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Wacky way for Scherzer, Nats to lose

Jul 3, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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OK, so he lost his perfect game bid in the third inning, not the sixth, seventh or ninth like he had the last three times he pitched. And he gave up a couple of runs on five hits, proving himself to be something less than superhuman for the first time in a long time.

Max Scherzer still pitched a whale of a ballgame Thursday night in Atlanta. He struck out nine. He didn’t walk a batter. He took the mound for the bottom of the ninth.

And yet somehow he took the loss after one of the wackier, throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air-out-of-sheer-frustration endings to a game you’ve probably seen in awhile.

Scherzer took the loss because in the ninth inning of a tie game he surrendered an infield single, a sacrifice bunt and a chopper over third base that may or may not have been foul but was ruled fair by an umpire who was trying to dodge the ball while making the crucial call.

It’s hard to conjure up a harder-luck loss than that for a pitcher who did absolutely nothing wrong in the fateful inning yet still found himself walking off the field in disbelief while the Braves celebrated behind him.

First things first: C.B. Bucknor’s call probably was correct. Cameron Maybin’s high chopper probably crossed directly over third base before landing foul well behind the bag. And Bucknor, whose eye was on the ball until he had no choice but to turn his body away to avoid getting hit, couldn’t really have done much else given the situation.

Don’t blame the umpire for this one. Blame the fact instant replay cannot be used on such plays where a fair/foul call is made on a ball that lands in front of the umpire. More than that, blame the odd nature of this play that happens every once in awhile but rarely happens in a walk-off scenario.

Trying to make a fair/foul call on a ball like that is like trying to determine where a punt went out of bounds, even though the ball was 10-to-20 feet up in the air as it crossed the sideline. When you see a football official march off the yards on such a play before settling on an arbitrary spot to place the ball, you know all he can do is make his best guess.

And that’s really all Bucknor could do on Thursday night’s play. How is he, or anyone, supposed to be able to make that call from field level, watching the ball up in the air and trying to figure out how it stands in relation to the base? The only way to know this with any certainty would involve an overhead camera, something that does not exist in this case.

This much we do know: That’s what it took for Scherzer to be charged with a loss during one of the most dominant prolonged stretches of pitching the sport has ever seen.

Consider this: Scherzer has now pitched at least eight innings and allowed five or fewer runners to reach base in four consecutive starts. Only four other pitchers in modern history have ever done that, and only one (Randy Johnson in 1997) has done it since World War II. Over his last four starts, he has struck out 42 batters while walking one.

Scherzer is the first pitcher in Nationals history to go at least eight innings in four straight starts, the first pitcher in the majors this season to do it. He’s also the first pitcher this season to go more than eight innings and be charged with a loss.

As well as he has pitched this year, Scherzer does have a surprising number of losses to his name, six of them now. Despite a sparkling 1.82 ERA, his record is a pedestrian 9-6.

How unusual is that? Well, nobody has finished a season with a sub-2.00 ERA despite a winning percentage of .600 or worse since Gaylord Perry went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA in 1972. In other words, nobody has ever done that in the age of the five-man rotation.

Given the way Thursday night’s game ended, that probably sounds about right.

  1. zmunchkin - Jul 3, 2015 at 6:43 AM

    Based on where the ball bounced before the bag and where it bounced after the bag, it would have had to have some pretty significant spin to stay fair.

    And since Bucknor is known to be one of the worst umpires in all of MLB, the likelihood he got the call wrong is pretty high.

    I don’t think it matters that the play could be reviewed as there is no way any video could exist that is clear and definitive.

    • manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:29 AM

      As I explained on the game thread the odds on it being fair were slim to none. As measure on my device the ball hit the ground approximately 8 feet from the plate and 4 inches fair. It second hope 15 feet past third 8 inches outside the line.

      Thus it went just under 100 feet down range and about a foot to it’s left. If it was straight to cross the foul line would take 1/3 of the hop or 48 or so feet down the line.

      Chances of it being fair doubtful.

      So I disagree with Mark, he probably didn’t get it right.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:41 AM

        What is this, a Seinfeld episode? Give it up, Newman. That was one magic loogie!

      • manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:43 AM

        Where is Keith Hernandez during all this?

  2. pchuck69 - Jul 3, 2015 at 6:51 AM

    >>>How is he, or anyone, supposed to be able to make that call from field level, watching the ball up in the air and trying to figure out how it stands in relation to the base?

    Well, call it foul and the game continues. Call it fair and the game ends. Call it fair and the game ends when the umpire making the call had his back turned.

