First of all: WOW.
As of this moment, the Kansas City Royals have a better chance to reach the World Series than any other team in baseball.
That sounds like something I would read in subtitles as my dog spoke Mandarin to me in a dream.
It's a factual statement.
Anyway, there were several key moments in Game One of the American League Championship Series, but the managerial impact was less substantial than many thought it would be heading into the series. Ned Yost made reasonable decisions and Buck Showalter left right hander Darren O'Day in to face Alex Gordon in the tenth -- and we all know how that turned out.
However, there was one admirably innovative example of Showalter's tactical advantage in the game. When Norichika Aoki walked to lead off the seventh inning, Yost flexed his own tactical muscle and called on Jarrod Dyson to pinch run. It was a good move in two ways. It gave the Royals a chance to get a runner to second with no one out in a tie game, and it improved the team's outfield defense the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, Buck Showalter had a plan.
He lined first baseman Steve Pearce up about a foot closer to the mound than usual and had Pearce scramble back to first on every pitch as if a pickoff play was on. Gausman threw over __ times, but even when he threw a pitch, Dyson was a little uneasy. He couldn't get a proper jump because Pearce was almost in the base path when the throws over actual reached him.
Of course, Dyson was thrown out at second after beating the throw when massive second baseman Jonathan Schoop applied a tag that may or may not have pushed Dyson off of the base. No matter your opinion on that play in particular, the moments leading up to it were wildly intriguing. That nuanced war between one of the best base runners in the game and the O's trio of Pearce, Gausman, and catcher Nick Hundley might have been just a small preview of many more such battles in the series.
You can see the difference in where Pearce was lining up against Dyson quite clearly.
And you can also see Dyson's feelings on the matter quite clearly.
For good measure, here's Pearce's reaction.
Here's what the play looked like.
Technically, the play worked because Dyson was thrown out, but since he beat the throw to the bag, you could make a convincing argument that Showalter's clever pickoff play didn't actually stop Dyson from getting to second base. The point here is: It could have.
On several of the throws over to first, the tag was just a fraction of a second late. It clearly had an effect on Dyson's ability to get the same jump he usually does. The strategy might not produce an out in the series, but it is a clever approach, and it unequivocally played a role in the outcome of the seventh inning.
One way for the Royals to handle the situation would be to simply continue to trust Dyson's instincts -- not a bad idea. After all, he is one of the best base runners in franchise history. On the other hand, they could also take the advice of one of the best players in baseball history ... well, his son anyway.
I really wish Dyson would have gone back in to first standing on those pick offs... It would have caused a difficult catch for Pearce!— Tony Gwynn Jr. (@tonygwynnjr) October 11, 2014
Since Pearce was effectively boxing Dyson out -- basketball-style -- by running through the base path to get back to first, Dyson could embrace the Baltimore's aggressiveness and own his route back to the bag rather than sliding around the tag. Pearce has a distinct size advantage, but he would be vulnerable while attempting to catch the ball. Maybe Gwynn is right. An error could result in a free base, and with Dyson's speed, maybe more.
There probably isn't a simple solution to the issue for the Royals, but a little aggression could pay off. Either way, you still have to like the Royals' chances on the base paths. This new wrinkle in the series should be a lot of fun to watch.