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April 23, 2012

What You Need to Know

Monday, April 23

by Daniel Rathman

The Weekend Takeaway
Did he go? That was the question percolating through every baseball fan’s mind after the White Sox’ Philip Humber threw the 21st perfect game in major-league history against the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

Brendan Ryan, who pinch-hit for Munenori Kawasaki, worked the count full, fouled off Humber’s first payoff pitch, and then either swung or did not swing at a slider that broke well off the plate outside. But did he go?

Home plate umpire Brian Runge—who also worked the plate for Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter in 2009—said he did. FOX failed to show the first-base camera angle necessary to make a conclusive call. A YouTube clip posted later and analyzed by Sam Miller didn’t exactly settle the debate either. And first-base umpire Marvin Hudson almost certainly will never reveal what his call would have been.

There are significant issues with both of the prevailing postgame reactions. Those who say that it doesn’t matter, that Runge was right to side with perfection by default, are devaluing the accomplishments of the other 20 pitchers who have accomplished the feat. Those who say that Ryan clearly did not swing, that Runge gifted Humber the perfect game, are both misinterpreting the rule—which gives the umpire considerable discretion when it comes to the batter’s intent to swing—and ignoring the frequency with which check-swing calls are missed in even the lowest-leverage situations.

What Runge should have done is allowed the play to continue and left the close call at Hudson’s discretion. What FOX should have done is immediately showed the first-base camera angle that we still have not seen. Close enough shouldn’t be enough when it comes to perfection, but in this case it’ll have to suffice.

What we should do now is recognize Humber’s perfect game with no asterisk and no further questions. Did he go? The only answer that matters was, is, and will always be “yes.” And we can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Runge’s answer, and his reasoning at that moment, were wrong.

What to Watch for on Monday

  • Mark Teixeira may have found his stroke in Saturday’s comeback victory over the Red Sox, when the first baseman tripled his home run total for the season by going deep twice. That’s a scary thought for Monday’s (7:05 p.m. ET) Rangers starter, Derek Holland, against whom Teixeira is 7-for-15 with three homers.
  • It’s an intriguing day for Red Sox pitching, from the Twin Cities (8:10 p.m. ET) to Pawtucket. After Sunday’s rainout, Daniel Bard is temporarily returning to the bullpen to keep Jon Lester on schedule. But given the utter inability of Boston’s relievers to record outs without bleeding runs, Bard’s stay could be prolonged by a strong Triple-A outing from Aaron Cook. The 33-year-old Cook has a 1.35 ERA and 2.27 groundout-to-fly out ratio for the PawSox, and if he sustains that success against Durham on Monday night, the pressure to use Bard to stabilize the bullpen will mount.
  • No team has been hit harder by the injury bug in the early going than the Diamondbacks. Chris Young is on the disabled list with a separated shoulder. Justin Upton needs time to get over a sore thumb. And now Daniel Hudson is shelved with a shoulder impingement. Tonight (9:40 p.m ET), Wade Miley will get his chance to supplant Hudson—a potential one-and-done opportunity with Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs awaiting theirs—and the Diamondbacks, who have lost seven of their last 10 games, could certainly use a boost from the rookie lefty in their series opener against the Phillies.
  • Matt Kemp has gone deep in four of the Dodgers’ last five games and has eight homers in the team’s last 10 contests. So, uh, you might want to watch him. Kemp is 4-for-14 versus Braves starter Jair Jurrjens (10:10 p.m. ET), with one big fly but also seven strikeouts. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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