The eleven-pitch plate appearance with two outs in the sixth inning Friday night ended with the deciding run for the Royals, and so it was a work of beauty for those supporting the team in blue. But in practice, it was a workmanlike effort and a mistake that finally ended the battle between Eric Hosmer and Javier Lopez.
The first pitch was a mistake from Lopez. High in the zone is something that he’s mostly gone away from since his career renaissance. Look at his heat maps from early in his career and his heat maps from the last three years, when he said that he needed to concentrate on “being able to work down in the zone.”
But Hosmer only swung at about a quarter of the first pitches he saw this year, just barely less than league average, and so Lopez stole a strike.
The second pitch was a nastier pitch, on the outside corner, low and away, from an arm slot that should give Hosmer fits. Hosmer, after the game said that he was just looking to “stay the other way and put the ball in play.” The first foul went straight down.
The third pitch was probably supposed to finish off Hosmer one-two-three. A 71 mile per hour breaking pitch that just caught the bottom of the zone… against a guy that has slowly seen more slow curve balls and had his worst year against them this year. But Hosmer managed another foul ball. Hosmer said he was just trying to “shorten up.” The second foul ball went down the first base line.
The fourth pitch was probably another mistake. A bit of a hanging slider in the middle of the zone, Hosmer still didn’t quite square it up, but it looked close. Another foul ball, this time straight back.
Pitch five was more than a foot outside, relatively easy to lay off of.
Pitch six found the outside corner, but Hosmer was ready for it and again fouled off the pitch, this time down the third-base line. At this point, he felt that he had “fought off some good pitches” and that “the more balls you see off a guy, it really does lock you in there.” Normally it’s because you walk, but outcomes (and slugging percentage) do usually get better as the at-bat lengthens.
Pitch seven was a fastball in the dirt. Hosmer laid off. Despite having one of his worst years with respect to reaching, he was able to identify that pitch as in the dirt early enough to avoid swinging.
Pitch eight was a slider low. This time, Hosmer swung and was lucky to foul the ball off. Early on the pitch, though, he fouled towards his own dugout on the first base side.
Lopez walked off the mound and sighed often. Pitch nine was a slider, six inches off the outside corner. But Lopez hadn’t once ventured to the inner half of the plate, and so now Hosmer could hang off the outside corner. You could see from the earlier foul that he was ready to go the other way. He reached the ball and fouled it off. Straight down.
Pitch ten was a fastball, in about the same location as pitch nine. Hosmer didn’t swing.
Pitch eleven was probably a mistake. A fastball, a couple inches off the bottom of the zone, and an inch in from the corner, with Hosmer looking in that direction, and “just trying to put the ball in play,” that was probably meant to be a little further outside. But by early results on command f/x, it seems that pitchers probably miss their spots by 13.8 inches on average.
And so, Hosmer, who was hoping to put his hands “in the load position as early as possible” and go the other way, put this swing on the ball.
Looks a little different from the swing he used to homer in the ALDS.
Javier Lopez made some mistakes. Throw eleven pitches to one batter, and you’re likely to make a mistake or two or three. But Eric Hosmer tailored his approach and his swing to best take advantage of that mistake, and deserves all the credit for his (game-winning?) run-producing single in Game Three of the World Series Friday night.