MLB playoffs 2021 – How the 268th pitch became the defining moment of ALCS Game 4

BOSTON — By numbers alone, the 268th pitch in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series wasn’t notably noteworthy. It left Nathan Eovaldi’s hand at 80.4 mph and descended greater than 4 toes on the option to Christian Vazquez’s glove. It spun at a slower charge than Eovaldi’s common curveball. It did not transfer a lot aspect to aspect. Had he thrown it at every other level in the recreation, to every other batter, in every other scenario, it could’ve been simply one other pitch.

In an alternate universe, or not less than one which follows the rulebook strike zone, the pitch was a strike, a strike that will have ended the ninth inning and allowed the Boston Red Sox, homeowners of two stroll-off hits this postseason, the alternative to mint a 3rd. In the actual world, the place the rulebook strike zone is a fortress in the sky, the pitch was a ball, a ball that stored Jason Castro at the plate, a ball that preceded the 269th pitch of the evening, which he fouled off, and the 270th, which he whacked for a go-forward single that opened the floodgates of the Houston Astros’ 9-2 victory at Fenway Park on Tuesday evening.

It is a pitch that was lamented inside the park and in textual content chains connecting Red Sox followers who have been hungry for a commanding lead however have been left with a collection tied and residential-area benefit misplaced. A pitch that Eovaldi was so sure was a strike he skipped off the mound, perhaps believing he had completed his job and perhaps making an attempt to persuade the house-plate umpire, Laz Diaz, into punching out Castro, as a result of he, like everybody, knew pitch No. 268 was on the edge of the strike zone, which is not actually a zone inasmuch as it’s a idea topic to the execution of the man implementing it. A pitch that, if Game 4 winds up as the detour that despatched this collection sideways for the Red Sox, will dwell in infamy in these components as the strike that wasn’t.

“If it’s a strike,” Red Sox supervisor Alex Cora stated, “it changes the whole thing, right?”

Well, yeah. Though to characterize Game 4 as one gained or misplaced by pitch No. 268 ignores the 267 previous to it — the ones that would have been one thing else, even a success on any of the eight hitless at-bats with runners in scoring place for Boston — and the untold quantity after it in the sliding-doorways model of this recreation. It was removed from assured that the Red Sox would win in the ninth or maintain the Astros’ harmful lineup scoreless in the tenth and past.

And but as a result of Diaz referred to as an objectively questionable zone — strikes for balls, balls for strikes, two pitches in nearly equivalent areas with one a ball and the different a strike — it left the 268th pitch as the pure finish to an evening that reminded a reality value acknowledging at the identical time as Boston treats lazdiaz as its latest curse phrase: Even a human being with an extremely properly-tuned eye can have bother monitoring balls touring at 80 mph and breaking 4-plus toes. Or dropping 5 toes and sweeping practically 2 toes throughout, as pitch No. 193 of the evening did. Or scorching at 94.6 mph and winding up exterior, as pitch No. 109 did — a referred to as strike three on J.D. Martinez that left Cora fuming.

“It’s a hard job,” Cora stated. “I understand that. It’s — it’s a hard job.”

Cora was working three ranges along with his postgame method. First: He is aware of Diaz, has recognized him since he performed at the University of Miami and Diaz umpired his video games. Next: He does not need to get fined for criticizing the umpires, as a result of he’s sensible and likes cash. Most of all: Blaming the umpires — blaming one pitch — is a shedding mentality. Cora expects an immense quantity of accountability from the gamers in the Red Sox clubhouse. He holds himself to that very same normal, and he did simply that in the aftermath of the recreation, at which level he took blame for utilizing Eovaldi, who had began Game 2 on Saturday, in the ninth inning of a tie recreation.

Still, when Cora watches replay of pitch No. 268, here’s what he’ll see: Castro waggling his bat, Eovaldi perched like a crane earlier than he extends greater than 6 toes off the rubber and releases the pitch, the ball bending over the exterior nook at Castro’s belt, Castro buckling, Eovaldi hop-skipping and Diaz rising from his crouch along with his arms on his hips, which is de facto all that wanted to be stated.

On the Fox broadcast’s pitch tracker, the touchdown spot of the ball was coloured in — which means it was a strike. On MLB’s web site, the pitch landed on the edge of the zone — a strike. Neither of these issues. The solely pc that mattered was Diaz’s mind — and it processed the pitch as a ball.

Surely Diaz did not know that of Eovaldi’s 48 strikeouts this season with a curveball, solely seven had been trying, none of these in the postseason. Nobody has a filthier repertoire — a 100-mph fastball, a biting slider, an obscene splitter, a tempestuous cutter and a curve that is there nearly as a palate cleanser for the dangerous style all these different pitches are topic to go away. There are few harder pitchers to umpire. The scene was set earlier than pitch No. 268 earlier than anybody realized it.

How it should dwell on in Red Sox lore is determined by what occurs subsequent, a lot in the identical method the way it registered on this recreation trusted what occurred subsequent. If Castro had rolled over the fastball as an alternative of fouling it off. If Castro had swung over the splitter as an alternative of lacing it up the center. If both had occurred, pitch No. 268 is simply pitch No. 268, a foul name on an evening by which Diaz made 23 of them, however not the impetus behind Wikipedia graffiti and screams for robotic umpires.

If it is little greater than a one-recreation obstacle to the Red Sox rolling onto their fifth World Series look in 18 years, it will be forgiven if not fully forgotten, as a result of up right here they neglect nothing. But if the alternate consequence involves fruition — if the Astros avenge their loss to Boston in 2018 — the 268th pitch of Game 4 of the 2021 ALCS will be a part of the phantom tag of the ’99 ALCS and Ed Armbrister’s interference in the 1975 World Series in the pantheon of Red Sox postseason umpiring what-ought to’ve-beens.

Not the type of third strike Boston was searching for.