Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
KANSAS CITY — The cat and mouse game at first base has worked wonders for the Baltimore Orioles.
They have basically stopped the Kansas City Royals’ running game.
And instead of 90 feet, the distance was 98.
And then when no one was watching they pulled a hose out of the dugout and wet down the base path between first and second the way opposing teams used to when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Maury Wills would come to town.
Neither was it lengthening the distance nor wetting the dirt.
The O’s did something different with first baseman Steve Pearce.
Usually Pearce, like most first basemen, is anchored to the bag.
Against the Missouri Track Club when any members of the Royals relay — Jarrod Dyson (36 stolen bases), Alcides Escobar (31), Lorenzo Cain (28) and Terrance Gore (8-for-8) since his promotion — reach base, the threat to steal is real.
Kansas City led all of ball in stolen bases this year and tied a post-season record with seven steals in the AL wild card game victory.
The way Showalter has positioned Pearce is a few steps into the infield, closer to the pitcher … sometimes standing next to the runner.
And Pearce then backpedals to take a throw and apply the tag.
O‘s Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver used to ask Hall of Fame first baseman do the same. Murray was a lot smoother around the base than Pearce is.
Runners who normally only watch the pitcher for a throw to first now had to keep one eye on the mound and the other on Pearce.
Nori Aoki singled in the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie and was lifted for speedster/prognosticator Dyson, whose legs enable him to run almost as fast as he runs his mouth.
After O’s Wei-Yin Chen struck out Lorenzo Cain in a five-pitch at-bat which included three throws to first — with Pearce shuffling in and back to the bag — Dyson wasn’t going on the 1-0 pitch to Eric Hosmer … seven pitches and Dyson didn’t attempt to steal.
Chen came to the set, Pearce did the Baltimore version of the Hokey Pokey:
You put your right foot in,
You put your left foot in,
You take your left foot out,
You take your right foot out.
And you shake it all about,
Hosmer hit a 1-0 pitch to right through the spot Pearce had vacated chasing Dyson to third.
While the prevent defence has kept the Royals from stealing a base, there are questions.
Does Pearce field Hosmer’s sharp grounder if he is playing a normal first base? Or if he had stayed put and not retreated to the base? Was it even a fair question … if Pearce had been holding the runner on, he wouldn’t have been able to field the ball.
We’ll never know, as in one of those things that makes you think, ‘hey-this-is-their-year.’ A kind of thing you see every decade or so.
Dyson scored when Billy Butler lofted a fly ball to left for a 2-1 lead.
Asked about the situation at first, O’s manager Showalter answered: “Trying to get a little more range on a ground ball getting out there.”
Har de har har.
“That’s not being completely true,” he told reporters. “We’ve got a couple of things. You’re just trying to … what’s the thing, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
“It’s pretty obvious that the percentages are high in their favour, it seems like, with all their guys but five or six of them. It doesn’t preclude them from stealing a base. There’s some things you do a little differently when teams have a real strength, but it doesn’t really take that away.”
The Royals say the strategy is intended to make their runners hesitate. If Pearce retreats to the bag to take a throw, the move will make the Royals runner flinch before taking the first step in a steal attempt.
“It’s the pitcher (we watch),” Dyson said before Game 3. “(Pearce) can move in any direction, I’m not looking at him. I’m going off the pitcher.”
Showalter’s reasoning was sound, and the Royals have stolen only one base — Cain in Game 2. They’ve been caught stealing twice, and Alex Gordon was picked off first base in Game 1.
This ALCS was supposed to be Baltimore’s power against KC’s speed.
The O’s, who finished last in stolen bases, top the Royals 2-1 in that department.
The Royals lead the O’s, who led the majors in home runs this season, 4-1 in that department. KC has hit eight in six playoff games, with Mike Moustakas hitting four.
– Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball