In the first game of the American League Championship Series, home plate umpire James Hoye stole the show more often than he probably intended. He ejected Red Sox manager Alex Cora in the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes, several of which were questionable calls. The Sox lost to the Astros, 7-2, but the game was tied at two after five innings.
Joe Kelly began the top of the six on the mound for Boston, and let’s just say it was probably for the best that Cora had already been ejected. With runners on first and second with no one out, Tyler White came to bat for Houston. Kelly’s second pitch, called a ball, is presented below:
This pitch was called a ball. pic.twitter.com/drr0zGW0Ht— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) October 14, 2018
The pitch was middle-middle. Frankly, it’s hard to throw a more blatant strike than that, yet the count went to 2-0. White popped out harmlessly to second base a few pitches later, but clearly that at bat could have been a disaster. It’s easy, and perhaps a little lazy, to just blame Hoye for missing a clear strike call. In reality, it takes a total group effort of failure from everyone involved for things to go this wrong. Who else is to blame here, and how much?
Pitcher Joe Kelly: 35 percent
How can we blame Kelly for throwing a strike that’s called a ball? Isn’t he the victim here? Yes, and no. Kelly throws really hard. In fact, his average fastball velocity is 98.5 miles per hour. Normally, that’s not a problem for his catcher, who in this case is Christian Vazquez. However, when Vazquez expects a fastball but gets a breaking ball instead, Kelly’s elite velocity means there’s very little time to react.
With a runner on second base, Kelly and Vazquez clearly weren’t on the same page. Normally, one finger is a fastball, two is a curve, three means slider, and so on. When a runner reaches second base, the pitcher and catcher have to change things up so the runner can’t relay the pitch call to the batter. Whatever signal Vazquez put down, he thought it meant fastball while Kelly read it as a breaking pitch. We can’t know for sure who was right and who was wrong, but we’ll assign Kelly 35 percent of the blame for crossing up Vazquez.
Catcher Christian Vazquez: 40 percent
According to QCbaseball.com, here is a summary of how to frame a pitch:
When you frame the pitch, try to give the umpire a clear view of where you caught the ball. To do this, catch the ball out in front of your body with a slightly bent elbow. If you catch the ball close to your body, it doesn’t matter what you do with your glove, the umpire will not see it. Once you have caught the ball, you move your arm and/or glove a couple of inches towards the center of the plate.
Did Vazquez give Hoye a clear view? Nope. In fact, he jumped in front of his field of vision, completely obstructing him from the play.
How about catching the ball in front of his body with elbow bent? Well, when he initially catches the ball, it’s somewhere around his knee pads. This is because he nearly jumped off the ground to catch this belt-high pitch.
How about moving his glove a few inches toward the center? Sort of. He catches the ball with a stabbing maneuver that brings his glove south of the strike zone, then tries to settle back down to a normal catching position as if nobody noticed.
All in all, this is vomit-worthy pitch framing from Vazquez, and it caused a near-certain strike to be called a ball. Really, he’s lucky to only get 40 percent of the blame.
Batter Tyler White, 10 percent
Forget the catcher and umpire for a moment. This was a hanging breaking ball in the middle of the plate. What was Tyler White waiting for? Here was his best pitch to hit in the plate appearance. Much like Vazquez, White appears to expect a fastball, and ducks out of the way. This was hardly a knee buckling curve, yet White’s knees undeniably buckle. It’s not a good look for a professional hitter; no wonder he popped out two pitches later.
White could’ve saved us all a lot of trouble by treating this poorly-located junk pitch with the disrespect it deserves. If he drives it into the left-center field gap, we aren’t having this conversation. For that, we’ll blame White 10 percent.
Umpire James Hoye, 80000 percent
C’MON BLUE HOW CAN YOU MISS THAT CALL!?!?! THAT’S A STRIKE ALL DAY LONG! GET SOME GLASSES!!! YOU HAVE ONE JOB, MAN!!!
Did you really think we would get out of this without blaming the umpire? Who cares that he was blocked by a crossed-up catcher who jumped in front of his face? The entire point of umpires is to be professional scapegoats. Otherwise we’d just use robots.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983