    The solution was simple.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 8:52 AM

      With his back turned to the spot where the ball would eventually hit the ground, and with it that close to the line, fair is the only call Bucknor could possibly make. Why? Because he knows that if it lands foul and he says it was fair over the bag, there’s no argument that anyone could mount to that. But if he calls it foul and it lands in fair territory, all hell would break loose. Bucknor is a bad umpire, but he’s not so stupid as to not realize that.

      What he should have done, since it was clear to everyone that the ball would land not far behind the bag, is keep his eye on the ball until it landed and make the call based on that. In turning his back to the ball, he was clearly trying to get out of Escobar’s way. He could have accomplished the same thing by keeping his eye on the ball and backing out of the vicinity of the play.

      Joe West, another bad ump but a lot smarter than Bucknor, would have stood there like a statue, followed the ball until it hit, and called it foul.

      • pchuck69 - Jul 3, 2015 at 11:58 AM

        >>With his back turned to the spot where the ball would eventually hit the ground, and with it that close to the line, fair is the only call Bucknor could possibly make.

        No it wasn’t. He could have (and should have) just as easily said foul. The “bias”, in that situation, should be foul for anything close because a) a fair call ends the game and b) no one knows for sure.

        A game should never be ended like that.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 12:11 PM

        If he’s going to make the call and then turn his back to the ball before he sees where it lands – which is exactly what he did – then fair is the only call that can’t be disputed no matter if it lands fair or foul. If he calls foul, looks away and it lands fair, he’s exposed as being wrong. What he should have done was follow the ball until it landed and waited the split second to make the call.

  3. laddieblahblah - Jul 3, 2015 at 7:08 AM

    The Nats have got to improve their small ball game. The Nats failed to bring Taylor home from 1b with no one out – could not even sacrifice him to 2nd. In a similar situation the Braves moved their guy to 2nd and brought him home for the winning run.

    The Nats failed at small ball all night, with the lone exception being Ramos’ poke into RF to bring Harper home with their lone run.

  4. Dorothy LaRussoi - Jul 3, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    Nats offense was non existent – they swing at bad pitches and freeze at good ones. Until the offense is consistent and they get base runners to score, the team will lose games.

    Give the kids on the bench a chance to play. Let’s see what Difo and Burriss can do!

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 3, 2015 at 8:14 AM

      Difo can continue his development in Harrisburg and Burriss can ride the pine till he gets sent back to Syracuse.. SMH

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:21 AM

        Burriss can’t hit, Difo is not ready. What this team needs is a witchdoctor to heal the wounded.

  5. ArVAFan - Jul 3, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    IIRC, when we signed Scherzer, he had a reputation of a guy who would give you six great innings, and then tell his manager that he was done for the day (also, he had one complete game for his career). Obviously, he’s found another gear here (or maybe he just likes pitching in high humidity. In that case, he’s going to have a great summer!). This can only be a good thing.

    And sorry, Max, you don’t get to pinch hit. If Fister goes down with a HBP, we’ve got Roark and Ross in reserve. But we don’t have a spare Max–nor does anyone else.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 3, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    When Harper isn’t slugging the team struggles — and I use that term politely — to score runs. And although he scored the only run Harper was otherwise a non-event, striking out when the team had opportunities to score. He has lost command of the strike zone in the last week or so, swinging at pitches that are bill-of-the-cap high and sometimes high and outside. His swings have also been more violent/less controlled. I think he understands the problem but needs to check his emotions and get back to what he was doing, concentrate on getting walks and basehits and not on 450-foot HRs.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      Agree about last night, for sure.

      Have to wonder about how much of the problem comes not from emotions but from the leg.

      • Steady Eddie - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:12 AM

        Agree re the leg — reposting from last night:
        But bottom line is as several have said — miserable offense, having half our lineup be AAA every day is catching up with us, we were incredibly lucky on offense during the eight game win streak and of course we had a rotation on fire.
        I do think Bryce’s power has fallen off after his slide in the grass two weeks ago. He’s hitting singles and doubles but no booming shots, like his base is not solid enough to really launch them, and he’s not getting around quickly enough on FBs he would have crushed before the HBP on the knee and then the hamstring. After his phenomenal first 10-11 weeks, it hurts to see him somewhat impaired again and down a notch from his top form.

  7. micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    Max is a beast. No offense, it happens. Desi just makes me sick and its not fun watching him consistently be an automatic out. This would have been a good time for him to pick up his team mates and hit the g damn ball. Just get rid of his sorry ass, please Mike, I’m begging you!!!

