Jones unflappable in face of Orioles' ALCS deficit
Center fielder demonstrates leadership with on-field play
KANSAS CITY -- Somebody had to say it, and leave it to Adam Jones to be the one to say it in a way that was equal parts sarcastic, sage and straight to the point.
His Orioles are down 2-0 in this best-of-seven American League Championship Series against an abundantly confident Royals club, so somebody asked Jones the all-too-typical question if it might be time for him, as a team leader, to call a team meeting.
"We're grown men," Jones said, good-naturedly but purposefully. "We're not little kids who need to sit in a circle and play Duck, Duck, Goose."
This is Jones' role here in this O's clubhouse, in case you haven't caught on. Media magnet, sound bite supplier, pulse provider.
The O's are up against it, no doubt. And maybe, in their heart of hearts, some of these Birds are a bit befuddled and a bit discouraged by just how well the Royals have executed and just how unflappable they've been in the late innings of two tight games. But you're obviously not going to get a shred of such a stance from Jones.
"I have confidence in every person in this clubhouse," he said. "[Whether it's] on the roster, non-roster, strength guy, we brought our cook with us. I have confidence in every person who took that team flight."
When Buck Showalter joined the O's in July 2010, this is exactly the sort of thing he wanted to see from Jones. He knew -- as anybody with two working eyes would -- that Jones had the talent to be the focal point of this ballclub. What was still undetermined at that point was whether Jones had the other qualities of a captain-type. Jones attended Showalter's first press conference, stood off to the side, introduced himself (as if he needed an introduction) afterward, and tried to make small talk.
"Let's have some fun," the center fielder said.
"Time to go to work," the skipper replied.
And from that day forward, the work has been earnest, the relationship special. In terms of earnestness, leadership and preparation, Jones is the embodiment of the Showalter ideal. And if you've got him on your ballclub, you've got one of the game's best and most consistent all-around players, whether the nation at large recognizes that fact or not.
But now here we are in the thick of October, with the O's trying to overcome a historic hurdle (no club has ever lost the first two LCS games at home and recovered to win it), and Jones, save for one beautiful swing on a belt-high Yordano Ventura fastball, has not been the dynamic middle-of-the-order presence you'd expect him to be.
Now, some of this is unavoidable. The postseason is all about not letting the big boys beat you, and the advanced scouting, the quality of the opposition and the magnitude of the moment all come into play.
"Guys are going to go with their best," Jones said. "You can scout and scout and scout, but the guy on the mound is going to give you the best he's got. At this point, strengths are going to go against strengths."
Jones is 5-for-21 in this October (7-for-47 in his postseason career), with just that one extra-base hit to show for his efforts. While the home run off Ventura didn't spur the O's to victory in Game 2, perhaps it's a precursor to a consistent spurt of production from Jones, when his team needs it most. Then again, the homer was followed two innings later by a brutal at-bat in which Jones struck out on three pitches with two men aboard against Kelvin Herrera in a moment when the Royals reliever was having uncharacteristic trouble finding the strike zone.
So the O's can certainly get more from Jones than they've received so far -- and that, in fact, might be their biggest source of upside as they look to climb out of this hole they've dug themselves. Jones talked the other day about hitters getting into trouble when they try to do more than they're capable of in the midst of a slump. There are probably times this postseason when he's been guilty of doing just that, chasing pitches he can't reasonably work with, swinging big when the situation calls for small, etc.
"What I do in the regular season, I think I need to cut back a little bit more in the postseason, the aggression in the regular season," he said. "I think it intensifies when the postseason comes on, the strike zone is smaller. Every pitch is that much more important. And you've got to lock in better. It's the same game, it's just the focus has to be stronger."
Only five qualified hitters in the Majors took a lower percentage of pitches than Jones (44.5) did this season, so he knows all about aggression. But he also knows about production. Each of the last four seasons, he's hit at least 25 homers, driven in at least 80 runs and had an adjusted OPS+ over 110. Only one other player can say that, and his name is Miguel Cabrera.
So at a time when the O's already have Nelson Cruz putting himself in the postseason pantheon, they have statistical reason to suspect Jones might have some better swings in store in the next couple of days. They know he's prepared, and they know he can impact this series with his glove (witness the great diving grab he made to rob Nori Aoki of extra bases in Game 2) and his legs. These are not small points at a time when the O's need to cling to every ounce of optimism.
"He knows this is his time," general manager Dan Duquette said. "OK, here's your center fielder. He plays ball every day, OK? He's got a great arm. He can steal a base. And he's got home-run power. That's pretty good."
Back in Baltimore, they've got those statues in the Camden Yards picnic plaza. Six of them. Frank and Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
Showalter pointed them out to Jones one day recently and made an astute observation:
"You don't get one of those for being a good guy."
Jones is a good guy, no doubt. And he's certainly a good quote. But he understands the bottom line here.
"In this game of baseball," he said, "being good people doesn't mean nothing. You've got to win."
The O's are down 2-0. As Showalter would say, time to go to work.