December 5, 2022

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Matheny 'not happy,' ejected after Witt caught stealing

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KANSAS CITY — Bobby Witt Jr., known for his elite toolset of power and speed as MLB’s No. 1 prospect, easily had Gleyber Torres beat to third base in the second inning Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals’ third baseman had just extended his hitting streak to eight games and was looking to steal as Edward Olivares came up to bat with Kansas City’s offense lurking.

The Yankees slammed it shut as quickly as it started in the Royals’ 12-2 loss, which included a 34-minute rain delay before being called off after the eighth inning.

Witt entered Friday hitting .310 in his last seven games, looking more and more like the dangerous hitter the Royals know they have in the rookie, so it wasn’t any surprise when he roped a double into the left-field corner against Yankees starter Nestor Cortes with one out in the second inning. Nor was it surprising to see him take a solid lead off second base and ready himself to steal; with four stolen bases this season, Witt isn’t afraid to be aggressive on the basepaths.

But he hesitated slightly as Cortes came set, and the Yankees infield alerted Cortes, who stepped off the rubber to run at Witt. As Witt braced himself for a rundown, Cortes threw behind Witt to second baseman Torres, who pocketed the ball in his glove.

“Once he had the ball in his glove, then I knew he was going to go after me,” Witt said. “I felt like I could get there before he did.”

Torres could have thrown the ball to third baseman DJ LeMahieu, who was waiting by the bag, but he seemed to think he could beat Witt. The only problem? Witt’s fast. He and Trea Turner share the Majors lead with a 30.0 feet per second sprint speed (min 10 opp.) in 2022, per Baseball Savant.

“He probably just underestimated the speed,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “In hindsight … I thought he should’ve given the ball up. DJ’s there, but I understand. You’re running him down, you kind of make that calculation that you’re going to run him down.”

Witt out-sprinted Torres, slid in foot-first to the bag and looked safe with his hand on the bag — until Torres came crashing into the back of Witt. Both slid over the bag into foul territory.

“Going towards third, and I can feel him not close to me, so I slide later and go to stop and brace myself with my foot, knee, leg,” Witt said. “I’m 100 percent sure I could have stayed on the base without him coming into me.”

Third-base umpire Manny Gonzalez called Witt out, much to the frustration of the Royals’ dugout.

Manager Mike Matheny immediately emerged to emphatically dispute the call. Things escalated quickly, with Matheny bumping Gonzalez twice before crew chief Jeff Nelson and Royals third-base coach Vance Wilson got in between the two.

“I saw our player outrun their player,” Matheny said. “[Torres] knocked [Witt] off the bag. I watched it again on video and it looked exactly like I saw it the first time. Just blew it. I mean, that’s a big run. I was concerned he got hurt. So all of that combined — not happy.”

Matheny was handed his 19th ejection of his managerial career, and Witt was out.

“I watched it again and again,” Matheny said. “He’s on the base, has control of it, he just outran a guy. And that guy had nowhere to go. I get that, too. That’s not our fault. Bobby did exactly what he needed to do. Unfortunately, they didn’t get — in my opinion — the call right.”

What made the call even worse for the Royals was what happened moments after: Olivares singled, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on Michael A. Taylor’s single that brought the Royals within one run.

If Witt had scored on Olivares’ single, the game would have been tied in the second.

Instead, the Royals were held to two runs as a bad night turned worse. Lefty Kris Bubic, who allowed three runs in the first inning, settled down to retire 14 of the next 15 batters he faced, tossing five innings.

But the bullpen collapsed in the seventh, when Dylan Coleman threw 24 pitches and allowed a three-run homer to Aaron Judge. Jake Brentz then faced six batters in the eighth and allowed five runs (four earned) before the rain began to pour at Kauffman Stadium.

“Just got out of hand,” Matheny said. “Had things gone different on that call and had things gone different right there, we’re looking at going into the eighth with a 3-3 tie instead of a very lopsided game.”

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