Last night's game, aside from being one of the worst playoff losses the Mets have ever suffered, was probably the single worst job of home plate umpiring I have ever seen. You might expect Major League Baseball to select their playoff umpiring crews on merit, but last night's plate ump Jim Joyce did himself and the entire sport a disservice by calling a strike zone that was absurdly inaccurate and inconsistent at the same time. I'm going through MLB.com's own Enhanced Gameday looking at the pitch locations of some of his calls, and the evidence is pretty damning.
John Maine in particular was hurt by some terrible calls in the Cardinals' two-run second inning, but this was in no way a one-sided embarrassment. Joyce's only consistency last night may have been that his mercurial strike zone befuddled the Mets and Cardinals alike.
Here are the questionable calls I found over the course of the game. Some are borderline, some are blatantly miscalled. The green dot indicates that a ball was called, and in many cases the pitch was in or around the heart of the strike zone. Pitches three, four, and five below were all thrown by John Maine to Jim Edmonds during Edmonds's leadoff walk to begin the second inning. At least two of those pitches are obvious strikes, and the third would likely have been called a strike by the majority of the league's umpires (I'm conjecturing here). In a seven-pitch at-bat, Maine apparently threw five strikes to Edmonds and still managed to walk him.
The final pitch below came on a 2-2 count to So Taguchi in the top of the ninth. That pitch, a 98 MPH fastball from Billy Wagner, was called a ball, running the count full on Taguchi. Two foul balls later Taguchi, using every last ounce of sinewy strength in his body, smashed a 98 MPH Wagner offering into the left-field bullpen. Joyce's missed call on Taguchi doesn't explain why Wagner proceeded to give up hits to three of the next four batters, but who knows if it would have reached that point if he had simply made the correct call to begin with.
None of this is to say that the Mets lost the game because of poor officiating. Some calls surely didn't go their way, but the same can be said of the Cardinals. I have no idea if the game would have unfolded differently had strikes been called strikes and balls been called balls; all I ask is that the actions of the players, not the ineptness of the umpires, be allowed to determine the outcome of the game.
The irony of using MLB's own technology to point out the inadequacies of its officiating shouldn't be lost on anyone.
Click on any of the pitch charts below for a full-sized version.