Storylines abounded in Boston's loss to the Rays on Monday. It was the traditional 10 a.m. Patriot's Day game, there was the Bobby Valentine-Kevin Youkilis kerfuffle, and then there was Joe Maddon gunning for his 500th career win as a major-league manager.
The game certainly disappoint: it was a taut, 1-0 affair, and the outcome was very much in doubt until the end. Actually, it all may still be in doubt. That's because Fernando Rodney's game-ending strikeout of Cody Ross was a strikeout only by the broadest of definitions.
To set the scene, starter James Shields retired the first batter of the inning but then walked Dustin Pedroia. Maddon summoned Rodney from the pen, and Rodney induced a ground-out from Adrian Gonzalez that likely would've been a game-ending double play if Pedroia hadn't been running with the pitch. Then Maddon took the rare step of intentionally walking the go-ahead run in the form of hot-hitting David Ortiz. That brought up Cody Ross, who ceded the platoon advantage to Rodney. Here's how the five-pitch sequence looked on the from-the-umpire's-viewpoint grid, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
As you can see, only one pitch, the fourth of the at bat, can plausibly be called a strike. Instead, though, home-plate ump Larry Vanover swelled his zone to include two pitches a foot or more off the outside corner. Ross, it goes without saying, didn't swing at a single offering. He did, however, take a metaphorical swing at Vanover afterward. "If I'm going up there and striking out every at-bat, I'm going to get benched,” Ross said. “But it's not that way with (umpires). They can go out there and make bad calls all day and they're not going to be held accountable for it."
It's one thing to call a given pitch location differently in the same game, but it's something else to show such inconsistency within the same plate appearance and with the same four-seam fastball.
In any event, the Rays signed catcher Jose Molina in part because of his excellent ability to frame pitches. In that sense, maybe Molina was at his very best during Rodney's non-strikeout strikeout of Ross.
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