It was finally happening, and everyone knew it. The much-heralded Japanese import was finally putting it all together. Yu Darvish took the mound against the Kansas City Royals in their home park on an afternoon Labor Day game, and he looked ready to do something special. Thanks to a renewed mental fortitude, and a minor mechanical tweak, his last three starts in the month of August had been a success, and it appeared that Darvish was set to carry that success into the final month of the season and kick September off with a start to remember.
Darvish had all of his pitches working. He was attacking the zone, and the Royals’ lineup appeared as though they weren’t up for the task. The first three innings were a breeze of 1-2-3 innings that included five strikeouts on just 36 pitches. The fourth and fifth innings flew by even quicker. After five innings on just 54 pitches, Darvish was perfect. He’d thrown 38 of those 54 pitches for strikes, a 70% strike rate for a pitcher who had averaged throwing just 61% strikes on the year, and had allowed the third-most walks in the American League. On this day, it looked like the base on balls wouldn’t be his Achilles heel as it had so many other times.
The sixth inning came around and it appeared as though nothing had changed. The first batter was put down on two pitches, the second batter only took one. Darvish had five and two-thirds innings in the books, 57 pitches thrown, and a fully operational arsenal that ranged from 64 MPH to 97 MPH and hit 17 different speeds inbetween.
After jumping ahead of the third batter of the inning to a 1-2 count, Darvish wavered for the first time all afternoon. He missed badly with a fastball, then was fortunate to have a slider only fouled off, then missed badly with another fastball. The count ran full. It was the first and only three-ball count that Darvish would work in all day. He returned to the slider for the payoff pitch. It missed, by this much (per brooksbaseball.net’s Pitch FX tool):
Darvish, along with everyone watching in the stadium and on TV, thought he had strikeout number seven, and perfect inning number six. Instead, it was walk number one, and baserunner number one.
Darvish had a right to believe he would get the call. Using the “typical” strike zone called on a right-handed hitter, it could have easily been called a strike. However, home plate umpire made the call, and he made it correctly. As you can see in the map below, while pitch number 64 (the green triangle outlined in the red circle) from Darvish was outside of the true strike zone, it was inside the “typical” strike zone, but Everett stayed fairly true to his strike zone all day.
A home plate umpire’s strike zone is relative to how he sees it. No two umpires call the same strike zone, so the most important thing that an umpire can do is be consistent. Except for one pitch that was called a strike that was further outside than this one from Darvish, Everett was consistent, and that’s exactly what we want from the game’s umpires.
That walk seemed to shake Darvish. The next three batters would single, triple, and double, and the last out of the inning was recorded on a long fly ball to left field. The possible perfect game was lost, and soon after it fell the possible no-hitter, and then the shutout. Darvish returned to work an efficient eight-pitch seventh inning, and he ended the day with a respectable performance: 7 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, but it looked like there could have been a little magic in the air, and that one pitch that missed by the width of a stitch on the baseball took it all away.
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