There are missed strike calls, and then there’s this.
Dodgers’ starter Walker Buehler — and everyone at Dodger Stadium and everyone watching from home — thought he had strike three against Braves outfielder Joc Pederson with a perfectly placed cutter on the low-inside corner. Instead, the pitch was called a ball to make it a 1-2 count.
It unraveled from there. As it seems to always happen in baseball, Pederson took advantage of his second chance, singling to drive in the runner from third and put runners on the corners, cutting the Dodgers’ lead down to just 2-1. Five batters later, the Braves led 4-2 and Buehler was gone. The Braves already came to Chavez Ravine leading the series 2-0.
There really wasn’t much more Buehler could have done that inning to keep his team out in front. It started with Freddie Freeman beating the shift with a single to left before Ozzie Albies flew out. Then Austin Riley lifted a fly ball to center field that seemed like a routine flyout.
Instead, this happened.
The drop by Gavin Lux was certainly not ideal, especially since it put two runners on second and third. Then, after getting ahead of Pederson, he threw a dime of a cutter against the former Dodger outfielder.
Instead of strike three, home plate umpire Jerry Meals called it a ball. The strike zone, courtesy of Baseball Savant, shows otherwise.
No. 3 is the pitch in question. No doubt about it, that’s a strike. No. 5 was lined into right field for a base hit to drive home Freeman.
How much did that change the likely outcome? After Riley’s double, the Dodgers’ win probability, according to Baseball Savant, was at 63 percent. It dropped to 55 percent on Pederson’s single.
The next batter was Adam Duvall, who dropped a broken-bat single into left that drove home Riley and put runners on first and second. Win probability: 55 percent Braves win. Travis D’Arnaud walked to load the bases and shortstop Dansby Swanson hit a hard single to shortstop Corey Seager, who couldn’t come up with it in the hole, allowing Pederson to score.
Buehler’s opposing number, Charlie Morton, struck out looking before Eddie Rosario took a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-2. Freeman, batting for the second time in the inning, lined out to left on the first pitch from Alex Vesia, who had just come in to replace Buehler. The inning ended with the Braves’ chances of winning at 70 percent.
Meals’ strike zone has been a bit all over the place. There have been several calls during the game that have gone in favor of the pitchers, as some, including Twins’ third baseman Josh Donaldson, have pointed out on Twitter.
It’s funny to me how Francoeur and this other guy talk about a strike 3 called ball and Meals has given Buehler 5 strikes that were balls. Haven’t said a word about that.
— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) October 19, 2021
That second pitch to Ozzie was a hideous call. A few of those going Buehler’s way.
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) October 19, 2021
But certainly when the missed strike three call immediately precedes a run by the opposing team, it stands out a little more.