“You need to trust your teammates,” Yadier Molina said afterwards. Because he obviously didn’t trust himself.
The Cardinals were down 3-2 in the top of the ninth Wednesday against the Padres. Allen Craig opened the frame with a double off Luke Gregerson, putting the tying run in what most of us consider scoring position. The Cardinals pinch-ran with Adron Chambers to make it even more likely that a hit would score a run. Molina decided it wasn’t position enough, so the league’s fourth leading hitter dropped down a sacrifice bunt.
Such a decision would have been defensible if the game was tied. Or it would have been defensible if the Cardinals were down 3-2 at home instead. Maybe it even would have been defensible with a .215 hitter at the plate, though I still would have been strongly against it then.
As is, the decision was indefensible. It was ridiculous. It was a case of Yadier Molina — a four-time All-Star, a two-time world champion and one of the NL’s 10-best players this year — flat-out choking.
Of course, the decision didn’t work out. And I wouldn’t be writing this if it had. But regardless of how it played out, it was a boneheaded move. Playing for the tie on the road is foolish. If Molina’s bunt incrementally increased the chances of the Cards going to the bottom of the ninth even, it also upped the likelihood that the team would lose a 15-inning game at Petco and burn out its bullpen ahead of a huge four-game series against the Dodgers that starts Thursday.
One would think a guy with a neck tattoo would know a bit more about going for the jugular.
No, the catcher who signed a $75 million contract earlier this year passed the buck on to a guy making $508,000. David Freese grounded out for the second out of the ninth with Chambers holding at third. After Carlos Beltran walked, Skip Schumaker grounded out to end it. It was an opportunity lost for the Cardinals, as they were swept in a three-game series in San Diego.
Look, it’s a long season. I don’t think Molina made his decision because he was scared. But he wasn’t mentally where he needed to be tonight. I know it’s tough for the Cardinals to give him much of a breather this time of year, but he seems to require one.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.