Red Sox unravel in ALCS Game 4 following umpire’s horrible call

The Red Sox fell apart after the umpire failed to call strike three

We have a tendency to overreact to poor officiating when our favorite team is involved. I’ll admit to being guilty of screaming at the television in the heat of the moment when a call doesn’t go our way. The reality is that umpires are humans who will occasionally make mistakes. Laz Diaz made more than his fair share of mistakes in Game 4 of the ALCS and even when I try reflecting on the outcome with objective eyes, it still feels like the home plate umpire’s incompetence cost the Boston Red Sox the game.

The score was knotted at two entering the ninth inning when manager Alex Cora turned to Nathan Eovaldi to keep the game tied. Boston’s Game 2 starter had last pitched on Saturday but the Red Sox felt they could get one inning out of their ace without hindering his availability to start later in the series.

With two on and two out, Eovaldi got ahead in the count 1-2 to catcher Jason Castro before delivering a curveball that dove late to grab the top corner of the strike zone. Eovaldi took a couple of steps toward the dugout before getting the bad news from Diaz behind the plate. Ball two. A bewildered Eovaldi went back to the mound to try to put away Castro again. Two pitches later, Castro roped a base hit to right-center field to drive in the go-ahead run.

Instead of heading to the bottom of the ninth with a chance to walk off with a win, the Red Sox now trailed. Clearly flustered by the missed call that went against him, Eovaldi missed his spot with the splitter to Castro and walked Jose Altuve before getting the hook with the bases loaded.

It’s understandable why Cora pulled Eovaldi. He wasn’t sharp that night and running up his pitch count much further might have prevented the Red Sox from using him in a potential Game 6 or 7. Sending in Martin Perez might as well have signaled that Cora was waiving the white flag though. Perez allowed all of the inherited runners to score and then some before mercifully ending the inning.

In the blink of an eye, the score was 9-2. The seven runs that Houston scored in the ninth inning set a franchise record and tied an MLB record for the most runs scored in the ninth inning or later of a postseason game.

None of that would have happened if Diaz had correctly called the third strike to Castro. This wasn’t an isolated incident where one borderline call didn’t go our way though. According to ESPN, Diaz missed 21 ball-strike calls in this game, the most by any umpire in this postseason.

Umpire Scorecards rated Diaz with an 87.6% accuracy rate, the worst of any umpire and well below the average of 94% this postseason. As you can see in the graphic, Diaz consistently missed strike calls at the top and bottom of the zone and his strike zone was far too wide on both sides of the plate.

At least his overall consistency was an above-average 97% in this game. Unfortunately, Diaz was consistently bad.

The botched call that cost Eovaldi a strikeout wasn’t even Diaz’s biggest blunder in terms of the change in run expectancy. With one out, a runner on first and a full count to J.D. Martinez, Cristian Javier threw a fastball that appeared to be well off the plate. Martinez was on his way to first base with a free pass until Diaz informed him he had struck out.

Cora had to be restrained during a heated exchange with Diaz. The manager had emerged from the dugout to protect his player, ensuring Martinez wouldn’t get ejected for arguing. Cora ripped into Diaz and the only rationale reason why the manager didn’t get tossed is because the umpire must have realized he was right.

The Astros tried to argue interference on Martinez, who walked in front of the plate as Alex Verdugo was stealing second. There would be no need for a stolen base if the call were correctly ruled ball four. Dusty Baker tried to plead his case but Diaz wasn’t interested in hearing it. A rare play where an umpire pisses off both managers.

The Red Sox came up empty in that third inning. There’s no guarantee they would have scored any runs if Martinez had walked but putting two on with only one out certainly increases their chances. If nothing else, it forces Javier to throw more pitches. The right-hander saved the Astros with three scoreless innings after starter Zack Greinke failed to make it out of the second. Perhaps Javier doesn’t last as long if Martinez had reached base against him.

Boston did themselves no favors by going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 men on base. You won’t win many games when your offense stalls that much.

Despite a frustrating night for Boston’s bats, they were still locked in a tie game until Diaz robbed Eovaldi of strike three. The game quickly unraveled for the Red Sox in that ninth inning, turning a classic pitching duel into a route.

Concerns about Diaz calling games should comes as no surprise considering his reputation. Diaz ranked in the bottom-7th percentile in accuracy and bottom-12th in consistency this season. He saved his worst for last though. The 21 missed calls in Game 4 were his most in any game this year and his 3.17 Total Run Impact was the highest of any game he called this year. Seriously, why was this umpire allowed anywhere near a playoff game?

The embarrassment of a game officiated this poorly should be enough to get MLB to at least consider implementing robot umpires. At least one member of the Red Sox organization agrees.

While a higher percentage of blown calls favored the Astros, Diaz made mistakes against both sides. If Houston had lost that game, they could certainly point to a few reasons to grumble about the umpire. This wasn’t a nefarious plot against the Red Sox. Diaz is simply a bad umpire.