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      How closely, exactly, did you watch last night’s game?

      Desi wasn’t in it.

      • micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:28 AM

        Wed night

      • micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:30 AM

        should have clarified

  8. laddieblahblah - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Cards reportedly have fired their scouting director over the Astros’ hack:

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2015/07/cardinals-fire-scouting-director-for-role-in-astros-breach.html

    That’s pretty high up in the organization’s pecking order. FBI continuing its investigation.

  9. micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    may as well have fun about Desi: Things that will happen before Desi hits again:

    Pigs will fly
    OJ will find the killer
    GOP will come into the 21st century
    Dan Snyder will sell the team and the name will be changed
    Sarah Palin will become the next Einstein
    Peace in the Middle East
    RG3 will be the 2015 MVP
    Donald Trump will move to Mexico

    LOL

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:39 AM

    WaPo article says Desmond is trying to change things by toying w/ how he holds the bat. Nonsense! His problems are what he swings at, and how, and what he doesn’t swing at. He could replace his hands with bionic, computer-controlled arms and still not hit — if he didn’t learn what’s a strike and what isn’t. Some fairy godmother is likely to touch his forehead with her wand and let him be respectably productive for the second half of the season but the fact is he’s been paid millions for the other (first) half while producing essentially nothing. I can’t recall watching another player who was such a moron when it came to self-improvement.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:43 AM

      I bet you were saying the same things about Espinosa last year. How’d that turn out?

      • micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:50 AM

        at this time last year, Espi was already sent down to minors

      • micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:51 AM

        also, Espi was never a defensive liability waiting to happen

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:56 AM

        To get (another) thing correct – Espi didn’t play in the minors at all in 2014. He was a bench player and occasional starter. You must be thinking of 2013.

        Look, the point is that last night the Desi haters got exactly what they wanted–no Desi. They still got a SS who went 0-fer and an offense that produced a single run on what was at least an unofficial error.

        The point being: Desi is a problem. He is not THE problem.

      • micksback1 - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:01 AM

        your right Hiram it was 2013, wow, time flies, also I never said Desi was the problem, he is certainly a problem that could drag the team down if this goes on

  11. manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    To be fair the initial ball hitting approximately 8 feet down range and bouncing straight would have had been about 15 inches inside the line. It was more like 4 possibly 6 at most.

    Just saying didn’t seem possible it was fair.

    • Steady Eddie - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM

      Noted last night — looked foul from the angle of this vine — https://vine.co/v/e1rTulVK23V — but too unclear to tell for sure. With this shot to make the initial call I would have said foul but as a replay, not clear and convincing.

      Even though it’s not a challengeable call, umps have discretion to review but a) unlikely they’d have had access to any shots like this that would tell better and b) they were done for the night:

      But I agree in general with MNF that given the cheapness of replay technology, no excuse not to put cameras all over. Even if the call on this might still have been inconclusive, MLB should commit more to getting these calls as right as they can.

      • manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        It would inclonclussive even with a correctly placed camera. But not inconclusive using the math.

  12. janebeard - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Bucknor should have been watching the ball, not his hide, as natswoo also said. He got it wrong by doing wrong.

    • Steady Eddie - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      And as zmunchkin said last night, he likely wanted the game to be over and if it took a call he was out of position to make, so be it, he’s done for the night.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Jul 3, 2015 at 11:49 AM

        Mathematically, it should be a simple matter to calculate the place where the ball crossed the foul line, with the line and the arc and speed of the ball as references. I.e., cameras and a reasonably sophisticated computer graphing program such as ESPN’s FastStats (?) would be up to the job (just as software could do a better job of calling balls and strikes). My guess, after seeing a couple of replays, is that the call was correct but that was by happenstance rather than design. Bucknor’s position to make the call was much worse than the home plate umpire, who was/should’ve been looking straight down the line. Bucknor was twenty feet (give or take) behind third base and had the physically nearly impossible challenge of simultaneously looking down (at the line) and up (at the ball). His perspective was lousy and I’m pretty sure he guessed. The HP umpire made no effort to share his view of the play w/ Bucknor, probably because (A) he agreed w/ the call; (B) did not want to debate it w/ his crew chief, or (C) wasn’t paying attention. Who knows what he was thinking (rhetorical question).

        The Commissioner’s office really doesn’t want to supervise its umpires or discipline them for bad calls/not paying attention because acknowledging that some of them are fallible/incompetent or lackadaisical would disorder the cosmos. The increasing use of technology by the media that air the games will increasingly expose the umpires’ fallibility and MLB should gradually adopt technology to settle disputable outcomes, to the point where the only function of the umpires is to interpret the rules and stop fights.

