The Texas Rangers lost on Tuesday night, 8-7 to the Toronto Blue Jays on a walk-off home run by Brett Lawrie in the 9th inning. At one point, the Rangers led this game 5-0, and then 6-4, and then trailed 7-6 but rallied to tie it at 7 in the top of the 9th, before eventually watching the Blue Jays mob Lawrie at home plate.
All in all, it was a poorly played game by the Rangers, who were shorthanded to begin with, having to sit Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. This was the first night where the 17-7 Rangers truly looked off, and those nights are going to happen. It’s a long season.
What caught my attention in this game was the impact that the home plate umpire had, especially in the 9th inning.
The Rangers rally in the top of the 9th began with two outs and Ian Kinsler at the plate. Kinsler fell behind 0-2 to Francisco Cordero, but battled back to lace a line drive single to center field. Elvis Andrus and Michael Young followed with almost carbon copy singles, scoring Kinsler and tying the game. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the fourth pitch of the Kinsler at bat. The count was still 0-2, and Kinsler did not swing. You’ll see that pitch in the image below, with the red circle around it.
The umpire called this pitch a ball. It was perhaps more of a strike than any other pitch in the at bat. The game should have ended on this pitch. Instead, Kinsler utilized his new life to jumpstart a Rangers rally, which could have snowballed into even more than a one-run inning. If I were a Blue Jays fan, I would have been going through the roof, and my Twitter feed would have blown up with the reactions of other angry fans. There may have even been a conspiracy theory proposed about how Major League Baseball is trying to give the 2012 season to the Texas Rangers.
Now, jump ahead four batters in the game to the first batter of the 9th inning, Lawrie, facing Mike Adams. Adams is a pitcher who relies on, and executes, pinpoint control. The first pitch of the at bat missed badly, even getting past the catcher to the backstop. However, Adams perfectly located the next two offerings, both of which were sliders. You’ll see them circled in the below image.
Exact same pitch, twice in a row. One was called a ball and the other a strike. Now, in what should be a 1-2 count, Lawrie holds the advantage at 2-1. If you don’t think that matters very much, let me assure you, it does. For his career, when Mike Adams gets to a 2-1 count, hitters have a .640 OPS against him (above his total career OPS against of .553). When he gets hitters to a 1-2 count, hitters have a microscopic .386 OPS against him. As we saw yesterday with Yu Darvish, when a pitcher gets to a two strike count, he can expand the zone and make his pitches. Instead, Adams fell behind to Lawrie, and while attempting to make sure he got a strike over, proceeded to give up the game-winning home run.
The human element is ever present because we don’t have robots as the game officials in sporting events yet. Humans make mistakes, and Tuesday night the home plate umpire made two mistakes in the same inning that had a definite impact on the outcome of the game. This just goes to show that every pitch matters, and every mistake matters, even for the umpires.
Strikezone plots generated from Pitch F/X data provided by http://www.brooksbaseball.net.
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