If you watched Friday Night’s Red Sox vs. Yankees game, you saw an official problem in Major League Baseball. Literally, an official was the problem! The Red Sox and Yankees battled for over three hours with the Yankees leading 3-2 in the 9th inning. The Yankees brought in their lights out closer, Andrew Miller, for the save. After singles by Josh Rutledge, Dustin Pedroia, and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out and they had the man they wanted at the plate in David Ortiz. The count was 3 and 1. Miller was losing control of the game quickly. The next pitch came in low and outside and Brian McCann had to reach almost to the ground to catch it. A strike was called. Ortiz was not happy about it and made it clear to the umpire, Ron Kulpa. John Farrell came out and defended his star Designated Hitter and was thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. The count was now 3 and 2. The next pitch came in extremely low and Kulpa punched Ortiz out. Ortiz went back to the dugout and then came out onto the field all fired up and was also removed from the game by Kulpa. Hanley Ramirez struck out and the Red Sox lost a game that they likely would have won had it not been for two consecutive erroneous calls by Ron Kulpa.
After the game on Friday and throughout the weekend, there has a lot of debate about the calls that were made. Some analysts suggested that the first pitch came across the strike zone and ended up outside. Others suggested it was only one game and not a big deal. Others, including most die-hard fans in Red Sox Nation, were very disturbed by the fact that a game was decided by the umpire and not by the players on the field. After all, had the right call been made on either pitch, the game would have been tied with the bases loaded and one out.
Ron Kulpa and David Ortiz were both interviewed after Friday’s game. There was a sharp contrast with Ortiz’ and Kulpa’s comments regarding the importance of Friday’s game.
David Ortiz: “It’s a game on the line. We need to win these games. We’re not playing the game just to give it away. You know what I’m saying?”
Ron Kulpa: “It was just another game, another big game between the Yankees and Red Sox.” “Emotions are high. It’s just part of the game.”
To David Ortiz, these games mean everything. With the game on the line, there has been no one better in the past 15 years. He thrives on the big stage. He’s a true winner and he’s likely a future Hall of Famer. Ortiz’ comments are in line with a player who defines winning and has a resume of someone who is elite at what he does. Ortiz cares about winning every game. Those calls meant a lot and taking the game away from the Red Sox was a big deal to him.
To Ron Kulpa, this was “just another game”. It didn’t matter that he blew the calls and that he, not the players, decided who won the game. It didn’t matter that he reportedly had 31 missed calls during the game and that the called third strike was reportedly 5 1/2 inches below the strike zone. Just another day at the ballpark. He showed no accountability at all for the mess that he created.
There are many fans and media members who believe that the called third strike was more about Kulpa showing everyone who was boss rather than making the correct call in a very crucial situation. Of course, there’s no way to prove that, but it certainly is a possibility. Imagine that. An official taking the game into his own hands and determining the winner because he was unfavorable to one of the teams. Isn’t that a huge problem?!
Major League Baseball has put a lot of emphasis on getting calls right in the past few years. They allow challenges and they’re now becoming more frequent. The focus on these calls has become silly. On a nightly basis, there are reviews on plays where a runner slides off the bag for a split second and the fielder keeps the glove on the runner. There are constant reviews on whether or not the catcher blocked home plate. Is this really the focus and intent of replay?
Do you know what there still isn’t review on? Two consecutive erroneous strike calls that decide a MLB game. Do you know what MLB is going to do about what happened on Friday Night? Absolutely nothing. MLB will tell you that umpires are reviewed routinely on their performance. Apparently, it isn’t enough to make Ron Kulpa think that Friday Night wasn’t “just another game”. It certainly doesn’t seem like he thought there was anything out of the ordinary that needed to be addressed.
MLB got it wrong on Friday Night. The best clutch hitter in the game lost and the erroneous umpire won. Don’t expect an explanation or any discipline for Kulpa from MLB. The punishments for the erroneous calls were already given for Friday Night and they were presented to Ortiz and Farrell by Kulpa.
The root cause of the issue will expectedly be ignored by MLB. But, hey, at least MLB caught the runner who took his foot off the bag at second base after a five minute review! Progress…