This wasn’t just a baseball game – and another Phillies’ loss – it was a two-hour, 49-minute, nationally-televised infomercial supporting those who believe the sport needs an automated strike zone.
ESPN showed up to broadcast an early-season meeting between the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night and ended up with an unwanted star of the show – home plate umpire Angel Hernandez.
Throughout the night, Hernandez drew the ire of both teams for his faulty strike zone. As the game went on, remaining tense and scoreless after eight innings, it was only a matter of time before someone went volcanic, and in the bottom of the ninth, it happened.
With one out in a one-run game, Hernandez rung up Kyle Schwarber on a full-count pitch that everything from the eyeball to the electronic data said was off the plate. Schwarber had been victimized by Hernandez ‘interpretation of the strike zone three innings earlier. This time, he went ballistic, spiking his bat and helmet, raging at Hernandez and earning an ejection.
The Phillies ended up losing, 1-0, on a run in the top of the ninth. They wasted a gem by Aaron Nola in the process. The Phils have lost four straight series since they took two of three to open the season against Oakland. They are 6-10, have been shut out twice and held to one run three times.
The Phils have a lot of reasons to be frustrated and Hernandez gave them another one.
“It’s got to be better than that, right, it just does,” manager Joe Girardi said moments after the last out. “I know he’s trying, but …”
There were 26 strikeouts in the game – nine by Nola, a career-high 13 by Milwaukee lefty Eric Lauer. Six of the strikeouts (four against the Phillies, two against the Brewers) came on called third strikes by Hernandez. All six strikeout pitches were off the plate, according to Statcast.
According to the data, Hernandez called a total of nine strikes on Phillies hitters that were out of the zone. He called a total of seven strikes against Milwaukee hitters that were out of the zone.
Schwarber was remarkably composed as he spoke with reporters at his locker moments after blowing up at Hernandez in the ninth inning.
“It’s a big spot there,” he said. “You’re going up against a really good closer (Josh Hader) and you get a pitch that you don’t think is there. You can be on first base in a spot in the ninth inning down one. That’s why I went. .. I mean, everyone kind of saw what was going on. I’m not here to bury anyone, but it wasn’t very good. I don’t know how to really say it. It was just very good. Guys were doing a really good job tonight of not saying much. It just got to me to where I was going to stick up for some other guys. “
One of Hernandez ‘worst misses of the night came with one out in the fifth inning. The Phillies had loaded the bases in a scoreless game with leadoff man Jean Segura coming up.
Hernandez put Segura in a hole when he called a strike on a pitch that was several inches inside. Segura, not happy with the call, popped out two pitches later. Rhys Hoskins then struck out to end the threat. He didn’t like one of Hernandez ‘calls either.
“That way inside,” Girardi said of the first pitch to Segura. “It makes it really hard. Because then guys are going to swing at pitches they normally wouldn’t because they’ve had them called strikes. But it makes it really difficult.
“And it’s on both sides. Twenty-six strikeouts, 54 outs. You know. It’s tough.”
Hernandez ‘poor performance was surely viewed in prime time by Major League Baseball officials who have experimented with the use of an automated strike zone at the minor league level.
Girardi is all for it.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind it. I wouldn’t,” he said. “I’ve always thought that umpires should be behind the pitcher. I think you’re much better there and you’re more protected. (When behind the plate) they have to move to the side a little bit because they can’t have 20 concussions. It’s their livelihood, too, and I understand why they do it.
“It’s not an easy job. It isn’t. That’s why I’m kind of for the automated strike zone. It takes some of it off them.”
Schwarber does not favor an automated strike zone. Even after a night like Sunday when he got called out twice on pitches off the plate, lost his temper and lost the game …
“I’m all for umpires. I’m not against them. I’m pro-umpire,” he said. “I don’t want the electronic strike zone. I like the element of sometimes pitches don’t get called. Guys don’t receive it well or whatever it is. It’s an enjoyable part of the game. But when you have things that are getting called off the plate with really good pitching on their side, it can be harder to score. You saw on both sides that it was a harder game to score. “
Schwarber was asked if he believed the umpiring cost of the Phillies the game.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It could have. It could have.”