After Game 3 at AT&T Park, some of the Royals complained mildly about the slow, wet dirt in the San Francisco stadium. This was before the rains came that night. The implication, left unsaid, was that the Giants were saturating the infield to slow down Kansas City’s fleet baserunners.
In Game 5 on Sunday, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, a good fielder, had two ground balls go under his glove in the first four innings as he tried to make difficult plays. Neither drew an error; both were disappointing for KC fans.
In a press conference before today’s game at Kauffman Stadium, Royals manager Ned Yost addressed the subject.
“I think somebody said that the reason the infield was so wet is because the Giants infielders like it like that. They like it soft,” Yost said. “When I went back yesterday and really reviewed those two plays from Escobar, both of those balls when they hit, Esky’s used to playing on a little bit firmer infield, and when I walked around on that infield, it was soft. … It’s the way their infielders like it. Not a lot of bounce in it. Ours is a little bit firmer.
“I think both of those balls Esky expected for it to hit and bounce up, like it normally does. But both balls – I watched them really close, slowed them down – both balls hit and stayed down.
So it’s going to help us in that respect defensively, … because we’ve got a firmer infield, firmer basepaths with our base running.”
A little while later Giants first baseman Brandon Belt took his turn at the podium. I asked him if he felt the reverse to be true, whether the Kauffman infield seemed particularly tight.
“Honestly, yeah, I think the fields are pretty close to opposites as you can get right now,” Belt said. “I mean, they obviously hadn’t played at our field this year (before Game 3), but it’s usually pretty soft. The infield’s soft, especially early on in a game; that’s just because it dries up pretty quickly and by the end it gets a lot harder. But here it seems like the field is a little bit harder and you’ve gotta be aware of that.
“But it’s something you get used to when you go out there in batting practice, and you take your normal ground balls and everything.”
On the field before the game, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus confirmed that the two infields are quite different – and perhaps the outfields, too. Wotus said the Giants like to mow the grass higher than some teams do, though not as high as they used to keep it.
Wotus argued that the Kauffman infield shouldn’t be an issue for the Giants, because other fields in the NL West, like Arizona and San Diego, also play fast. On the other hand, Brandon Crawford, San Francisco’s usually flawless shortstop, had a ball roll up his arm for an error in Game 1 here, and had a hard one-bouncer carom off his glove for a single in Game 2.
Maybe those plays had nothing to do with the compactness of the dirt in Kansas City. And maybe Escobar’s misplays in San Francisco were unrelated to loose-packed soil. But it’s interesting to think that as we all analyze the relative strengths of the teams’ bullpens, the ability of each lineup to manufacture runs and every conceivable lefty/righty/righty/lefty combination, something as fundamental and as passive as the condition of the infield dirt might be a hidden factor in the World Series.
Isn’t baseball great?