The American League West race is close enough in mid-July that it's easy to envision a photo finish between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels. Entering play on Saturday, Oakland holds a 2 1/2 game lead over LA, with the Seattle Mariners lurking in the distance at eight games back. It's a race that, as the old baseball cliches suggests, could come down to one game, one play, and even one pitch, to decide a winner.
With that in mind, there was an awfully big pitch during Friday night's battle between the A's and Mariners at Safeco Field. With the tying run at third, two outs and a 3-2 count on Oakland's Nick Punto, Seattle closer Fernando Rodney pumped in a fastball that at first glance appeared to be up and off the plate. Punto agreed with that assessment and laid off the pitch thinking he'd drawn a game-extending walk. However, home plate umpire James Hoye rang him up to end the game and give Seattle a 3-2 win.
An unhappy Punto immediately slammed his batting helmet to the ground with both hands and argued with Hoye, who ejected him from the game that at that point was over. According to Susan Slusser, a post-game ejection should result in a fine, but it's unclear if he could face another fine for the helmet toss.
Either way, it was a frustrating sequence for Punto and for manager Bob Melvin, who also got the post-game heave-ho from Hoye. But was the call as bad as their reactions might indicate?
A look at MLB.com's Gameday says it was borderline.
fancy graphic from Brooks Baseball that indicates the pitch barely pierced the top corner, which in Punto's case would be the inside corner.There's also a
It's a tough call to make with the game on the line, and perhaps in this case we were all a little bit startled because we're not as accustomed to seeing the high strike called. To that point, if Hoye wasn't calling them consistently throughout the game, then the anger is certainly justified, even if the call was technically correct.
On the other side of the spectrum, Rodney never had a doubt about the call, or so he jokingly says.
Rodney on whether last pitch to Punto was a strike: "All my pitches are strikes."
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) July 12, 2014
As for Punto, a cooler head prevailed in the clubhouse, though his frustration was still evident.
"A little up, a little in," said Punto, who is friendly with Hoye and said they go back a long way. "In the heat of the moment, it gets to you. A big at-bat. ... I put myself in a good position to get on base. It just didn't work out."
If it makes Punto feel any better, his wife immediately came to his defense on Twitter. In fact, she provided the quote of the night.
Ball was higher then my boobs and not my old boobs... I might of had the same reaction as nick just a dish towel instead of a helmet :/
— Natalie Punto (@MsShredderpunto) July 12, 2014
All's well that ends with a chuckle, but if for some reason the A's don't get the last laugh in the AL west, this could be the game (and the pitch) they point to as a difference maker.
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