If you saw the end of Thursday night’s Game 5 in the Giants/Dodgers division series, you should be outraged at this call, even if you’re not a Giants fan:
Absolutely unbelievable.— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) October 15, 2021
Umpire Gabe Morales eliminated the Giants from the playoffs with a blown check swing call to Wilmer Flores.#Giants #Dodgers #LADvSF pic.twitter.com/8LiUDSR6fo
Listen to the very brief comments toward the end of that clip from TBS announcers Brian Anderson and Ron Darling. They knew that wasn’t a swing. Wilmer Flores, the batter, knew that wasn’t a swing. I’d guess everyone in Oracle Park — maybe even the few Dodgers fans in attendance — knew that wasn’t a swing.
But first base umpire Gabe Morales called it a swing, and the game was over, the Dodgers thus winners and headed to the NLCS against the Braves.
The reality is that most check swings are, in fact, swings. But that one clearly wasn’t, and you could tell even before looking at a zillion replays. Beyond that, how can an umpire end a game that way — especially a game that decides the winner of a postseason series? Here’s what Morales said after the game:
From ump Gabe Morales, who made the final call: "Check swings are one of the hardest calls we have. I don't have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I'm watching it live. When it happened live, I thought he went, so that's why I called it a swing."— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 15, 2021
Asked if he still thought he made the right call, crew chief Ted Barrett answered: "Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn't want to say."— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 15, 2021
Umpires will rarely say they blew a call, but basically, they’re saying the call was blown.
The Giants were very, very unlikely to score off Max Scherzer anyway. Scherzer wound up posting the first save of his professional career. But that call was absolute nonsense.
Morales’ bad call to end the game wasn’t the only atrocious call of Game 5. Plate umpire Doug Eddings missed ball-and-strike calls all night, but this sequence seemed the worst:
All of us know how good Kris Bryant’s strike zone judgment is from his six-plus years as a Cub. In this fourth-inning at-bat he takes five consecutive pitches out of the strike zone — except two of them are called strikes (pitches three and five), so instead of a walk, KB has a 3-2 count on which he struck out swinging on pitch 6, the only one of this at-bat actually in the zone.
In that inning, leadoff hitter Brandon Crawford had singled. If Bryant walks, putting runners on first and second with nobody out, perhaps the Giants score a run or two. Maybe they go to the ninth with the lead in that case. Obviously, we’ll never know. Here’s video of a couple of pitches from the Bryant at-bat where you can see how bad the calls were:
Umpire Doug Eddings just blew two pitches in a single Kris Bryant at bat. Instead of drawing a walk, Bryant would end up striking out.#Giants #Dodgers #LADvsSF pic.twitter.com/pjf72uIiIg— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) October 15, 2021
Here’s how Eddings did overall in Game 5, which might surprise you:
Umpire: Doug Eddings— Umpire Scorecards (@UmpScorecards) October 15, 2021
Final: Giants 1, Dodgers 2#ResilientSF // #Dodgers#SFvsLAD // #LADvsSF pic.twitter.com/MX0tUmJwzs
The worst missed calls, as noted, were the ones on Bryant.
You’ve seen me use the @UmpScorecards Twitter account here before. This article in The Athletic is about Ethan Singer, the Boston University student who runs it, and other efforts to quantify what umpires do.
The automated strike zone, which has been used at some levels of the minor leagues, is being tested in the Arizona Fall League this month and next. MLB wants to make sure the technology works well before putting it in place in the major leagues, and I’d agree with that. Everyone — pitchers, hitters, umpires — is going to have to make adjustments when the so-called “robot umpires” are finally made reality.
In the meantime, I would suggest this: In addition to the current replay challenge system, I would give each manager two ball-and-strike challenges per game, with no additional such challenges allowed even if the manager gets one right. This would allow the most egregiously bad ball-and-strike calls to be overturned, while not slowing games down too much. I would include in this system calls like the check swing on Wilmer Flores in Game 5, a call that would certainly have been overturned, with the at-bat thus continuing.
With only two chances to overturn a bad ball-and-strike call, managers would save challenges like that for the worst of the worst — like the call on Flores, or maybe one of the calls earlier in the game on Bryant.
MLB simply cannot afford to have something like Thursday’s call, where a team’s season ended on a terrible umpiring decision.