Marlins manager Don Mattingly watched his team get very nearly no-hit by electrifying Padres ace Chris Paddack Wednesday night, in what would’ve been the first no-hitter in Padres history. Paddack gave up his first hit, a solo dinger to Starlin Castro, in the bottom of the eighth inning, and eventually handed a two-run lead over to San Diego’s bullpen. That bullpen very nearly blew the win, and needed the help of a very questionable game-ending called strike in order to escape a ninth-inning jam.
That pitch, from Padres closer Kirby Yates, came in above the strike zone graphic, which is a reasonable point of reference, even if the ball appeared to be about neck-high by the time Curtis Granderson checked his swing. Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn apparently felt the splitter caught the top of the zone, and that was that. Mattingly was not happy about the call—as he noted after the game, this was the second time in a week that the Marlins lost at home on a called third strike that appeared outside the strike zone. The solution, as Mattingly sees it, is being tested right now in the Atlantic League:
“You don’t want to sound like you’re making excuses, and, uh, really honestly—you know obviously the stuff that’s going on in the Atlantic League, those things are gonna, it’s gonna happen. It almost has to happen. So, it’s moving—hopefully the technology gets there quick.”
The “stuff that is going on in the Atlantic League” is an automated strike zone, where a computer determines whether a pitch is a strike, and the information is relayed to the home plate umpire via an earpiece. It’s imperfect—it has nothing to say about swings and check swings, and it cannot distinguish between a ball that rockets through the heart of the zone versus one that bounces off the dirt and then through the heart of the zone—which is why in its current form it will not make home plate umpires obsolete. And anyway, baseball will always need on-field officials, so that managers will have someone to scream and kick dirt at when a call goes the other way.