There was a lot of talk about the strike zone during last night’s game, with a whole lot of calls — mostly high and on the corners — being missed by home plate umpire Lance Barksdale. Given that the game was 7-1 those missed calls really had nothing to do with the outcome, but they were pretty notable.
But not as notable as one particular missed call that, it seems anyway, was not a function of Barksdale not being able to properly ascertain the difference between a ball and a strike. Rather, it was because he apparently thought Nationals catcher Yan Gomes was showing him up.
During the sixth inning, Nats pitcher Tanner Rainey threw a pitch to Astros outfielder Michael Brantley that pretty clearly caught the bottom corner and should’ve been strike three. Gomes, as a lot of catchers do when they know their pitcher made their pitch, caught it, bounced up and headed for the dugout. Barksdale called it a ball, however.
Why? Because, Barksdale said, “you were taking off on me,” suggesting that he called it a ball because Gomes got out of his crouch assuming the strike call, which Barksdale thought was disrespectful. Gomes immediately got Barksdale’s drift and said, “oh, it’s my fault?” Which I imagine might’ve gotten him run out of the game if it wasn’t October, but here we are:
An umpire missing a call because he’s bad at telling a ball from a strike is not great, but at least it’s just a mistake. An umpire blaming a missed call on the catcher — with the implication that, perhaps, he might’ve called it differently if his feelings weren’t hurt — is another thing altogether.
Umpires are gonna be upset if and when they’re replaced with automated systems to call balls and strikes. But they’ll be at least partially to blame if it happens.