The pitch was a strike. Or, at least, the pitch should’ve been a strike. We know that because it looked like a strike in real time with the naked eye, and it looked like a strike on the replay with slow motion, and it looked like a strike with that zone they super-impose on the broadcast, and it looked like a strike with the technology we have in 2015 to know these types of things.
In reality, none of that matters, but we are almost out of clarity on this particular point of a playoff game.
Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez’s full-count pitch to Jose Bautista was called a ball, and the walk turned into an important moment of what eventually became the Royals’ 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series here at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday.
OK, no more clarity. Now is where the vagueness begins. Vagueness and a bizarre bunch of confusion inside the Royals’ clubhouse.
“You could argue I got the benefit of a borderline call,” Bautista said.
Here it is worth mentioning that Bautista is — how do we put this? — the kind of ballplayer who often has a different definition of “borderline call” when he is at the plate. How confident was he, after taking the pitch, that it was ball four?
“I wasn’t,” Bautista said. “But I did. I was relieved after.”
Alcides Escobar, watching from his position at shortstop, gestured and screamed toward home plate umpire Dan Iassogna. Here it is worth mentioning that Escobar cannot remember ever arguing balls and strikes while on defense.
“I never say nothing to those guys,” Escobar said of umpires. “I respect those guys. But in a situation like that, the pitcher, when he does a really good pitch like that, you need to give it to the pitcher — 3-2, right down on the corner. He called a ball, that’s no ball. If it’s a strike, call it a strike.”
Bautista’s walk loaded the bases for cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Royals manager Ned Yost said he thought Volquez’s stuff was still strong, and a decent bet for a double play, so he left reliever Kelvin Herrera in the bullpen. Volquez walked Encarnacion on another close call, plating a run for the Blue Jays. Yost made the move to the bullpen then, and on his way back to the dugout argued the calls with Iassogna.
“I thought the pitch to Bautista was definitely a strike,” Yost said.
The frustration only grew when Troy Tulowitzki roped a line drive to left center field, scoring three runs and pushing the Blue Jays’ advantage to 5-0.
The Royals are making habit of wild comebacks, but didn’t have one here. They managed just four hits. Aside from catcher Salvador Perez’s home run, the offense didn’t do much — certainly not enough to hang the game on one missed call.
That call was a turning point, so it might be worth examining anyway. But it rises to another level with a strange bit of postgame he-said, he-said.
Volquez appeared to drop a fairly interesting bit of news when he mentioned that Perez told him Iassogna apologized for missing the call.
“That’s what Salvy told me when I came in,” Volquez said, then paraphrased what Perez told him the umpire said:
“I thought it was a ball, but it was a strike.”
In a different part of the interview, Volquez basically wondered whether Iassogna was intimidated by the crowd.
“He might get nervous a little bit,” Volquez said. “It’s a big game for Toronto. The fans all over him, probably.”
But now our story takes a turn. We wait in the Royals’ clubhouse for Perez, who definitely thought the call was missed.
“Nobody’s perfect, you know what I mean?” he said. “He thinks it’s a strike. We can do nothing about that. Whatever happened, happened. We can’t go back.”
Perfectly reasonable response. Admirable, even. But, what about the umpire apologizing about missing the call? Did that happen?
“No,” Perez said. “They’re not going to say that to nobody.”
So ... interesting, right? Very different story than Volquez.
Major League Baseball makes the umpires’ crew chief available to a pool reporter after games. John Hirschbeck was in left field, so he was not directly involved. So, was there an apology?
“I don’t know anything about that,” Hirschbeck said. “I really don’t. We’ve been talking about situations during the game, but I didn’t hear anything about that.”
Hirschbeck said that if an umpire thinks he missed a pitch, it’s not uncommon to say something to the catcher. He also said umpires sometimes ask the catcher — “especially when you have a quality person like Sal Perez” — if he thinks the call was right.
So, to review: umpire misses a call, Blue Jays go on to extend a lead and win, pitcher says the umpire apologized to the catcher, catcher says that never happened, and another umpire says ... maybe.
Here’s what’s clear: The call was missed, Volquez and Perez are saying very different things, the Blue Jays’ bats came to life, and the Royals’ bats faded.
Nobody inside the Royals’ clubhouse blamed the loss on the call. Even if Bautista is called out, Encarnacion’s walk would’ve loaded the bases, and Tulowitzki’s double would’ve cleared them with two outs, instead of one. Blue Jays still win.
But it’s still interesting, more than a little strange, and what else do you want to talk about between now and Game 6 at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night?