Jose Tabata pinch-hit for Pirates reliever Vance Worley with two outs in the ninth inning, the only man standing between Max Scherzer and the 24th perfect game in baseball history. Scherzer was absolutely dealing and Tabata didn’t look like he was having any fun trying to make contact. He fouled off the first two pitches, worked the count back to 2-2, weakly fouled off three more pitches, and then was hit on his left elbow by a slider.
The video below shows what happened:
Rule 6.08b says:
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when —
(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;
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 avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.
Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy thinks Tabata wasn’t at fault, tweeting, “looked like a totally normal reaction from a hitter to an inside breaking ball- why the hate?”
Scherzer threw an 86 MPH slider. At 60 feet, six inches, a batter has less than a half-second with which to react. Considering how much movement Scherzer’s slider has, and how far away the pitch actually was from the strike zone, it’s perfectly reasonable that Tabata would get hit by it and not appear to have made much of an effort in getting out of the way.
But let’s play devil’s advocate here. Let’s say that Tabata intentionally leaned into the pitch to ruin Scherzer’s perfect game. He did it and got away with it, as home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski didn’t interject. How is that any different than a catcher framing a ball outside of the strike zone to increase the probability of a strike call? Both players are attempting to exploit a gray area in order to maximize their teams’ odds of winning.
Some have argued that Tabata should have been up at the plate with the intent of breaking up Scherzer’s perfect game with a hit. Why? Perfect games are special because they’re so hard to attain; they would start to lose their luster if we pressure players into ending them in only certain, approved ways. There have been 24 in baseball history, only a slightly more common occurrence than a four-homer game. If a player has hit three home runs and takes his next at-bat, do we expect the pitcher to throw him a meatball to make his attempt to make baseball history easier? No, the pitcher goes at the hitter with everything he has.
Furthermore, the game was not a done deal. In 999,999 of 1,000,000 iterations of the game state after Tabata was hit — two outs, one on, down by six — the Pirates lose, but Tabata should still have been trying to play for a win irrespective of Scherzer’s bid for a perfect game. His job is to get on base. If that includes getting hit by a pitch at the expense of Scherzer’s perfect game, so be it.
Some have advocated the Nationals throw at Tabata in Sunday’s series finale. Tabata did nothing wrong. That disappointment should be directed at more deserving targets, such as Scherzer for making a poor pitch.
Tabata talks about ending Scherzer’s perfect game:
Scherzer says he doesn’t fault Tabata and would have done the same thing in his position.