The Brewers won game one of the NLCS. Watching the game it is hard to dispute the outcome. The Brewers appeared to be the better team. The Dodgers played awful, committing four errors (two by catcher Yasmani Grandal, along with two passed balls). The Brewers didn’t play great, but they were better than the Dodgers. But I think both teams had a better game than the umpires. The main issue with this is there is a very simple fix for bad umpire calls, and baseball’s reluctance to do enough to correct it is irritating. Let’s look at specifics in yesterday’s game:
Brewer’s third inning Dodgers up 1-0: Brandon Woodruff homers, Lorenzo Cain walks, Christian Yelich, on a 3-2 pitch, takes for what is called ball four. The strike zone graphic shows that the pitch should have been strike three (the announcers say nothing, even though as we’ll later see it costs the Dodgers a run). Ryan Braun fouls out for first out. Runners advance to 2nd and 3rd on pass ball. Jesus Anguilar reaches on catcher’s interference (a good call), Hernan Perez flies to center, scoring Cain. Mike Moustakas strikes out. Inning ends with Brewers up 2-1. This is speculative, because you never know what happens if home-plate umpire Scott Barry calls Yelich out, as he should of, but Perez’ fly ball to center would have been the third out leaving the score tied at 1-1 entering the 4th inning.
Bottom of 4th, Manny Pina takes a 2-2 pitch that’s clearly a strike and Barry again misses it and calls it a ball (the announcers do notice this one). Pina then walks on the 3-2 pitch. Arcia then singles to left and when Chris Taylor muffed the ball in left field the runners advance to 2nd and 3rd. Domingo Santana singles driving in two. Santana’s hit knocks out Clayton Kershaw. Ryan Madson comes in. Cain flies out. Christian Yelich now at the plate; Santana attempts to steal 2nd and is called out by 2nd base umpire Gerry Davis.The Brewers challenge the call at 2nd, and it is overturned (as it should have been). The pitch that Yelich took on the steal attempt was clearly strike three, but Barry missed it again (the announcer make a big deal about the call at 2nd base, but say nothing about bad call at the plate). That botched call isn’t significant, because Yelich strikes out swinging on next pitch. Ryan Braun then delivers a two-out single to drive in Santana. Aguilar lines to second. Brewers lead 5-1, but if Barry had correctly called Pina out on the 2-2 pitch the score would now be 3-1, only 2-1 if he hadn’t blown the third strike call to Yelich in the 3rd inning.
Again, Aguilar homers in the 7th to make the score 6-1 going in to the top of the 8th. Xavier Cedeno pitching for Brewers; Yasmani Grandal singles to center, Joc Pederson hits into fielder’s choice, Grandal out at 2nd. Joakim Sorio replaces Cedeno, Justin Turner, after fouling off three straight pitches with two strikes on him, is punched out by Barry on a pitch that was clearly outside (announcers did noticed the call, and brought it up several more times during the remainder of the game). With two outs Max Muncy walks, Jeremy Jeffress replaces Sorio, Manny Machado singles in two, followed by Matt Kemp driving in Muncy. Yasiel Puig then strikes out, leaving the score 6-4 Brewers.
Seriously, again, bottom of 8th, Kenta Maeda pitching, Erik Kratz is called out on a 3-2 pitch that is clearly low. Cain then reaches when Turner misplays a ground ball. Yelich hits into a double-play. Who knows what happens if Yelich hits with two on and nobody out, as it should have been. Dodgers enter top of 9th down 6-4.
With Cody Bellinger up, Brewers load up the right side of infield with third baseman Mike Moustakas playing on first base side of 2nd base. Bellinger hits a hard ground ball that Moustakas makes a diving stop and throws to first. On a close play, first base umpire Alan Porter calls Bellinger safe. The Brewers again challenge, and the call again is correctly overturned for the first out. Grandal strikes out for the 2nd out. Pederson walks, then Taylor triples to right-center. This brings up Justin Turner again, with two outs and the tying run on 3rd base. Turner strikes out swinging on a 2-2 pitch that is clearly out of the strike zone. Brewers win 6-5.
Here’s baseball’s problem. Before video replays were available umpires eyes were the only way to call a game. Generally they did a pretty good job, but mainly there was no other way to do it. It took a while, but baseball finally did the right thing and began using replays on plays on the bases. This game is a great example of this. The replay on the Santana steal in the 4th inning allowed the Brewers to score their 5th run. Since they won by only one getting the call right was crucial. Same goes for the call on Bellinger in the 9th. If the bad call stands, and the inning continues as it did, then Taylor’s triple drives in two and the game is tied with Turner batting and the go ahead run on 3rd with one out. The call saved the game for the Brewers, but more important, it reflected well on baseball itself.
The other side of this, of course, is that by allowing the wrong calls to stand on strike three to Yelich in the 3rd and Pina in the 4th it allows the fans to cry foul, knowing that those two calls led to three runs by the Brewers in a game they won by one. You can make a very good argument that the Dodgers should have led 5-3 going into the bottom of the 9th.Calling balls and strikes is very difficult, and this is not a knock on Scott Barry, but if the fans watching the game can instantly see that the umpire blew a ball-strike call then baseball has a major problem. The technology is obviously their to get the call correct the first time. So why wouldn’t you use it?