Defense (especially a 3rd-inning pickoff play) helped KC Royals beat Rays Friday night

·6 min read

The biggest play for the Kansas City Royals in an extra-inning win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night actually came in the third inning. It came with the Royals playing defense and was triggered by their veteran leader, star catcher and five-time Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez.

Brady Singer allowed just two runs and turned a tie game over to the bullpen after six innings, and the Royals went on to secure a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings.

But the game may never have gotten to the 10th if not for a crucial out recorded in the third.

The Royals had just taken a 2-0 lead on Bobby Witt Jr.’s 16th home run in the top half of the inning. Then the Rays loaded the bases with two outs against Singer, who was still trying to harness the run on his fastball in the early innings.

A walk by Ji-Man Choi set the Rays up with a chance to knock the Royals and Singer back on their heels.

Instead, Singer wheeled around and rifled a throw to second baseman Nicky Lopez, who’d darted behind the runner. Singer picked off Tampa Bay’s Harold Ramirez at second in a play that held up under the scrutiny of video review for the third out of the inning.

The Rays came away with nothing and the Royals kept their two-run lead intact until the sixth.

“You’ve got a guy like (Randy) Arozarena at the plate and a lot of momentum going in their direction after a couple leadoff hits,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It surprised me. That was something the guys put on internally. That’s a feel/instinct play.

“For Brady to execute. For Nicky to be on the other side, because Brady didn’t lob it in there and I’m sure it had some movement. .... Great job with Salvy coordinating that through the infield. That’s the game.”

Perez called for the play using the PitchCom transmitter on his wrist, sending the message to the earpieces of Singer and Lopez.

Once the message was received and everyone knew the play, it was up to Lopez to break behind the runner to the bag while Singer was looking ahead as if about to deliver a pitch. Perez dropped his catcher’s mitt down as the signal for Singer to turn and throw.

“I don’t think they expect the dropped glove in that situation,” Perez said. “The pitch before that one, (his secondary lead) was way big. I looked at Nicky and he was ready, listened to me. He was ready, so as soon as I saw him go to the base, I dropped my glove and Singer threw a pretty good throw to second base. That was a pretty good play. I think it was one of the plays that kind of won the game today.”

The Rays weren’t the only ones caught unaware by the play. Matheny admitted he, too, was surprised, and even Singer was momentarily taken aback by the directive he heard through his earpiece.

“I was definitely surprised when I heard it in my hat on the PitchCom,” Singer said. “He actually did it twice. I think he did it twice, and I looked down and was like, ‘Are we doing this?’ Then he did it again, and I’m like, ‘We’re doing it.’ So it was just kind of more patient than anything waiting for the dropped glove to happen, try not to make a move and balk there. Turned around, made a good throw and Nicky made a great tag.”

Just like that, Singer got out of a bases-loaded jam without giving up a run and without having to throw a pitch.

Salvy’s dancing encore

The Royals’ defense, collectively, was the star of the game.

In the ninth inning, Rays shortstop Taylor Walls hit a one-out single down the left field line, and MJ Melendez hustled to the ball and made a strong, accurate throw to second. The throw was in time to catch Walls as he was trying to stretch the single into a double and put himself in position for a walk-off opportunity.

In the 10th, with the ghost runner on second base to start the inning and the Rays trailing by a run, Rays speedster Roman Quinn (who began this season in the Royals’ farm system) tried to steal third base with one out.

Instead, Quinn got thrown out clearly and cleanly by Perez, who then hopped and danced his way up the third-base line toward the visiting dugout.

“Best dance of the year too, by the way,” Matheny said with a smile. “That was impressive.”

Witt moved from shortstop to third base late in the game, and he was the one who received the throw and applied the tag.

“I didn’t really see it,” Witt said of the dance. “When I saw him he was halfway into the dugout. I didn’t know where he was going, but it was a lot of fun. It’s great watching him play. That’s why he has that gold on his chest.”

Quinn is a fast runner who’s known to be aggressive on the base paths. Perez said he’d been surprised that Quinn didn’t try to advance to third on the ground ball to shortstop that resulted in the first out of the inning.

When he didn’t try to advance there, Perez was sure Quinn would try to move up on a pitch in the dirt Perez blocked behind the plate.

Instead, Quinn tried a straight steal against Perez.

Asked about his celebratory dance, Perez initially joked, “I was kind of cramping. I felt a cramp in my hamstring. I wanted to loosen up. So I was moving a little bit.”

He said the last part while swaying from side to side with a grin on his face.

“That’s my new dance. I’m just kidding,” Perez said. “They took a chance, tried to steal, and I made a good throw. (Scott) Barlow did a pretty good job. (Brady) Singer did a pretty good job today.”

Perez, who has missed 41 games this season due to injury and hand surgery, had thrown out 24% of attempted base stealers.

The final out of the game came on a diving catch in left field by Melendez that Matheny described as “gutsy.”