San Francisco Giants

Royals’ Yost pushes right buttons in Game 3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Perhaps no figure has been scrutinized more this postseason than Royals manager Ned Yost. His decisions have been questioned one day, commended the next. His penchant for small ball has led some to use "Yost" as a synonym for "bunt." In his off-day press conference Thursday, Yost summed up the reaction to his managerial moves this way:

"I don’t really pay attention when people say I’m stupid, and I don’t really pay attention to when people say I’m smart, because I’m neither," Yost said. "I’m not a dope. But I’m not the smartest guy on the face of the earth, either."

If Yost falls somewhere on the middle of that scale, it seemed far closer to the latter side after the Royals beat the Giants, 3-2, on Friday to take a two-games-to-one World Series lead. Yost pushed a series of buttons before and during the game, and almost all seemed in retrospect to be the right ones. A quick sampling:

- Given the vast outfield at AT&T Park, particularly in right-center, Yost opted to use his "best defensive outfield," moving Lorenzo Cain to right field for Nori Aoki and starting Jarrod Dyson in center. In the first two innings, Cain made two sliding catches in right to take away hits. It’s questionable whether Aoki, who played a shaky right field during the two games in Kansas City, would have made either play.

- With Aoki out, Yost moved Alex Gordon up to the second spot in the order. Yost said it was partly to put Gordon, who didn’t have a hit in the first two games, behind the Royals’ speed guys, where he might see more fastballs with runners on base. In the sixth inning, Gordon came up with leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar on first -- and smoked a Tim Hudson fastball to the wall in center field for an RBI double.

"(Thursday), Ned came up to me during the workout and mentioned that Dyson might be out in center field and I might bat (in the) two-hole," Gordon said. "He came up to me and told me not to change anything, stick with my approach and what I’ve been doing. And it was kind of nice to hear that from him."

- Despite starter Jeremy Guthrie retiring 10 consecutive hitters entering the sixth inning, Yost didn’t hesitate to pull Guthrie when he got into trouble. Brandon Crawford singled and Michael Morse drove him in with a pinch-hit double. Leading 3-1, Yost went to his bullpen for Kelvin Herrera, the beginning of his vaunted late-game trio.

"My mindset was I’m not getting beaten in the sixth inning with the bullpen I’ve got," Yost said later. He didn’t. Herrera allowed Morse to score on a pair of groundouts, but retired Pablo Sandoval on a ground ball to end the inning. And the Giants managed one more baserunner the rest of the game.

There were other little things. The Giants hit two screaming line drives in the fifth inning right at second baseman Omar Infante; on the second, Infante was in shallow right-center field, perfectly positioned in a shift against Brandon Belt. With Belt up again in the seventh and Hunter Pence on first after a leadoff walk, Yost left Herrera in despite having left-hander Brandon Finnegan up in the bullpen. Herrera struck Belt out swinging.

Herrera was still in the game at that point because Yost had let the reliever hit in the top of the inning -- with a runner on first, two outs and a one-run lead. Later, Yost admitted, "That was one of those decisions that’s tearing you apart." Herrera, predictably, struck out. Dyson, the speedster, was stranded on first base.

It was, however, a revealing moment about how the Royals perceive this Series and their strengths. Yost wanted Herrera to stay in because "Kelvin’s been so good at dominating that seventh inning." That’s how the Royals have operated this season: Get a lead, turn it over in the seventh to Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland. And again on Friday night, it was a strategy that worked.

In fact, letting Herrera hit seemed one of the few questionable decisions that Yost made in Game 3. Yost acknowledged that wasn’t how he ideally wanted the inning to play out. But it wasn’t for the reason you might imagine.

With the first two Royals hitters making outs in the seventh, Yost said, "Actually, I was hoping (Dyson) would make an out there. But he steps up and foils my plan and gets a hit."

Even when he missed Friday night, it seemed, Yost didn’t really miss.

* The game story gets more into the challenges that Herrera-Davis-Holland trio poses for the Giants. Hitting coach Hensley Meulens may have described it best: "They’ve proven all year that they’re tough to hit, so that’s not news for anybody. We’ve just got to make sure that we try to do what we did in the first game -- score early so we don’t see them."

The notes lead with the Giants sticking with Ryan Vogelsong as their Game 4 starter. Bruce Bochy had said before the game there’d been some discussion about Madison Bumgarner potentially starting on short rest if the Giants trailed in the series, but that won’t happen.

Also here’s a story on Tim Hudson’s first career World Series start, a mixed bag. And columnist Marcos Breton wrote about the Giants facing an uphill climb to win a third championship in five years, while Ailene Voisin touched on the ways the Royals have pulled out the last two games.

* No at-bat was bigger in Game 3 than the 11-pitch battle between Javier Lopez and Eric Hosmer that ended with Hosmer lining a single up the middle to score Alex Gordon for the decisive run in the sixth inning.

It wasn’t only that Hosmer fell behind 0-2 before working the count back to full, fouling off six pitches overall. According to baseball-reference.com, it was only the sixth time a batter has ever seen 10 or more pitches in a plate appearance against Lopez. It was only the second time one of those plate appearances ended with a hit. And it was the first such duel by a left-handed hitter since J.T. Snow saw 11 pitches from Lopez in a walk in 2004.

