A Rant About the Marlins-Mets Game-Winning HBP
WARNING: This will be a rant, as per the title of the article. I wouldn't lie to you. It'll be aggressive at times. I will use some foul language. But when it's over, it's over. I will have gotten it all out of me and there will be nothing left to discuss on my end. I pinky swear. Now, let's talk (rant) about the gargantuan fucking pile of bullshit that was the Marlins-Mets game-winning HBP that occurred yesterday.
I think most people know what happened by now. Most national sports outlets are talking about this incident today. But in case you missed it, here's what took place in the bottom of the 9th in the Marlins-Mets game yesterday.
The Marlins entered the bottom of the 9th clinging to a 2-1 lead. The Fish brought in "closer" Anthony Bass, who promptly gave up a game-tying bomb to Jeff McNeil, the first batter he faced. Bass got the next batter to ground out, then allowed a single and a double, then intentionally walked Francisco Lindor to get to Michael Conforto. Bases juiced, one out, tie game, winning run 90 feet away.
Walking Lindor was an obvious choice for Don Mattingly. Lindor appeared to be seeing the ball well yesterday, while Conforto has struggled all season. Sure enough, Conforto took very-hittable breaking balls for strikes one and two. Just not picking it up out of the hand it seemed. He then fouled off a fastball, fouled off a slider, and took a fastball up and away. Now's when things got hairy.
Bass threw yet another slider to Conforto. It was supposed to be down and in, but Bass left it up. This gave Conforto the chance to stick his heavily-padded elbow out over the plate and get nicked by the pitch. Chad Wallach still caught the ball pitch convincingly, after which home plate umpire Ron Kulpa took a step back and extended his right arm, clearly signifying he was going to ring up Conforto for the strikeout.
Except, he didn't. Mid-punch out, Kulpa stopped and tapped his left arm, indicating Conforto had gotten hit by the pitch. He awarded him first base and the winning run scored for the Mets.
Don Mattingly argued the call, obviously, but there was nothing Kulpa or the umpires could do because no part of the play not reviewable. Game over. Mets win.
Where to begin on this abomination to the game of baseball? First of all, Kulpa should have clearly seen Michael Conforto exaggeratedly sticking his elbow over the plate. It's right in front of his fucking face. Literally two feet away. Conforto squatted down to do it and everything. At least this is a judgment call, though. Umpires are human, after all. What isn't a judgment call, however, is whether or not you can legally get hit by a pitch in the strike zone (you cannot).
Rule 5.05(b) in the baseball rulebook states that a legal hit-by-pitch must occur outside of the strike zone. If the pitch is in the zone, it doesn't matter if the hitter tries to get out of the way or not. At that point, it makes no difference if Conforto tried to get plunked or if he fainted during Bass's windup, fell forward over the plate, and got hit in the forehead. Means nothing. It's a strike. Plain and simple.
But Ron Kulpa got it backwards. He knew it was a strike. The pitch was comfortably in the upper left corner of the zone. His move to punch out Conforto indicated as much. Then Kulpa legitimately forgot the rules of the sport he's paid to officiate. He stopped striking out Conforto in order to signal he got hit by the pitch, suggesting the HBP trumps the strike call. It's the other way around, pal.
A Major League Baseball umpire forgot the rules of baseball at the most pivotal moment in a game. Read that again. Read it ten more fucking times if you have to. Whatever makes that ludicrous statement sink in.
But Wait, There's More!
You know what? Maybe Mr. Kulpa just had a little brain fart. Happens to the best of us. This is a relatively obscure rule, to be fair. Perhaps he just forgot strikes can't be HBPs. Fine.
But why was it not fixed immediately?!?!
Kulpa converged with the field umpires to discuss the incident after Mattingly came out of the dugout to argue. It seemed the lack of reviewing capabilities led to them letting the play stand. You can't review a strike/ball call and you can't review a HBP. Whatever. Can you review the fact that one of you shitheads got the rules wrong, though?! Is that something you can discuss amongst yourselves?! Kulpa went from calling a strike to calling a HBP, which is, factually, against the rules. Can't happen. Not allowed. All Kulpa needed to do after his meeting was say Conforto was out. It was a strike. You can't get hit on one of those. Two outs, bases still loaded, game still tied.
There is no need for a review. To hell with the stupid review. If the rules were incorrectly enforced, they should be able to rectify the situation. They are able to rectify the situation. Instead, Kulpa and Co. decided to hide behind no replay. "Sorry, Donnie, I can't go watch a replay that shows how much I suck ass. You guys lose."
Imagine not being able to overturn a deviation from the rules? If umpires granted a team four outs in an inning, would they be able to fix that once they realized what happened? If a basketball referee gave a team five points on a three-pointer, could they adjust the score afterwards? 'Cause, you know, you technically can't review those plays either.
No. Of course you can fix that problem. And they would (I hope). But Ron Kulpa and his fellow mouth-breathers didn't.
Which Team Are You Again?
As per Craig Mish, the Marlins spoke to the league office about the incident, but there was no grounds or precedent to protest the result of the game or overturn the call. Mind you, Kulpa admitted after the game that he should have called Conforto out on strikes. Nope. Not good enough. Sorry, Miami.
I really hate playing the "it's 'cause we're the Marlins" card, but goddamnit is it tough to avoid here. Seriously, if the Yankees lost a game to the Red Sox because a Sox player lunged in front of a pitch the umpire knew was a strike, but called a dead ball anyway, the league office would create the fucking grounds and/or precedent needed to get the call overturned. New York media would explode. You can't have games being affected because of a failure to abide by baseball's official rules.
Except one did. The Marlins-Mets game did yesterday. And now the league office has notified the Marlins that they will just have to enjoy the shit sandwich they were served. Yum.
In the grand scheme of things, losing yesterday's game on an ump-show debacle matters little to the Marlins' 162-game season. Pete Alonso probably would have followed up Conforto's K with a 750-foot grand slam off Anthony Bass. The main issues for the Marlins are the shoddy bullpen, anemic lineup, and the Alfaro/Wallach tandem behind the plate, all of which need to improve, like, yesterday.
Many people will direct their vitriol towards Michael Conforto. I personally don't care that he stuck his elbow out. He didn't have much of a chance in that at bat. I call that gamesmanship.
As for Ron "I Can Do Anything I Want" Kulpa, I think his performance was as on-brand as it gets. It's just maddening that the whole crew, and then Major League Baseball, refused to rectify the obvious and egregious error, an error not just in judgment, but in immediate knowledge of the game. Let's hope the next time Kulpa is behind the plate he has a motherfucking rulebook on him.