One of the things I enjoy about baseball is ridiculously biased broadcasters. I know that's something a lot of you don't like about baseball. But I enjoy it. Baseball's more interesting when it's dramatic, and it's more dramatic when there's conflict, and there's more conflict when the broadcasters can't see straight.
Anyway, this came to mind today during the Royals-Indians game. I'm watching the Indians' broadcast, featuring Rick Manning and Matt Underwood. Maybe not a top-tier duo, but they're pretty good. Professional, for sure. Except maybe when a close call goes against their club.
In the top of the first inning, with two runs already in, Scott Kazmir got ahead of Justin Maxwell and threw a pitch that looked really close to being a called strike three. So close, in fact, that both Kazmir and catcher Yan Gomes took a few steps toward the dugout.
Not so fast. Plate umpire Mike Estabrook's right arm never went up. Just a bit outside, he said.
Take it away, Rick and Matt:
Manning: And now Gomes is going to talk to the umpire and say, "What are you doing?" I mean, that pitch is right there ... They couldn't believe it.
Underwood: You have to hope that he just missed that, because if that's how the small the zone's going to be--
Manning: Well, it was close. We'll see, when Shields gets out there, we'll see. That pitch was on the outside part of the plate. Remember now, to a right-hander. We'll have to remember that part of the zone.
Underwood: All of a sudden this will be an eight-pitch at-bat for Maxwell at least.
Yeah, sometimes you get that extra strike and it makes that pitcher work that much extra harder.
Underwood: We talked to, who was it, Chad Ogea just the other night about that. You throw a pitch and you know it's a strike--
At which point Maxwell floated a single into left field, and Underwood said, "Well, he should have been out of the inning, and now he's going to have to continue to work hard."
Next up: Lorenzo Cain with runners on first and second. After taking a pitch, Cain cranked an RBI single into center field. Underwood: So the Royals got an extra strike, and boy have they taken advantage of it.
That "extra" strike? It's Pitch No. 5 in this sequence:
Was that a strike? Quite possibly. This two-dimensional representation can mislead us, but you can certainly understand why the pitcher and the catcher and the guys in the booth thought it was a strike. You can also understand why the umpire didn't call the strike. When a pitch is crossing the plate at 90 miles per hour, as this one was, it's almost impossible for the umpire to tell for sure if one sliver of the baseball clipped one edge of the strike zone. The umpires almost have to guess, and they're doing well to get those right more than half the time.
As a fan, it's natural to complain about every borderline call. Especially in the midst of an improbable late-season run for a playoff spot. As a broadcaster, it's only slightly less natural. And I'm happy to have the complaints.