"I was trying just to keep him off-balance," Lopez said. "He was putting up a great at-bat. I took one shot in, unfortunately I bounced that one in there. But he grinded. I threw some pretty good pitches and he fouled them off, forced me to make some more pitches. He just got me today."

Said Bochy: "Give their hitter credit. He ran it to a full count, and that’s a good piece of hitting."

* Buster Posey is 2-for-13 in the series and still does not have an extra-base hit during the postseason. He turned on a fastball from Holland in the ninth inning Friday and hit a fly ball that drew some "oohs" from a hopeful crowd -- but it was too high, and settled into the glove of Gordon for a harmless out.

"I could tell off the bat that I hadn’t quite squared it up," Posey said.

"It was a 95 mph fastball right down the middle, and he barreled it, but he was a little out front," Meulens said.

"We talked about it, we saw the swing after on video, and there was nothing wrong with that swing," Meulens said. "It was actually one of his better swings this postseason."

Meulens said this in response to a question about Posey’s lack of extra-base power in the playoffs, and struck a mostly optimistic tone. His basic argument: The swing is there, but the results simply haven’t been.

"Every year is different," Meulens said. "Sometimes you hit home runs, hit doubles, and sometimes it doesn’t happen."

The Giants, though, wouldn’t mind seeing it happen again soon.

* Michael Morse, on the other hand, flashed some extra-base power again with his pinch-hit RBI double in the sixth, one of the few bright spots for the Giants on offense. It was the second time Morse has come up big in a pinch-hit situation, following his game-tying homer off Pat Neshek in the NLCS clincher.

Morse’s reaction to the double was less enthused than his memorably wild trip around the bases after the NLCS homer -- though only slightly so. He pumped both fists as he pulled into second base and later said he "felt like that was a little spark, a little momentum that we needed right there."

"Pitching’s tough, man," he said. "And to get a hit, to get an extra-base hit, especially in the World Series at a clutch time like that, it fires me up. I like to try to fire the guys up. Just trying to spark these guys as much as possible."

Might Bochy try to fan that spark by putting Morse in the starting lineup against a lefty in Jason Vargas in Game 4? The manager was asked Friday night and said -- probably not.

"It’s a pretty nice weapon to have come off the bench," Bochy said. "You don’t forget that, and he hasn’t played a lot in left field. So more than likely (Juan) Perez will be out there."

Bochy hedged a little, saying that decision is "not etched in stone. But again, what Morse has done off the bench, that’s valuable too." Also impressive: Bochy said Morse had been "running a pretty good fever" before the game. "He was too sick to play today, anyway."

* There was some strong defense played in Game 3. Along with Cain’s catches in right field for the Royals, catcher Salvador Perez made a slick and important play in the eighth when he popped out of the crouch to barehand Gregor Blanco’s one-out bunt and throw Blanco out at first base ahead of a headfirst dive by the Giants’ leadoff hitter.

"He can really move," Posey said of his catching counterpart. "He caught a lot of games this year, too. So yeah, he’s a good one."

Posey was one of Cain’s victims on a sinking liner in the first inning. Posey said he didn’t necessarily think he had a hit off the bat.

"It just depended on where they started initially," he said. "But I know (Cain’s) got great closing speed."

* The Giants, meanwhile, had one of their walking wounded back in uniform Friday -- if only ceremonially. Angel Pagan flew in from Puerto Rico, where he has been rehabbing from season-ending back surgery, and joined the Giants on the field during introductions before the game, wearing his No. 16 jersey and drawing a loud applause.

Pagan said after the game his rehab is going well -- he’s not feeling pain nearly a month removed from the surgery for a bulging disc in his back, and he’s doing "very light physical activities, walking and doing very light core stuff.

"As long as I’m good for next year, spring training, I’ll be perfectly happy," he said.

Pagan said he would have liked to join the Giants sooner, but yesterday was the first day he was able to get on a plane after the procedure. He said he has followed the Giants’ postseason run from home, and commended Blanco on the job he has done filling in as center fielder and leadoff hitter.

"I was just pumped watching the games at home as well as being there for my family," Pagan said. "Just focusing on my rehab and sending positive vibes.

"But I’m here. I was eager to be here with the guys to support them and give them as much energy as I can, and hopefully win the World Series.

* One thing is certain: If the Giants are going to win their third title in five years, they’ll have to secure it on Kansas City soil. They will also have to overcome a Series deficit -- something they did not have to do in either of their prior trips under Bochy.

In World Series history, teams winning Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the Series two-thirds of the time. But Lopez played down that history.

"I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen any stat that says 100 percent," he said. "So I think we did a pretty good job proving some people wrong in 2012 and we’ve just got to build off that.

"We don’t expect these guys to give us a game here just because we’re at home. They’ve been battling great and they’re going to continue to do that. We’ve got to do the same."

It’s Vogelsong and Vargas in Game 4. First pitch at 5:07 p.m.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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