Even the New York Mets called Thursday’s walk-off 3-2 victory over the Miami Marlins a lucky break.
With the bases loaded and one out at the bottom of the ninth, after Jeff McNeil tied the score with a home run leading from the inning, a 1-2 pitch in the inside corner of the home plate for Michael Conforto grazed his elbow pad as he bent over the plate to give the meters the victory.
Home plate referee Ron Kulpa initially started calling Conforto with strike three and then changed his call in the middle of the movement to say the pitch hit Conforto.
The umpiring crew member handed over the call, but Kulpa’s decision stood. Under the replay rules, a call about whether a pitch is in the strike zone when touching a dough and whether the batter is trying to avoid being hit cannot be answered.
On the other hand, Rule 5.05 (b) (2) states that a dough is eligible for first base when hit by a pitch, unless:
(A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter does not try to avoid being touched by the ball; (2) If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to dodge the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it should be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.
After the game, Kulpa admitted in the pool report that he called incorrectly and said, “That guy was hit by the court in the strike zone. I should have called him out.”
“Not like I wanted to win ball games,” Conforto said. “I wanted to go up there and run the ball somewhere. From my point of view it was a shooter, felt it coming back towards me. I turned. There may have been a slight lifting of my elbow just out of habit, out of reaction, and it barely clouded the edge of my elbow pad.I saw that [Kulpa] ranked me up. I think that’s why you did not see a reaction from me right away. I did not know what was going to happen. I knew there was going to be controversy. Our first base coach yelled at me to get down there and touch the base and let’s get out of here. “
Marlins manager Don Mattingly said the judges told him all they could review was whether the pitch hit Conforto. Whether Conforto turned onto the pitch or not, it was a doomsday call “and they would not get along about it.”
“I guess the hardest part is that it’s just a strike. It’s that simple,” Mattingly said. “You would think with all the repetition we do that you could say,‘ That ball is a strike. “I wonder what happens when they set the automatic strike zone and it breaks the plane and the guy does. I wonder if it’s a strike or not. I think it’s for later.”
McNeil, who turned 29 on Thursday, led the ninth inning of the team’s home opener against Marlins closer Anthony Bass with a long home run into the top deck of the right field, topped with a giant bat flip.
As for the ending? “It was pretty incredible,” McNeil said. “It just happened with Nick Conforto there. We got a break and happened to win the game.”
Conforto said he had no idea what the rules were on the piece until he saw it on TV screens in the clubhouse after the match.
“I guess it all came down to the call in the field,” he said. “I guess the controversy was that he first called it a strike, and then he said it hit me.”
Mets manager Luis Rojas said he thought the referees made the right decision. “I saw the strike call up, and then saw the blow from pitch,” he said. “Ultimately, the judges have to make the right call. It’s definitely an interesting call. The hand gesture and attempts to get out of the way caused the pitch to hit. But we take the call.”
The Mets were happy to send their fans home with the win.
“Good to have the fans back,” Conforto said. “Good to have that atmosphere back. When Jeff hit that homer, the place just exploded. The roar of the crowd, we missed that.”
The rejected decision was recognized by at least one betting site. FanDuel said it issued refunds for the money line bet on Marlins as well as for parlays, where Marlins money line was the only lost leg.