MO2 overview: Disputed HBP costs Marlins in loss to Mets

MO2 overview: Disputed HBP costs Marlins in loss to Mets


Was it a strike? Was it a hit by pitch? What exactly happened? Michael Conforto’s controversial walk-off hit by pitch has the Mets celebrating and the Marlins fuming.

By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd

In 20 years of covering MLB, I’ve seen my share of dramatic walk-off hits, along with some walk-off walks. I’ve seen a walk-off occur on a wild pitch while the pitcher was attempting to intentionally walk the batter.

I’ve witnessed in person a walk-off no-hitter (Henderson Alvarez on closing day in 2013), when the lone run of the game was scored in the bottom of the ninth on a wild pitch.

You get the picture. When you’re around MLB for a long time, you see pretty much everything. Or at least you think you’ve seen everything.

What happened on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field was a first for me. As it turns out, it also was a first for Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly. Yet, the rareness of what transpired doesn’t erase the head-scratching end result.

By now, anyone interested in baseball has seen or heard about how the Marlins lost 3-2 to the New York Mets on a walk-off hit by pitch, which came on what was about to be called strike three.

Michael Conforto’s leans into a hit by pitch

The disputed call came with one out and the bases full in the ninth inning.

Marlins closer Anthony Bass ran a 2-2 pitch in on left-handed hitter Michael Conforto, who leaned his right elbow (protected by a pad) forward. In a split second, the 83.9 mph slider nicked the elbow guard and was caught by catcher Chad Wallach.

Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was in the process of ringing up Conforto on strike three, but hearing the deflection, quickly reversed course. He then signaled that Conforto was hit by the pitch, and awarded him first base. Luis Guillorme trotted home with the game-winning run, and the Mets celebrated as the Marlins fumed.

How could a pitch over the plate for a strike be a hit by pitch?

Manager Don Mattingly wanted some answers. The crew reviewed whether Conforto was grazed by the ball or not. Because he was, the decision was made to award Conforto first base, and the ball game was over.

“The toughest part is it’s a strike,” Mattingly said.

Conforto was just happy with the final result, and said: “A win’s a win, it’s over, but I’d like to use the bat next time for sure.”

The incident has become the talk of baseball, and has social media abuzz.

In a matter of minutes, even the most sagely baseball people were scrambling to sort out what happened, and what the rule is. We asked: Can an umpire prove intent by Conforto? Or, what came first, the strikeout or the hit by pitch?

MLB rules prohibit a player from intentionally leaning over the plate to turn potential strikes into hit by pitches.

The fact Conforto wears an elbow pad makes it easer for him to stick his elbow out to take one for the team. Would a player without the guard take such a risk? Probably not.

Now 1-6 on the season, the loss was a kick in the stomach for the Marlins.

But while the Mets celebrated the win, public support is clearly on the side of the Marlins. Even the Mets announcers on SNY immediately, and emphatically stated something didn’t smell right. Credit their crew for picking up that Conforto indeed leaned into the pitch. The fact he crossed over the plate and was struck by a pitch in the zone, they argued, should have resulted in a strikeout.

Had that outcome been the call, Bass and the Marlins still wouldn’t have been out of the woods. They would have had to deal with Peter Alonso with the bases full and two outs. It never got to that point.

We’re a week into the MLB season, and already we have an incident that will be talked about for a while.

There’s already talk about revising the rule to allow replay to determine if the pitch should have been strike three, due to Conforto leaning over the edge of the plate. If MLB eventually uses an electronic strike zone, what call would be made on a similar incident? The unpredictable and unexpected have to be addressed.

The Marlins were at the center of a revision of the home plate collision rule in 2014. That year, Reds Zack Cozart tried to score from third bases on a throw by then Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. The ball arrived to catcher Jeff Mathis in plenty of time to get Cozart out easily. Well, it didn’t turn out that way.

The umpires ruled Mathis was blocking the plate, even though he had the ball well before Cozart arrived at the plate.

Since that play, the home plate rule has changed.

Bottom line is you want the correct call to be made.

The ultimate proof that it wasn’t made came Thursday night. Umpire Ron Kulpa himself, told the pool reporter, that he missed the call. His tweet says it all.

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