Two starts ago the baseball world was buzzing during the dominant pitching performance by former Detroit Tigers ace Max Scherzer against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With two out in the ninth inning the Nationals were ahead 6-0, Scherzer had retired all 26 batters he faced, thrown 95 pitches, 75 for strikes and had only been behind in the count to six hitters, none deeper than 1-0.
Jose Tabata stepped into the box as the 27th Pirate hitter in the game With the count 2-2, Scherzer threw a slider that rode inside and hit Tabata on the elbow, sending him to first base and ruining the perfect game. Josh Harrison followed with a fly-out to left and Scherzer completed his no-hit performance.
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The fan reaction across the baseball world on television, radio and social media was immediate and near unanimous. Tabata was bush-league for leaning into the pitch, it was dirty, a violation of the unwritten rules of baseball. Well, here’s a one word response to those comments, bull****!
“Just Win, Baby.”
Whether you loved or hated, former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, and there doesn’t seem to be an in-between, he boiled all of competitive sports down to their basic premise with the above quote.
The philosophy of never giving up is best stated by George C. Scott while making his opening statement in the movie “Patton”.
"“When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.”"
Tabata’s job was to get the game to the next batter by any means necessary, nothing else, and he succeeded. Were the odds of a Pirates comeback still infinitesimal with Tabata on first? Of course they were, but they has happened in rare occasions..
If Harrison gets another 20-feet of carry on his game-ending fly ball Tabata’s play takes on added significance. Pittsburgh would still be down 6-2 but with the meat of their batting order coming up to face Scherzer,who’s invincibility cloak had just taken some damage, for a fourth time. Comeback still highly improbable, but a bit more possible, especially for a playoff contender.
“Written” rules backs home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski’s call.
Rule 6.08 (b) states that the batter is entitled to first base when:
"He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball."
Scherzer’s pitch was a slider that failed to break. Tabata appeared to start his swing, then began to turn. When Muchlinski sees Tabata flinch before getting hit he makes the call that every umpire in the Major Leagues makes in that situation.
Remember that Muchlinski does not have the benefit of the slow motion replay that everyone has seen countless times, and also have used to make their own definitive call that only “morons” would argue against.
Even if he does the unlikely and decides Tabata didn’t make a move to avoid the pitch, it’s ruled a ball and Tabata steps back into the batters box to see his ninth pitch of the at-bat with a 3-2 count.
Also, many wondered why the umpires, given the extraordinary circumstances, wouldn’t at least take a second look. That is covered in the second rule that came into play, regarding Major League Baseball’s replay regulations:
"…whether the ball was in the strike zone when it touched the batter, and whether the batter made any attempt to avoid being touched by the ball, shall not be reviewable."
Whether a pitch actually hit the batter is reviewable. Whether the batter did or did not make a move to avoid the pitch is up to the discretion of the home plate umpire.
Making baseball history isn’t supposed to be easy.
Fans furiously held the view that Tabata wimped out on being a part of baseball history but really, who remembers perfect game final outs. It’s the pitcher that’s remembered.
There have been 289 no-hitters, including Scherzer’s, in Major League history. Only 23 of those have been perfect games. There are many ways in baseball to reach first base without recording a base hit and to avoid them all takes a dominant performance, plus a bit of luck.
Scherzer did not get his perfect game because he did not earn it! The timing of when he lost his bid, whether early in the game or the 27th batter is irrelevant.
Tabata had two hits in eight lifetime at-bats against Scherzer and battled him hard in this at bat. Tabata swung at five pitches, three fastballs and two sliders, all fouls. He was the only hitter Scherzer threw sliders to in that ninth inning.
He had thrown Tabata two straight fastballs, both fouled, and for the eighth pitch in the sequence shook off catcher Wilson Ramos, who likely wanted more heat. That Scherzer uncorked his worst pitch of the game, is his fault. Tabata is not to blame for taking advantage of it.
Unwritten rules only apply until they don’t.
As for unwritten rules, there are only two prominent ones that deal with no-hitters/perfect games. First, teammates and announcers should never mention that there is a no-hitter in progress. Second, that bunting for a base hit when your team is hitless is unacceptable. The first one is superstitious hogwash, the second isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even the best bunters only put the ball in play on 50 percent of their attempts.
There also used to be an unwritten rule about talking to a pitcher about anything during a no-hitter. Dugout shots would show the pitcher sitting alone on one side with the rest of the team on the other. That one doesn’t seem to be in force anymore.
There also used to be unwritten rules about when it was allowable to attempt stolen bases. It was bad form to attempt a steal if your team was too far ahead or behind. That lasted until 1962 when Maury Wills went on a base stealing rampage, finishing with 104 to break Ty Cobb‘s single-season record. That season brought the speed game back to prominence in Major League Baseball. Ricky Henderson currently holds the record with 130, and he didn’t care when he attempted it.
That rule is still remembered and talked about but rarely observed in today’s game.
The biggest unwritten rules in baseball history though have always dealt with when hitters should expect to be knocked down. Those stayed in force until the money era of Major League Baseball. Suddenly hitters weren’t content with getting up and stepping back into the batter’s box. An epidemic of charging the mound brought warning and automatic ejection rules into play.
(Motor City Bengals co-editor Dave Holcomb expands on unwritten rules and when they apply in his article, “The Unwritten Rules About Fantasy Baseball,” found on Sportsnetwork.com. Recommended reading).
Actually, out of all the commotion that arose from the play, a postgame comment from Scherzer was the most rational one anybody had to offer, “I dont blame him for doing it, I probably would have done the same thing.”