This isn’t to excuse the Los Angeles Dodgers for their terrible showing with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning on Tuesday night, but in a game where every at-bat counts with your top sluggers coming to the plate, the umpires simply have to be better than this.
After LA botched a prime opportunity to take the lead, they went into the top of the eighth down 6-5 with Gavin Lux, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner coming to the plate.
The St. Louis Cardinals called on Ryan Helsley, the All-Star reliever who regularly touches triple digits and also carries a filthy slider. One look at his Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant pages tells you all you need to know.
So when the umps are giving him extra plate, you might as well walk back to the dugout before the at-bat begins. He’s already nearly unhittable. Giving him another edge creates a wildly skewed advantage.
But that’s what happened on Tuesday night when Betts stepped into the batter’s box with one out. On the second pitch of the at-bat, home plate umpire Will Little — feel free to call us nitpicky — called a high strike on a slider. This is it:
Nice frame job by catcher Andrew Knizner! But it didn’t cross the plate as a strike, despite the fact it kind of looked like one if you were to remove the K zone.
OK, fine, it’s just one pitch. And it was kind of borderline. Betts is one of the toughest outs in the game. He’ll surely battle back. And he did! The All-Star worked the count full and Helsley shrewdly took advantage of that call a few pitches ago.
Same slider, but a bit higher. Little rings up Betts for strike three and swipes an out for the Dodgers rather than giving LA a speedy threat on the bases with Turner coming to the plate (he flied out deep to the center field warning track on the first pitch in an effort to capitalize after the Dodgers’ chances dwindled).
To make matters worse, it was a delayed strike three call. Betts had removed his shin guard thinking he had the walk before Little finally made the call.
Would this have won the Dodgers the game? Absolutely not! But Betts pestering any reliever on first base and a walk there almost guaranteeing Freddie Freeman gets to the plate (he homered the next inning) changes the entire complexion of this sequence.
Welp … at least the Cardinals burned through their bullpen with two games left in the series, right?