Mookie Betts didn’t have time to swing his bat, remove his shin guard or even half-step toward first base.
After striking out a crucial four-baller with two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game Saturday night, the Dodgers star was immediately called up — and, in a controversial moment, put it all together. on the visiting side, error – by home plate umpire Paul Emmel for a game-ending third strike.
“He called it,” Betts said. “I can’t do anything.”
Added Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “Unfortunately one missed call determined the end of that game.”
In fact, moments before Betts’ strikeout sealed a 6-5 victory for St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers are about to complete an improbable comeback.
After trailing by three runs early, then falling behind again when Nolan Gorman belted a tiebreaking three-run blast in the bottom of the eighth, the Dodgers came alive in the top of the ninth.
Miguel Vargas scored a leadoff double. David Peralta followed with a single to bring the tying run to the plate.
Jason Heyward then drove in a run with an RBI double, making it 6-4. Will Smith hit a sacrifice fly that cut the Cardinals lead to 6-5. With two outs, there was a runner on second base.
“We were there,” Roberts said. “We stress them out.”
However, at that moment, Emmel’s wide strike zone was formed.
During Smith’s at-bat, Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos threw a 3-and-1 fastball that appeared to miss the zone — only for Emmel to call it a strike.
Roberts disagreed after reviewing the film after the game but acknowledged that the call was at least in the umpire’s “buffer zone.”
The one against Betts moments later, meanwhile, didn’t seem to come close to clipping the plate.
After giving up two quick strikes, Betts buckled down and worked a full count, content to walk and pass the baton to Freddie Freeman if he didn’t get the pitch he wanted.
Gallegos’ payoff offer certainly didn’t work — an outside fastball that, despite being framed decently by catcher Willson Contreras, seemed clearly a few inches wide.
“Mookie is very good at not swinging at balls,” said teammate JD Martinez.
But, without hesitation, Emmel clenched his fists, waved his hands and called it a strike.
End of the inning. The game is over. The return is incomplete.
“It’s not good when a game ends like that,” Martinez said. “In that situation, it’s one of those things you don’t want to happen.”
Although Betts was clearly frustrated by the moment, throwing his hands up in disbelief before walking away from the plate, he recounted the sequence after the game carefully.
“It was a good at-bat. I can’t do anything else,” he said. “At that point, it was out of my hands and his. … I wish things would have been different, but there was nothing I could do.”
Roberts and Martinez no less.
“He missed it,” Roberts said. “Just seeing Mookie’s reaction, and then you go back and see how far, it doesn’t give the attacker a chance. That’s what’s frustrating.”
Martinez added, about to bite his tongue: “Go back and look at it – I don’t want to trouble myself.”
Martinez helped spark the comeback a few innings earlier, blasting a three-run homer in the St. Louis sixth. Louis starter Miles Mikolas erased an early 3-0 Cardinals lead.
“I just battled him,” said Martinez, who has six home runs and an .805 on-base-plus-slugging percentage on the season. “Luckily, I got a pitch up.”
Dodgers starter Noah Syndergaard also settled down after a rough start to the night, ending his five-inning, three-run start with three consecutive scoreless innings — his longest streak. zero in one game since April 19.
“First two innings, I was like, here we go again, another wild outing,” said Syndergaard, who has been plagued by a finger blister and mental issues in recent weeks. “I felt like I finally found my groove in those last three innings.”
The Dodgers’ bullpen held on to tie the score until Gorman struck out Victor González in the eighth inning, the first run the left-handed reliever had given up all season.
But the Dodgers were still in position to extend — if not win — the game in the ninth until Emmel snuffed out their rally with his questionably called strike.
“We feel good where we are,” Roberts said with a sigh. “You don’t want to see the game decided by someone who isn’t wearing a player’s uniform.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.