Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
Thursday night in Oakland was no place to be if you were a pitcher looking for a close strike call. Home plate umpire Paul Nauert had a postage stamp strike zone and it cost Oakland much more than it cost the Yankees.
Nauert was squeezing (tight strike zone) both Yankee starter Andy Pettitte and Oakland starter Joe Blanton and while, as Yankee announcer and former catcher John Flaherty pointed out early and often, both pitchers were getting squeezed, the situation for Blanton cost Oakland the game.
There were numerous examples. In the bottom of the second, with Oakland’s catcher Kurt Suzuki up, both the 1-0 and, especially, the 2-1 pitch were called high. Pettitte literally asked Nauert where the 2-1 pitch was and he indicated it was high.
Announcer John Flaherty mentioned the tight strike zone on the first pitch to Derek Jeter in the top of the third. It was a strike (called a ball) and Flaherty had his theme for the game. In the top of the fourth, Blanton’s first pitch to A-Rod certainly looked like a strike but was called a ball. Blanton had to come in with a 2-0 pitch that A-Rod singled to center. In the same inning, Blanton’s 0-2 pitch to Hideki Matsui was such a strike (called a ball) that announcer Ken Singleton said maybe that was Matsui’s birthday gift.
While Blanton escaped that inning, the end was near.
Why is this important? Because many think this stuff “evens out.” But it really doesn’t. Some pitchers get squeezed in an unimportant situation. Others get squeezed with the game on the line. The latter eventually would happen to Joe Blanton.
Back to the game. In the top of the fourth, Andy Pettitte threw his own 0-2 strike to Mark Ellis, called a ball by Nauert. It’s interesting that many umpires, including this one, will call the 0-2 strike a ball because, for decades, pitchers were conditioned to “waste one” and umpires were conditioned to understand that. With pitch counts more important than ever before, we’re starting to see more and more pitchers NOT waste the 0-2 pitch. The umps, hopefully, will eventually adapt to this change. In any event, Ellis would wind up singling off Pettitte. Then the first pitch to Emil Brown, called a ball, sure looked like a strike to this writer and, more importantly, to John Flaherty. But Pettitte bore down and got out of the inning, now trailing 1-0 after five innings.
The roof caved in on Blanton in the sixth. With Jeter on first, both the 2-1 and 3-2 pitches to Bobby Abreu looked like strikes but were called balls. With Jeter running on the 3-2, former catcher Flaherty pointed out that Oakland catcher Suzuki came up throwing because he thought it was strike three. But it was ball four, setting up first and second for A-Rod.
The first pitch to A-Rod looked like a strike, called a ball, prompting announcer Flaherty to again comment on the “small strike zone tonight.” The 1-1 pitch was also very close, called a ball, prompting Flaherty to say that, at least, the strike zone was “tight both ways.” True, but soon to be irrelevant. The 3-1 pitch to A-Rod was very close, ruled low, causing A’s manager Bob Geren to berate the ump from the dugout.
With Hideki Matsui up (after the pitching coach visited Blanton), bases loaded, nobody out and with a one-run lead, Blanton obviously had no place to put Matsui. Maybe tired of nibbling and not getting the calls or maybe just afraid (given the small strike zone) to walk across the tying run, Blanton threw the 1-1 pitch down the middle and Matsui hit a grand slam to make it 4-1. Game over (final score Yankees 4, A’s 1).
Never doubt that an umpire’s strike zone can greatly determine the outcome of a game. While many will say “that’s baseball” and there’s an element of truth in that, be aware of situations where the tight zone, even though it’s called that way for both teams, greatly dictates the outcome of the game. That’s what happened to Joe Blanton and the Oakland A’s in their loss to the New York Yankees on Thursday night, June 12, 2008.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.