Mets' Michael Conforto claims no foul play in awkward walk-off

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Scott Thompson
·3 min read
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Michael Conforto before controversial hit by pitch
Michael Conforto before controversial hit by pitch

The last time fans were at Citi Field, they saw Dom Smith walk it off with a homer back in September 2019. In the home opener of the 2021 season with the seats filled once again, Michael Conforto was the walk-off hero, but not at all in the same fashion that Smith got it done.

With the bases loaded in a 2-2 game against the Miami Marlins on Thursday afternoon, Conforto had an 0-2 count against Anthony Bass, the Marlins’ closer. Bass offered him a slider that looked like it was going to be called a strike. But Conforto appeared to lean into the pitch, and it caught his elbow guard. The result? Game over.

“A win is a win. It’s over,” Conforto told the media about the controversial play after the game. “But obviously I’d like to use the bat next time for sure.”

Conforto admitted it was hard celebrating because he realized after the fact what was happening. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa initially called strike three on Conforto to make it two outs, but after realizing the ball hit him, he pointed to first base instead. And since a play like that isn’t reviewable, there is nothing the umpires can do but talk amongst themselves to see if Conforto did in fact lean in, or not make an effort to get out of the way of the pitch.

Thanks to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, Statcast showed the pitch was in the strike zone and MLB Rule 5.05(b)(2) states that the batter should be ruled out regardless of whether the pitch hit him.

“The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out," Kulpa said about the at-bat.

“From my point of view, it was a slider,” Conforto said, adding that “battle mode” has him closer to the plate with two strikes. “Felt like it was coming back to me and I turned. There may have been a little lift in my elbow just out of habit, out of reaction and it barely skimmed the edge of my elbow guard. And I did see that he rung me up. I think that’s why he didn’t see a reaction from me right away. I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

Instant replay showed Don Mattingly and the Marlins had themselves a case, and Mattingly even said after the game that he thinks Kulpa feels bad about the call.

“To be honest with you, I bet he feels awful because they don’t want to do that either.”

Luis Rojas also gave his two cents, saying that he doesn’t believe Conforto leaned in to get hit purposefully.

“Definitely interesting. I’ve never seen that when it gets reversed,” he said. “I saw the strike call and then I saw the hit-by-pitch call. Ultimately, the umpires, they got to make the right call. I looked at the replay, just looked at the replay, I didn’t look at it enough. I turned and looked at the Jumbotron. I don’t think he leans in, that’s not his instinct. That’s kinda like how he moves his hands.

“We’ll take that call and take the walk-off.”

At the end of the day, the main takeaway is this: If Kulpa was going to ring up Conforto on that pitch before he was hit with it, doesn't that tell the umpire crew somethings just a little fishy? Kulpa said it after the fact, but in the heat of the moment, his mind wasn't thinking about that rule.

Oh well. Conforto knows that controversy will come out of this wild home opener, but like he said, there’s nothing to do about it. The umpires made the call, and the only reason the headset went on was to confirm Conforto was struck by the pitch.

The best one he’s ever gotten plucked by.

“Yeah, by far,” he said.