For about 30 seconds last night, I was dreading writing this post. I knew, after Ben Zobrist was charged with a strike on a pitch that hit him, and Joe Maddon flipped out and got ejected, I was going to have to (well, want to) say some things. My fear was that they’d come in the context of the Cubs losing the game after blowing a huge lead, and then getting screwed on a bad call. Those posts are never treated charitably, however accurate they may be.
… but the Reds gave the Cubs a gift walk-off win, and so now it’s a FUN POST to write!
OK, so the play: Ben Zobrist was up in the 9th with runners on first and second, nobody out, and a tie ballgame. For a number of reasons, that was a very fair situation to call for the bunt. Zobrist couldn’t get it down on his first attempt, and the second pitch hit him in the leg, setting up a bases loaded, nobody out situation.
Except the first base umpire ruled that Zobrist swung at the pitch, i.e., tried to bunt it:
The definition of a “swing” is one of the most notoriously flabby things in all of sports, but the generally-accepted descriptor is “offered at the pitch.” We use all kinds of markers to decide whether a batter offered at the pitch, but I always try to keep in mind: did the batter try to make contact with the pitch and go too far in that process to say he didn’t swing?
In this instance, saying that Zobrist offered at that pitch is ridiculous. Yes, he had the bat out, and yes it moved down toward the pitch, but in no universe was he actually offering at the pitch – he was just trying not to get killed! The bat head is moving downward as the pitch comes in, but Zobrist isn’t even looking at the pitch anymore at that moment!
It wasn’t even one of those situations where you start your swing at the pitch, it moves in on you, and you try to turn away from the pitch which continues the revolution of the bat.
So, then, Joe Maddon was justifiably irate in that situation, and he got his money’s worth before being tossed.
Afterwards, Joe Maddon was extremely animated in his remarks. He even pre-defended himself against MLB, saying that he’s been “playing really good in the sandbox” (recall, he had a number of highly-publicized criticism about umpires and rules earlier this year), but he was not going to hold back last night:
Maddon said it was “asinine” to say that a hitter was offering to bunt at, and then bunted through, a pitch flying in at his thigh. The situation obviously exacerbated the bad call, but it would have been the wrong call in any situation.
Thankfully, it’s all academic at this point. And, hey, maybe if Zobrist gets the HBP, the butterfly flaps his wings and the Cubs don’t actually walk that one off.