The big story around the division over the weekend was a near perfect game pitched against the Pittsburgh Pirates by Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals.
Scherzer retired 26 straight men to the start game before facing pinch-hitter Jose Tabata, one out away from tossing the 24th perfect game in MLB history.
I hopped over to the Wikipedia entry to see the exact date of the last perfect game and an entry was already in there for Scherzer’s perfect game as somebody wanted to make sure they had added something the second that the 27th out was recorded.
I was about an hour south of Chicago, visiting my dad for Father’s Day, and we were watching the game together, thinking we might be witnessing history. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Scherzer recorded two quick strikes as Tabata fouled off a fastball and slider. Scherzer had the look of a pit bull from the 8th inning onward and I didn’t see any way he wouldn’t get the job done. It just looked meant to be.
Even the baseball gods seemed to be looking out for him. The 8th inning ended with a Pedro Alvarez grounder in the hole to the right side that looked a single, only the shift allowed the chance of a ground out, a sure play was made and with Alvarez’s lack of speed, the 24th out was recorded.
Versus Tabata, Scherzer followed up with two balls before inducing foul balls on three straight 2-2 pitches.
I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but it always seems to me like if you get into a situation where the pitcher can’t put the batter away and he keeps fouling off pitch after pitch that it’s damned near inevitable for the batter to come away with the win in that plate appearance.
After three fouls balls, doubt started to creep into my mind. I pictured a walk. A double laced down the right field line. Something that would break it up.
But I certainly didn’t expect what happened.
Scherzer threw a slider inside. A slider that didn’t quite slide. The pitch caught Tabata on the elbow.
Both my father and I immediately shouted a bit at the screen because it sure looked like Tabata had dropped his elbow into the pitch.
The replay pretty well confirmed what we had seen on the initial pitch – he appeared to lower his left elbow, making sure the pitch caught him on the elbow guard.
I know the rule book states that a batter must make an effort to get out of the way of the pitch or the hit batter ruling can be taken away. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it happen a few times. I seem to recall seeing a few HBPs taken away from Reed Johnson a few years ago, for example.
I’ve read a lot of thoughts on this, but my dad and I both found it to be kind of “Bush League” and I still maintain that that’s exactly what it was.
Len Kasper (TV play-by-play man for the Chicago Cubs) Tweeted out something to the tune of “Since when is it a batter’s job to help a pitcher get a perfect game? I must have missed the memo.”
I’m not a big fan of the “unwritten rules of the game”, but… I guess there are some cases where I make an exception.
Stealing bases when you’re up by 8 runs in the later innings, for example. Yep. That one is off-sides to me. Not cool.
A batter running across the pitcher’s mound on his way back to the dugout? That’s not worth a fight. I don’t care about that one. Not a fan of pitcher’s feeling that the pile of dirt somehow belongs to them.
Dropping a bunt to break up a perfect game, like Ben Davis famously did in May of 2001 against Curt Schilling? That one didn’t bother me. And I bring that up because that’s a play that seemed to be brought up in comparison to what Tabata did.
The differences, however, are pretty large.
In the Schilling game, his team was up just 2-0. It was the 8th inning, with one out. There was still plenty of time left for the San Diego Padres to come back and win that game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Schilling was still 5 outs away from the perfecto. A single would bring the tying run to the plate. There were plenty of circumstances which, put together, make me feel that manager Bob Brenly has always been in the wrong about this.
But on Saturday, Tabata and the Pirates were down to their final out. 1 out remaining, not 5. And his team was down 6 runs, not 2. Down 2 with 1 out in the 8th is a lot different than down 6 with 2 outs in the 9th.
In fact, in Davis’ situation, his team had a 7.4% win expectancy. Still got a decent pulse there. That’s slightly better than a 1 in 14 chance of winning. Not the best odds, but still plenty manageable.
In Tabata’s situation, however… Well, let’s look at the play-by-play data from 1957 onward that is used to construct Win Expectancy charts. In the 57-plus years of data, do you know how many times a visiting team has been down by 6 runs with nobody on base and two outs in the 9th inning and come back to win?
The answer is zero.
Now I don’t expect Tabata to be aware of that fact, but he had to at least be aware that his team had virtually no chance of winning that game.
Granted, some of this is also fueled by some big Pirates fans I have known who have gone on and on about how much they dislike Tabata and how they found him to be a horrible person. And the post-game write-up in the Post-Gazette didn’t help, as it made reference to Tabata giving a little smirk and joking about it afterwards in a way that kind of made it sound like “Ya, it was a cheap thing to do, but I’m really happy to be hated by millions of baseball fans right now. Screw everybody. Is there a baby nearby that I can steal candy from?”
Sure, Tabata is fighting to maintain a roster spot, but I can’t imagine drawing a hit-by-pitch in that situation is really going to do anything to convince the front office that he belongs on the team. A player whose OPS+ has hovered in the low 80s for the last two seasons isn’t convincing anybody he’s found his swing by doing what he did.
To the credit of Scherzer, who still celebrated wildly after recording the no-hitter by retiring the 28th man he faced, he had this to say after the game, putting the blame squarely on himself:
It was a slider that just backed up, and it hit him. I don’t blame him for doing it. I mean, heck, I’d probably do the same thing.
Tabata is going to be portrayed as a villain for a long time to come and I can’t really argue against that. Yes, your job is to win games. But there is also honor in sports. Or at least there should be.
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|St. Louis Cardinals||45||24||–||L1|
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|39-31||Dodgers||Kershaw (5-4, 3.29)|
|37-30||CUBS||Wada (1-1, 3.68)|
|7:05 PM CT|
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