Witt Jr. channels Jeter in wild one vs. A's

June 26th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- As soon as the ball left Jonah Bride’s bat at 92.1 mph, skirting across the infield and heading for the outfield grass,  ranged to his right. Those watching around Kauffman Stadium didn’t think he had a chance getting to it, let alone make a play to back up Royals reliever Daniel Mengden in the sixth inning on Saturday.

The Royals' rookie shortstop did both, channeling his inner Derek Jeter to make a jaw-dropping play in the Royals’ 9-7 loss to the A’s.

Witt backhanded the ball in shallow left field, took two steps and jumped with his left foot, turning his shoulders and rotating his core toward first base, while firing off a 75.6 mph throw to first baseman Carlos Santana, who made an excellent pick for the out.

“After the fact, for sure,” Witt said when asked if he thought about Jeter on the throw. “Pretty cool.

“One of those reactionary plays. Just kind of happens. You sometimes do it when you’re messing around during BP or something. I saw it going to my right, fielded it, and just jumped to help with timing and get some more on the throw.”

Witt sounded nonchalant about the jump throw after the game. His manager and teammates talked it up a bit more.

“One of the best plays I’ve seen,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I’m just amazed at the carry Bobby has from different angles. Having no legs under him on that one at all -- it was a nice play on the backside, too, Carlos picking the short hop. But the carry [Bobby] gets, ball off the bat, I didn’t think he was going to get to it. And then to get off the throw, put that much on it, it’s very unique.”

Catcher Cam Gallagher added: “It was pretty remarkable. I didn’t think he had a chance to get to the ball, let alone make the play, finish it and get the out. Just shows what kind of special talent he is. Flying all over the field, doing stuff offensively and defensively, on the basepaths.

“He’s an electric player.”

The Jeter-esque play and Witt’s 11th homer of the season, tying him for the team lead, were bright spots in an otherwise costly loss for the Royals in a game they could -- and probably should -- have won against the last-place A’s. Brad Keller exited in the fourth inning at 93 pitches having allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits, after his defense failed to bail the right-hander out. This included an error by Witt in the first inning on Ramón Laureano’s infield grounder, an inning that eventually allowed Oakland to plate two runs before the Royals got a chance to bat.

Keller was also tagged for two doubles when Edward Olivares lost fly balls in the harsh afternoon sun. Tony Kemp’s fly ball nearly hit Olivares in the head, while Elvis Andrus’ looked to be playable before clanging off Olivares’ glove.

“Oli hasn’t been here that much to get that 3 o’clock [practice] when we’re out here doing early work just because he’s been injured, on the road, and not being able to work on it that much,” Matheny said. “We’re going to have to kick that into gear. The first one is a tough one. The second one, we have to position ourselves to where we’re attacking the ball differently.

“Those are things that players need to learn.”

The Royals fell to 0-21 this year when trailing after the first inning. They nearly won their first game, though, because the offense fought back from two separate four-run deficits with Witt’s homer, a three-RBI day from Gallagher and a three-run homer from Michael A. Taylor.

Trailing by a run in the eighth inning, the Royals had runners on first and second with no outs against A’s reliever Lou Trivino, who entered Saturday with an 8.35 ERA. But Kyle Isbel made a bad read on a wild pitch and got thrown out trying to advance to third, and it immediately came back to bite the Royals when Witt singled to left-center for what should have been the game-tying RBI.

“He’ll be thinking about that all night long,” Matheny said. “That play’s in front of him, and I believe we’ve done a real nice job on dirt ball reads, spent a lot of time working on it, anticipating. A lot of times, when the ball is right in front or right behind, it’s hard to tell the depth from second base, but that was one that didn’t get too far away, the catcher reacted well. It ended up being costly.”

Strikeouts from Andrew Benintendi and Olivares -- his fourth of the day in the cleanup spot -- ended the inning.

In the end, a game that had the Royals’ star rookie homer and make a breathtaking play ended in another loss.

“It was amazing to get back in that game with as many mistakes as we made,” Matheny said. “It was very atypical for us, whether it was defensively or on the bases, just some things that don’t normally happen. And they cost us.”