The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night 2-1 (box score) in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Dodgers will now move on to play the Atlanta Braves for the chance to reach their fourth World Series in five years. (The winner of the NL Championship Series will meet either the Houston Astros or Boston Red Sox.) The Giants, who won the NL West by finishing the regular season with a majors-leading 107 victories, will head home for the offseason.
Alas, the Dodgers win was sealed in a controversial manner. With two outs and the tying run on board in the bottom of the ninth, Wilmer Flores was rung up on a questionable check-swing call by first-base umpire Gabe Morales. Observe:
Predictably, given the stakes involved and the fact that no other games were ongoing, Morales' call quickly became the subject of countless tweets from various big-league players past and present. Here are some choice cuts:
Worst call in sports- the check swing- .. terrible way to end this epic series/rivalry. Pitching is so good got to give the hitter a chance to say NO late.— Kevin Pillar (@KPILLAR4) October 15, 2021
That was not even close to a swing— Brett Anderson (@_BAnderson30_) October 15, 2021
Oh my goodness, what an absolutely terrible swing call by Gabe Morales.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) October 15, 2021
Feel bad for Gabe Morales. He made a mistake that I’m sure he is lamenting over in the umpires’ room right now.— Chris Singleton (@Singytweets) October 15, 2021
You might wonder if Flores or the Giants had any recourse, such as requesting a video replay. Unfortunately, check-swing decisions are not reviewable. Heck, one of the quirks of the game is that there is no definition in Major League Baseball's rulebook concerning what constitutes a swing. Rule 8.02c's comment is as close as it gets:
Appeals on a half swing may be made only on the call of ball and when asked to appeal, the home plate umpire must refer to a base umpire for his judgment on the half swing. Should the base umpire call the pitch a strike, the strike call shall prevail. Appeals on a half swing must be made before the next pitch, or any play or attempted play. If the half swing occurs during a play which ends a half-inning, the appeal must be made before all infielders of the defensive team leave fair territory.
As our Matt Snyder noted in 2019, it's bizarre that the rulebook would acknowledge that such a thing as a "half swing" can occur without defining it, or without giving umpires guidance on how to observe and rule on it.
You can count Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon as one individual in favor of check-swing legislation. He suggested back in 2019 that MLB look into using lasers or implanting tracking chips into the head of bats as a means of improving the consistency of check-swing calls. The league never took Maddon's suggestion, though perhaps such ideas will be revisited this winter following the events of Game 5.