We have our first truly blown call of the 2013 Major League Baseball Season, and it's a doozy. The situation: Top of the 9th, Tampa Bay Rays down 5-4 to the Texas Rangers, two outs, runner on first, the Rays Ben Zobrist facing off against Texas closer Joe Nathan, full count.
Nathan throws a curveball low and outside, Zobrist starts to take first having walked...no wait, he didn't walk! Umpire Marty Foster called him out!
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs went to the trouble to make an excellent animated gif of the event (and wrote an excellent article):
Umpire Marty Foster made two points about his call: 1) catcher A.J. Pierzynski made it look worse than it was by catching the ball with a downward motion, and 2) given a second chance, he wouldn't have called that a strike. That he admitted it says a lot about modern times, where we not only have replays, we have blogs and twitter, and that "strike" was going to be picked apart within moments anyway.
This didn't necessarily cost the Rays the game. Star third baseman Evan Longoria still had to not make an out, which, human that he is, happens less than half the time. Still, a single would have tied the game and more on that takes the lead, and...that's a really bad call.
While the baseball result of this is a bad one--this game could matter, as the Rays and Rangers might be fighting over the same Wild Card spot at season's end, but this was valuable, maybe more so than getting the call right, for all the reactions that came out of it, and what it says about the reactors.
First, if you click the video above, you get the full slate of broadcaster reactions. All of them initially called it a walk, because the call was late, Zobrist acted like it was a walk, and, anyone would call it that, including the 20/20 hindsight of Marty Foster. All of the broadcasters are shocked when ball turns to strike, but the last one spews off some excellent outrage: "That was 6 inches outside!" Which is major hyperbole, but what are angry broadcasters for if not hyperbole.
Much more interesting are the reactions from Zobrist and Rays manager Joe Maddon. Zobrist was kind, almost philosophical toward the blown call:
"I was very shocked [not an angry "very" just a "wow, that was a surprise!"]. I was trying to explain to him, I felt like it wasn't just outside, I felt like it was down too, but, y'know, I mean, it was a ball. But Marty, he's just like us, he's going to make mistakes at time, and that's all of us as we're trying to get better at the game. Umpires make mistakes just like players do. It was a tough time to have a bad call, I just hope it doesn't end up costing us the playoffs in the end."
Yes, the guy who just got screwed out of potentially scoring the winning run against a rival turns it into, "y'know, we're all trying to get better." I already liked ZoRilla, but he's now in the running for second favorite non-Met behind Dickey.
Joe Maddon (same video) explained why it is essential that those calls be made correctly, and in his explanation, we get a peak at the fascinating Maddon's view of the game:
"My only comment is that cannot happen in a Major League baseball game....You look at the complimentary effects that were in play there. Had we been able to win, had we been able to come from behind, what it does to your team for the next several days, what it does to their team, the doubt that it puts into their pitchers head...there's all these complimentary effects that are very difficult to measure that are impacted by that particular call."
Maddon also had a great line about how he knows sometimes when an umpire knows that he has made a bad call because his "eyes twitch," and "the look tonight indicated, 'let's run for the hills.'" Maddon was clearly relishing the chance to beat Nathan in the first game of a three game series, so that if they saw Nathan again in the next two days, the blown save would weigh on his mind, and Maddon and his Rays might be able to exploit that and get to him again.
"Strike all the way," said Nathan through laughter.