      • adcwonk - Jul 3, 2015 at 12:48 PM

        Mathematically, it should be a simple matter to calculate the place where the ball crossed the foul line, with the line and the arc and speed of the ball as references.

        I disagree. As Ray Knight noted last night, the ball was also probably _hooking_, and all this math that folks are proposing (btw, I was a math major many years ago) are not taking that into account.

        When a righty hits it down the 3d base line, if often hooks (just as, when he hits it down the 1b line, it often slices).

        *If* it was hooking (and Knight said it had to be), then if it landed a few inches out, then it must have been fair (which is what Knight concluded btw).

      • zmunchkin - Jul 3, 2015 at 1:36 PM

        I also have an advanced Math degree.

        It is a relatively simple matter to do the calculation, including the arc/hook/slice. But we simply do not have the data to do that. We would need to know exactly where it bounced in the infield and exactly where it landed beyond 3rd. In addition, we would need the balls rotation and speed. With that, it is a simple matter of math/physics to trace close to, if not the exact, path of the ball.

        I suspect that it could be done with statcast, but I doubt that anyone would do that.

        As I said last night (and Steady Eddie commented on here), Bucknor wanted the game to be over and this was a simple way to do that. Based on the way both offenses were not doing much, it could have been a very long night.

      • kgwcoach - Jul 3, 2015 at 1:43 PM

        As much as the call made me sick I thought the call was probably right. Buckner sees the ball over the bag and coming straight for him. singles fair and moves to get out of the way at the same time. He didn’t need to wait to see where landed. 😏

  13. rayvil01 - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    The problem with replay would have been that there’s no good angle unless you had a camera on a drone directly above the base. Even with a direct down-the-line shot you wouldn’t know exactly where it went foul. Video alone has a lot of limitations. The fact that it’s a crew of brother umpires preserving relationships and covering each others’ backsides adds even more limitations.

    I don’t know enough about statscast. Might it have the information? It stinks to see a game end on such a judgement call play. Tennis finally bit the bullet and brought in the technology. I’m ready for baseball to follow suit. Enough already of Joe West and his buds making up their own moving strike zone.

  14. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Where’s the word on Banuelos injury? I’m not hearing a thing. Did the Barves pull a fast one to pull him from the game.?

    • rayvil01 - Jul 3, 2015 at 10:41 AM

      They’re claiming cramps and dehydration in his leg and fingers. I think you’re on to something. It probably was a fast one.

    • manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 12:43 PM

      We said it last night the Braves pulled a fast one. Cramps and dehidration are not injuries. They are physical ailments though. Avoidable .

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2015 at 12:55 PM

        Yah, the umps shouldn’t have allowed it. Jon Scheurholtz was on MLB today talking about the Barves rebuilding and when asked about Banuelos he said he’s fine. Great for him. He was close to self destruction after losing total control.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 1:27 PM

        What? The rules state that if a pitcher has to leave the game due to a physical impairment the replacement has all the time he needs to warm up. There is no rule that states how severe the impairment has to be. It could be as little as a hangnail. If the pitcher says he’s physically unable to go on, there is no test he has to pass. The ump is not going to tell him he can’t come out of the game until he recites his symptoms and a diagnosis is made. Get real. Did the Braves pull a fast one here or do anything underhanded? No.

      • manassasnatsfan - Jul 3, 2015 at 1:34 PM

        It is legal what the did? Yes.

        Do I approve ? No

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 3, 2015 at 2:24 PM

        Let’s turn the tables then. Suppose MW had come out on Wednesday night and pulled Fister for dehydration and cramps in the 4th inning right after he gave up the single to Maybin and the deep flyout to Markakis, or even the home run to Pierzynski. Or suppose he did that in the game against the Rays right after Butler ambushed Fister for a homer on his first pitch in the sixth. That would have been legal as well. Would you approve?

      • zmunchkin - Jul 3, 2015 at 3:07 PM

        And you point is natsnatsnatswoo?

        Whether or not manassasnatsfan would approve of something that MW has too much respect for the game to do is not relevant.

        What the Braves/Freddie did was disrespect the game. They are a classless organization that deserves nothing but contempt. Long gone are the days when they were a team even an opponent could respect. They lost that when Chipper and Bobby Cox retired.

  15. natsfan1a - Jul 3, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Eh, fair or foul, it doesn’t change the fact that the man’s a beast on the mound.

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