The tight games in Cleveland continue in this third of four games this weekend. Both teams trying to pad their winning seasons before the All-Star Break. While the Indians are the only winning team in their division (and thus the leaders), the Yankees are in a constant battle with the Red Sox for the lead (though the Red Sox are on quite the winning streak recently). Tonight certainly helped, but the Red Sox won again too. So it’s rather as-is in the AL East.
CC Sabathia got the start for the Yankees tonight, throwing 92 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs and struck out just 2 batters along the way. He gave up a 2-out solo home run in the 1st, and then a lead-off single in the 3rd stole 2nd and moved to 3rd on one ground out before another ground out scored that runner.
In the 6th, with 1 out, he gave up a single and a walk and a ground out moved both runner to scoring position. They both did so on a long, messy single that was complicated by a couple of off-center and late throws attempting to get a few outs on the bases. That was the end of Sabathia’s night, and he turned over things to David Robertson.
After a walk, Robertson got the final out of the inning and then breezed through the 7th. Betances followed that up with a beautiful scoreless 8th inning, and Chapman’s 9th inning delivered a fairly efficient save, his 26th save of the season.
The Yankees actually kick-started their offense in the 1st inning. Gardner led-off the game with a walk and moved to 2nd on Judge’s single. Then Didi Gregorius hit a big 3-run home run up the middle. They defended that early lead through much of Sabathia’s outing, not adding to that until the questionable 6th (see below). With 2 outs, Greg Bird hit a big solo home run into the right field seats.
The Indians tied up the game in the bottom of that inning, of course, and it would be up to an unlikely source to break the tie and score the Yankees’ winning run in the 7th. Austin Romine technically led-off the inning with a double. But a fielding error had him jogging for 3rd, and the cut-off man threw the relay to 3rd into the dugout which allotted Romine home base. In other words, really sloppy defense gave Romine an inside-the-park homer, or more commonly dubbed a “Little League Home Run“. Not something you expect to see at this level, but still entertaining as it is with 8-year-olds instead of 28(ish)-year-olds.
Final score: 5-4 Yankees
Okay, let’s discuss that 6th inning. It all started with Giancarlo Stanton’s at-bat. A called strike and a foul got him down in the count 0-2 quickly. Then the next pitch hit his hands as he swung at the ball and missed. But the ball bounced off his hands as if it were a foul ball. It wasn’t a direct call right away. I think even Stanton thought it was a foul (and thus an extra 2nd strike), but as he was stepping back into the box, the umpire decided it was an out.
Stanton immediately questioned the call, Boone questioned the call, even the broadcasters questioned the call. After a brief umpire huddle, the home plate umpire just told them all that was the call and maintained his call. Boone let him have it, got ejected, and kept fighting. He thought it should at least be a foul. Honestly, I thought it was a hit-by-pitch. And questionable hit-by-pitches are open for review and replay. They didn’t, and Bird’s no-doubter home run just an out later felt a little like justice.
Now, I had to dig really far into the official rule book (you can download your own copy here). Rule 5.05(b)(2) states that “if the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched… When the batter is touched b a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.” And Rule 5.09(a)(6) states that “a batter is out when… he attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him.”
The reason I cite both these is because they are the two rules social media commentators used to justify the call in that 6th inning. And while I think one can make a case for the latter rule, the “3rd strike” was really inside and not in the strike zone. Yes, he swung at it, but it hit him. And most other times this happens, the batter is awarded 1st base as a hit-by-pitch. I just wonder how often this “rule” is enforced.
While it does seem intent on preventing the old trick of stepping into a pitch to get on base (though that does still happen on occasion, if we’re being honest), I don’t think this is the kind of call or play they had in mind. Perhaps, tonight’s call will be something they discuss at next year’s winter meetings as they continue to readjust the operating rules of the game. If the intent is to keep fair ball and player safety a priority, they can’t exactly promote a rule that intentionally punishes potentially and accidentally hurt players. Though Stanton didn’t seem to suffer from the hit, the next player might be hit worse.
Bird and Romine’s runs helped even out the bad call and slide the game into the Yankees’ favor, so it’s hard to stay “hurt” by the call. However, just because it didn’t “hurt” in the end doesn’t make it a good, fair, or just call. Because one day, that kind of call could make the difference in a crucial game, let alone seriously injure a player. And no one wants either of those scenarios.