Before Ned Yost was an American League Champion, he had some issues with late-inning bullpen management. He's not the only manager in baseball who believes in saving his best reliever for a hypothetical save situation, but he has been criticized when the option is exercised to use an inferior reliever.
Enter Yohan Pino.
As Greg Holland (and Wade Davis, from the dugout) watched, Pino took just two pitches to account for two hits and a game-ending throwing error, sending the Royals to a 6-5 series-opening loss to the Tigers. The resilient Royals battled back from a 4-0 early hole, ultimately seizing a late-inning lead. Ultimately, three double plays and a season-worst three errors doomed the team as they dropped their third straight game to Detroit.
Pino (0-1) entered the game having not allowed a run in 10.2 innings this season, but that changed in a hurry when Anthony Gose ripped a double down the right-field line on his first offering. The camera flashed to Holland, the team's two-time All Star closer, playing a gentle game of catch in the left-field bullpen. Fans all over Kansas City knew exactly was coming, but the man who ultimately makes the decisions clearly did not. On the very next pitch, Ian Kinsler laid down a well-placed sacrifice bunt, and as Pino bolted over to try to field the slow-roller, everyone sporting Royal blue screamed "DON'T THROW THE GOD DAMN BASEBALL" at their televisions.
Then, Pino threw the god damn baseball.
It landed somewhere by the tarp in shallow right field. Gose trotted home, and that was that. Game over. Pino put his head down in disbelief, but for Royals fans, this was not an unfamiliar sight.
The game ended about as bad as it started for the Royals. Yordano Ventura opened the second inning by giving up four runs before recording a single out, as softly-hit ground balls continued to find holes. Andrew Romine and Kinsler each picked up a pair of RBI's, both on singles that made the score 4-0 early. Ventura managed to escape the inning without further damage, and he ultimately settled down into a solid outing. He retired 12 of the last 15 hitters he faced, ending his outing with a line of six innings, eight hits, four runs, three walks, and four strikeouts.
As for Kansas City's offense, the bats came alive in the fourth after screwing up a few earlier scoring chances against David Price, the same pitcher who threw a complete game against the Royals in his last outing. The Royals batted around en route to tying the game at four runs apiece; Salvador Perez destroyed a two-run home run to left field to cut the lead in half Christian Colon singled home Omar Infante for the third run. Then, Nick Castellanos airmailed a routine ground ball off the bat of Lorenzo Cain to tie the game at four, but with Price on the ropes having allowed six of seven runners to reach, Eric Hosmer decided to do the only logical thing - bunt. It was a move that was so beyond stupid that you have to wonder what was going through Hosmer's head. The bunt try bounced back to Price on one hop, he fired to first to escape the jam, and he worked two more scoreless innings.
In the seventh, the Royals seized the lead when Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, and Alex Gordon strung together three straight singles. Price was knocked from the game after allowing a whopping 13 hits. The absence of Kelvin Herrera wound up being major for Kansas City, though, as Jason Frasor allowed Detroit to get the run back in the bottom half of the frame. A throwing error loomed large after Gose singled and attempted to steal second when Perez chucked the ball into center field, allowing Gose to trot to third base. Victor Martinez would drive him in on a fielder's choice.
Wade Davis held things down in the eighth inning, and Detroit closer Joakim Soria (1-0) used a double play by Hosmer to get out of the top of the ninth. That's when Pino trotted down the steps and ran onto the field.
...Come on, how can you even ponder throwing the ball? In fairness, Pino was probably still trying to process the fact that he was in that particular situation when Holland was available. After all, he's new to the Royals so he hasn't had much time to learn about the ways of Ned Yost. ...Then again, I've watched every single game of the Yost tenure, and I don't think I have a dang clue either.
Let me make one thing very clear: Ned Yost has done a lot of terrific managing in the last calendar year. Tonight, he screwed up. And every single person watching that game knew it before the bottom of the ninth inning even started.
In all, the last three pitches of the game accounted for a Hosmer double play, a Gose double, and the walk-off error. All of that dropped the Royals to 18-11, and we all know exactly what that means.
It was the first time that Kansas City dropped a series-opening game (9-1) all season. The see-saw with Detroit in the AL Central continued as the Tigers swung back into an 0.5 game lead. Tomorrow, the Royals look to even the series when Jeremy Guthrie (gulp) (1-2, 6.52 ERA) takes on Royal-killer Anibal Sanchez (2-3, 5.11) in an early start. At 12:08 PM CDT, you can tune into Fox Sports 1 to catch first pitch. In the meantime, the sting of the last three pitches in Friday night's loss will haunt Royals fans for at least a little while longer.
Question for the commenters: what do you think goes through Greg Holland's mind when Ned calls on his seventh or eighth best relieving option in that spot?