s went 3-for-10 with RISP. Given that the final margin of defeat was two, if even one more hit comes with one or more runners in scoring position, perhaps the result is different.
Obviously Gordon’s second three-run homer was the killer in a sense, regardless of what Adam Jones did in the ninth. However it’s worth mentioning that for the second time in a week the Orioles had a call overturned in which it appeared that the evidence was inconclusive at best. We can’t be too quick to criticize given the fact that unlike in the NFL, the umpires aren’t looking at the exact same replays as we are. (And if you want to know how I know that, I asked an NFL ref on the field before a preseason game a few years ago – he said that FOX/CBS actually provides the replays to them from the TV feed.) Furthermore, the umpires on the field aren’t physically making the calls, the umpires in NY are.
The O’s are off tomorrow, before opening up a two-game set in Pittsburgh. It’ll be interesting to see how Buck Showalter alters his lineup, as he’ll lose a bat and his pitchers will have to swing the lumber. Going back to the shift failing the O’s in this game, you also have to look at the flip side. Whenever Kansas City would shift it’s infield, it would seemingly work. Again, Kansas City is a team that just wants to hit-for-average. While the power hasn’t necessarily been there for the Orioles thus far, their aim is still to out-slug you. Which partially attests as to why the shifts always seem to work for their opponents. Teams like Kansas City practice hitting the ball the other way against the shift, whereas the Orioles figure that if they can hit doubles or hit the ball out of the ballpark the shift is pointless anyway.