Matt Slocum/AP file photoThe Giants’ Brandon Belt

Small ball? No, Giants and Royals playing smart baseball

In two national magazines last week, columnists claimed that the Giants and Kansas City Royals are changing the way baseball is played, with their emphasis on getting base hits, not homers. In fact, though, they’re only doing what teams have always done, adjusting their games to their ballparks.

One of the teams in the postseason, the Baltimore Orioles, plays in a park where it’s relatively easy to hit the ball out, so they go for home runs. They’re not going to change the way they play.

Neither will the A’s, who lost in the wild-card game to the Royals. Since the 1980s, the A’s have emphasized power because, with the immense foul territory at the Coliseum, foul balls that would go into the stands at other parks are caught, so it’s very hard to string together several hits.

Conversely, the Giants and the Royals play in parks that discourage power hitters. The Royals’ home park, Kauffman Stadium, is the largest in the majors. The weird configuration of AT&T Park causes many balls that would be home runs in other parks to be caught.

So, both teams strive to make contact at the plate, stringing together several base hits to score runs. The Royals, the faster team, also use stolen bases as an important weapon.

But does anybody seriously think that teams built around power hitters are suddenly going to play small ball just because the two teams left standing in the postseason do? That’s almost as funny as Fox scheduling weekend games to play in the evening hours to screw up the programming for other networks, though there is virtually no interest in this World Series on the East Coast because there are no Eastern teams in it.

I have to say I’m enjoying this Series, and not just because the Giants have a 3-2 edge. Both teams are playing very well in the field and playing smart baseball, which is frankly a throwback to the time when I first started covering Bay Area teams.

There was even a flashback when the Royals said the basepaths seemed a bit wet and accused the groundskeeper of putting in a little more water to slow down the Kansas City baserunners.

Shades of ’62, when Giants manager Alvin Dark was nicknamed “The Swamp Fox” when he instructed the Giants’ groundskeeper to water the area around first to slow down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Maury Wills. The groundskeeper overdid it and the home plate umpire instructed him to pour sand over the small lake at first. This year, the Giants’ groundskeeper denied doing anything differently. Of course not (snicker, snicker).

And, of course, seeing Madison Bumgarner pitch a shutout was a serious look back at a past when Juan Marichal once threw 30 complete games in a season.

Now, the Series will shift to Kansas City, where the Royals can go back to using a designated hitter, as they usually do. Will that be enough for them to win two games and the Series? Who knows? There have been so many twists and turns in this Series that the only safe prediction is that it won’t change the way the game is played.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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