This one hurts just a bit. On this night, the 100th game of the season, Alexi Ogando made his long-awaited return from the disabled list. After giving up three earned runs in 5 innings, the bullpen worked on holding the Yankees there, and succeeded. The Rangers were down, fought back, earned a lead, and gave the ball to one of the best closers of 2013 thus far, Joe Nathan. Much more often than not, that means game, set, and match.
Nathan did exactly what we've come to expect from him. He worked the plate, kept the ball down, and with the exception of a pitch in which his footing slipped and the ball bounced before reaching the dirt, Joe Nathan threw strikes. There was one problem: home plate umpire Kerwin Danley didn't exactly agree on that last point.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Rangers up 4-3 and Vernon Wells at the plate, we watched in horror as this happened:
If you're keeping track at home, after working to a 1-1 count, Joe Nathan threw strikes 2 and 3 into the bottom of the strike zone. Both pitches were called balls, and Wells proceeded to end up with a 1 out walk. No biggie, right? Except it got worse... much worse.
Once again, Nathan threw pitches in the bottom of the strike zone, with no calls left to go his way. Nunez proceeded to lace a game-tying triple to center field. Brent Lillibridge ended up singling in Nunez, and the rest was history. Mariano Rivera did what Mariano Rivera always does, always has done, and I'm convinced, would always do if he weren't retiring after the season. However, as if all that weren't enough, Kerwin Danley decided to add insult to injury with Leonys Martin at the plate.
Leonys Martin struck out watching 4 pitches all outside of the strike zone, and while I don't have much confidence that a baserunner would have helped matters much, it's the principle behind the situation that will really eat at me for a few days.
I generally don't like solely blaming umpires or officials for a loss or a blown call, but in this case, there are just no words. I understand missing a call here and there. Whereas fans have the advantage of watching and having time to make a decision, umpires make decisions in a split second. In this case, unfortunately, Kerwin Danley lost all sense of reality for long enough to cost one team a baseball game and an opportunity to gain some ground in the AL West.
There's an argument to be made that all the events that transpired would have happened regardless, but that argument won't come from me. Life doesn't exist in a vacuum, and Danley's suddenly-shrinking strike zone surely played a role in Joe Nathan lifting his pitch up just high enough in the zone that Eduardo Nunez was able to drive it high and deep. The fact that Nathan was visiby frustrated with the strike zone had to have played a factor as well, so I can't buy the argument that it was some sort of "baseball destiny".
Unfortunately, this is the path baseball has chosen. Whereas we seemingly have more umpires missing routine calls on a daily basis while technology is leaving the sport in the dust, the focus has been on performance-enhancing drugs. While some would say that's a greater problem, I would argue that nothing threatens the game's integrity more than incompetence among the group of people that are never supposed to be part of the story: the umpires.
I think what bothers me the most is that there seems to be no transparency within Major League Baseball to publicy admonish umpires that, purposely or not, show a veritable bias.
At the end of the day, yes, this is just one game, but the way the AL West is shaping up thus far, that one game could mean the difference at the end of the season. While a team could potentially have many one-game scenarios to look back at and regret, the one that got away due to an umpire should never be in the picture. Tonight, Kerwin Danley was the star of the New York Yankees, and not just for the Rangers, but for all of baseball, that just makes me a little sad.