Marlins Manager Don Mattingly protested the call and it went to a replay review. However, per MLB’s rules on replays, only whether the ball actually hit the batter, in this case Conforto, was subject to review. Issues such as whether the pitch was a strike and whether Conforto made an effort to get out of the way are considered judgment calls and are not reviewable.
Once it was affirmed that the ball did graze Conforto’s elbow, the call stood and the Mets had a comeback win that even they acknowledged was a bit of a gift.
“We caught a little break,” said New York second baseman Jeff McNeil, who tied the game with a ninth-inning home run before a series of events culminated with the walk-off HBP.
After McNeil homered to open the bottom half of the ninth, Marlins closer Anthony Bass got a groundout and then gave up a single and a double. With runners at second and third, the Mets’ Francisco Lindor was intentionally walked to load the bases and get to Conforto, who has been struggling at the plate.
With the count 1-2, Bass threw a breaking ball that appeared to be headed to the upper inside corner of the strike zone. Kulpa certainly thought so, as he began to ring up Conforto, only to quickly change to a hit-by-pitch motion. That brought home New York’s Luis Guillorme, who was on third, and earned the ire of Mattingly.
“He didn’t get hit by a pitch — he got hit by a strike,” the Marlins manager said after the game. “That’s the thing. [Kulpa] went to call it, and then he says it hit him. So if it’s a strike, how can it be a hit by pitch?”
“Still kind of a little befuddled on what happened,” said Marlins catcher Chad Wallach. “I mean, we know what happened. He called it a strike and then changed his mind and called it a hit-by-pitch, so on that part we’re confused. I’ve never seen that before.”
MLB’s rule book states that a batter can proceed to first base if he is “touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”
It looked like both of those conditions were met, although Conforto claimed he did try to move away.
“From my point of view, it was a slider. It felt like it was coming back to me, and I turned,” he said. “There may have been a little lift to my elbow just out of habit, out of reaction, and it barely skimmed the edge of my elbow guard.”
Even the Mets’ announcing team felt it was a bad call.
“He made no effort to get out of the way,” declared play-by-play man Gary Cohen as the telecast showed Mets players spilling onto the field in celebration. “It was a strike. … He stuck his elbow right into that pitch.”
“Obviously, not the way I wanted to win the ballgame. I wanted to go up there and put the ball in play and drive the ball somewhere,” said Conforto, who is batting .200 with one extra-base hit and two RBI in 15 plate appearances to start the season.
“I did see that [Kulpa] rung me up,” he added. “I think that’s why you didn’t see a reaction from me right away. I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“I knew there was going to be some controversy. Our first base coach was yelling at me to get down there and touch the base, and let’s get out of here.”