On November 1, 2015, Eric Hosmer ran what might be the most famous 90 feet in Royals history.
Down by one run in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, Hosmer dashed home on a Salvador Perez groundout. Later, Hosmer would say that he thought he’d made a mistake; that he’d been too aggressive and was going to get thrown out at the plate.
But Hosmer’s aggressiveness paid off: the throw home was off line, Hosmer was safe and the Royals went on to win Game 5 and the World Series in extra innings.
Afterwards, a Royals front office executive said the Royals encourage their players to make their own decisions on the base paths and if Hosmer had grown up playing in a system with a different philosophy, he would have stayed at third base and the Royals would have lost Game 5.
The Royals believe the players and coaches on the field have to react to what they see happening during the game. There’s not time to have a front office meeting and decide whether a player should steal a base; the player is the one on the field, so the player gets to make his own decisions.
And sometimes that backfires.
Merrifield gets thrown out at home
Unless told otherwise, Royals base runners have the green light.
The Royals have a sign that tells the runner he “must go” on the next pitch and a stop sign that tells the runner not to go, but in the first inning of Wednesday’s game against the White Sox — with Lorenzo Cain on first base and Whit Merrifield on third — neither runner had the stop sign.
So Cain took off for second base.
Cain beat the catcher’s throw. The Royals would have nobody out, two runners in scoring position and the heart of the order coming up.
But over at third base, Merrifield decided to steal home.
The White Sox shortstop stepped in front of second base, returned the catcher’s throw to home plate and Merrifield was thrown out by a several feet. That took the air out of the inning. Despite having a runner on third with nobody out, the Royals did not score.
After the game Merrifield talked about the Royals aggressive base running, said the double steal was a play they worked on and faulted his execution; his lead at third base wasn’t big enough.
In a more desperate situation, trying to steal home might have been the right decision. But considering the score, the inning, the number of outs and the hitters due up, it was the wrong call.
Escobar gets thrown out at third
In the eighth inning with the score tied, two outs and Lorenzo Cain at the plate, Alcides Escobar tried to steal third base but was thrown out.
Trying to steal third was a bad decision for a couple of reasons.
Cain came into the game hitting .300 and had already picked up a couple of hits. And with two outs, a runner on second base doesn’t have to wait to see if a batted ball drops in safely, the runner will probably score on any hit that leaves the infield.
Which brings us to an interesting point: Lorenzo Cain has had 126 infield hits over his career.
After the game Ned Yost said with a hitter who can beat out an infield hit at the plate, trying to get to third is not a bad idea, but if you do it with two outs, you better be 99 percent sure you can make it.
To steal third base a runner needs a good lead and a good jump and, clearly, Escobar’s lead and jump weren’t good enough.
Gore’s steal will now go unnoticed
Had the Royals won the game a key moment would have been a mental mistake made by the White Sox and their third baseman, Yolmer Sanchez.
With pinch runner Terrance Gore on second base and Alex Gordon at the plate, Chicago put on a left-handed pull hitter shift. The infield was swung around to the right and Sanchez was positioned well off third base, too far away to get there in time to cover the bag on an attempted steal.
Gore took advantage of that positioning. He blew past Sanchez, stole third standing up and then tied the score on Gordon’s groundout.
Gore’s steal of third is why you give players the green light. If Gore looks up and sees the third baseman standing in the wrong spot, you don’t want him trying to get someone’s attention so he can get permission to steal third.
You want Gore to react to what he’s seeing and go.
You have to think it through before the pitch is thrown
After the game Eric Hosmer, the guy who helped win the World Series with aggressive base running, talked about a ballplayer’s thought process. When a ball is put in play things will happen too quickly to think through all the possible options; so ballplayers need to think about what those options are and how they’ll react before the pitch is thrown.
Asked how a ballplayer learns what to do, Hosmer said by making mistakes: you make a mistake, learn from it, and hope to never make that mistake again.
But right now, with the Royals playoff hopes hanging by a thread, they can’t afford too many more on-the-job learning experiences. Whit Merrifield is still learning on the job, but by now you’d think Alcides Escobar would know better.
Two years ago the Royals aggressive base-running philosophy won them a World Series, but yesterday, against the Chicago White Sox, it backfired.