After home plate umpire John Tumpane rung up Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the ninth on a called third strike near the outer edge of the plate, the normally calm Suzuki erupted. He turned to Tumpane and screamed. An inning and an at-bat of frustration got to the catcher, and Tumpane tossed him, Suzuki’s first career ejection.
Following the game, Suzuki was diplomatic and mum about Tumpane’s strike zone. But concerning the final at-bat, Suzuki’s feelings were clear.
“It started with the 0-1 pitch,” he said. “I felt that pitch was off and I didn’t say much, just a little bit. But in a big part of the game, I’ve got my emotions running. I battled the count to get back to 2-2 and put myself in a pretty good hitting situation and, for something like that to happen, I felt it was a ball. You guys probably had a pretty good view on replay. You guys probably know better than me.”
According to PitchF/X data collected by BrooksBaseball.net, only one of the three strikes was in the strike zone. Tumpane, 30, is a minor league umpire who was called up to fill in on this umpiring crew for the series.
Throughout the game, Nationals hitters were clearly upset with calls on the outer edge of the plate. Steve Lombardozzi, also normally reserved, looked upset when he was called out on an outside pitch in the second inning. With a runner on second base with two outs in the third inning, Tumpane rung up Ian Desmond on a pitch that appeared to be nearly in the left-handed batter’s box. Desmond was furious but put down his helmet and bat and walked away.
PitchF/X data supports some claims of outside pitches being called strikes. The outside edge of the plate was particularly challenging for right-handed hitters. Manager Davey Johnson, however, argued that it was the Nationals hitters’ responsibility to work with the strike zone. Both the Cubs and Nationals had to contend with it. The Nationals went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, stranded eight base runners and struck out nine times.
“You have to make adjustments, that’s all I can say,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We have the luxury of looking at videos and everything. Guys know that it’s a pretty good strike zone. But you know that. So you’ve got to be aggressive. Swing the bat. Put it in play.”