For those who did not have the pleasure of watching Game Two of the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins, one of the biggest story lines was a controversial call in the seventh inning. With one out, two strikes, and Jorge Posada on first base, Carl Pavano threw a tailing fastball on the inside of the plate for what “should have” been strike three.

However, it was called a ball by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, and Berkman promptly hit the next pitch over Denard Span’s head into center for a double and an RBI, giving the Yankees a one-run lead late in the game. Berkman would later score on a Jeter single to go up 4-2. So overall, a big, game-changing mistake on the part of the umpire and another case for replay in baseball, right?

Wrong. Simply looking at this one at-bat does not tell the whole story of the game. Carl Pavano, and then later Kerry Wood, were getting called strikes that were clearly on the outside of the plate (Andy Pettitte was not seemingly getting these similar calls, presumably because he is a lefty. I have no idea). Throughout the game, I wasn’t counting, but Hunter Wendelstedt gave anywhere from 10-15 called strikes that should have been balls in that location. So, for him to call a ball on the inside edge of the plate does not necessarily represent a mistake, but rather represents where his strike zone had been all night in Game Two. Anybody who has played baseball knows that umpires are given this discretion on judgement calls like balls/strikes, and these expanded strike zones aren’t uncommon.

Lance Berkman recognized this, as seen in his post-game comments:

I mean, I felt like it was a ball. I had to swing at it, I had two strikes. It was a tough pitch. You know, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it, and like it was right down the middle or something. That’s a very borderline pitch. Sometimes it gets called, sometimes it doesn’t. I felt like Hunter was very consistent all night with not giving anything inside. He was giving probably four to six inches off the outside corner, wasn’t giving anything over the inside corner. So that was the strike zone. And I mean, I have been punched out plenty on balls that I didn’t think were strikes, so what the heck. You know, if he had called it, I wouldn’t have been happy about it, but I wouldn’t have been shocked.

Either way, people are going to continue to talk about this as part of the instant replay debate. There are missed calls in baseball (e.g. Golson’s catch in Game One on Wednesday), but in this instance there was no bad call, just a consistent call in an expanded strike zone which is part of the game of baseball. 

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