We were so close

‘Ump Show’ on checked swing taints classic NLDS Game 5 right at the very end

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Home plate umpire Gabe Morales called out Wilmer Flores to end the Dodgers-Giants series.
Home plate umpire Gabe Morales called out Wilmer Flores to end the Dodgers-Giants series.
Image: Getty Images

You couldn’t really have asked for much more from the Dodgers and Giants, series or Game 5. What you want is it to be close and dramatic, and those boxes were checked. The stats for these teams are staggeringly close. 109 wins each going in, a season series that is now tied at 12, the run-differential microscopically close, games decided late. It was basically baseball playoff ecstasy.

And the way it was going, the way Game 5 unfolded, we probably would have been saved from bellyaching from either side that ended up with the short straw over the playoff system. Yeah, it’s certainly unique that these teams who were clearly the best in the National League by miles played in the division series. But that doesn’t mean it was unfair. They were probably going to find each other anyway. And as Game 5 breathlessly and delicately walked on to the late innings, we all felt that it was a coin flip. Which one-run games in baseball are. If this was a best-of-7, they would have gone to Game 7 and probably late into it as well. We barely would have been able to split them with extra games. There was a palpable acceptance of that last night.

We were thankfully relieved of not having to discuss strategy narratives. Dave Roberts’s choice to go with an opener in the form of Corey Knebel and not use Julio Urias until the third worked, in at least so much that the Giants didn’t score until the sixth. But Logan Webb was able to backup his Game 1 masterpiece with a nearly-equally good start in Game 5. It was actually a brilliant juxtaposition of ways to attack a deciding game.


We saw Mookie Betts just generate a run in a way that he can, and once again take over a crucial game. We saw how the Giants got it done all year and came to the fore again, piercing the tension of their home fans with a Darin Ruf homer and brilliant starting pitching. They didn’t need to piece their run together, and they rarely have in 2021. The Dodgers got to roll out Max Scherzer for the ninth. Their oozing star power against the Giants found gold. You couldn’t draw it up any better.

The game was decided on either Buster Posey’s or Camilo Doval’s decision to not throw Cody Bellinger a fastball at any point in the ninth. Bellinger hit .150 on fastballs this year. Not that he did much better on anything else, but velocity was his biggest foe. He just couldn’t get to fastballs up and in. But Doval never gave him one, opting for four straight sliders. But hey, that’s the players deciding. That’s what we want.


Wilmer Flores very well may not have gotten a hit against Max Scherzer. He didn’t look like he was about to, and the career 0-for-17 didn’t suggest it was going to get any better. And it doesn’t ruin what was a classic game and series. It’s just that home plate umpire Gabe Morales ended it with a foul taste in our mouths. The players didn’t get to decide at the very end. That taste will fade and we’ll remember everything else, but for now it sucks.

And I know. I’m the “let the players decide is a bullshit phrase” guy! I usually only apply it to hockey, and all I’m asking for there is that the rules are called as they are written. This wasn’t that. This was an “Ump Show.” Morales wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t have been. Or he just wanted a spotlight. We’ll never know what might have happened. The fact that this call enters the conversation at all about this game and series is just disappointing. We almost had everything, and instead we got almost everything and this with it.


And to be clear, there is no review path to amending this in the future. There is no definition of a check swing. Basically it’s pornography: We know one when we see one. But it is a nice reminder for those who bleat on about “human element” in a desperate claw for any sort of argument against an automated strike zone — all that means is you like mistakes. You like the opportunity for something like this to happen. Which makes it clear that it’s a bullshit argument.

You can’t get a closer series, a series that saw perhaps the best combined matchup we’ll ever see. It’s another layer to perhaps the best rivalry in baseball and one of the best in sports. And we’ll remember it fondly. It’ll just have a slightly dulled light.