Hirschbeck's game nearly as good as Doc's
Pitch f/x shows umpire did not expand strike zone for Halladay
A day after Roy Halladay's no-hitter over the Reds in Game 1 on the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park, some of the talk about the performance shifted to the strike zone of home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck.
After the game on Wednesday night, Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera expressed some displeasure with the strike zone.
"[Halladay] was basically getting every pitch," said Cabrera, who flied out to center, struck out swinging and grounded to second in his three at-bats. "We had no chance."
But Pitch f/x says otherwise, reinforcing the job Hirschbeck did in calling balls and strikes, including the ball four to Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, whose fifth-inning walk was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect night for the Phillies ace.
"The last pitch was definitely a ball," Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz said of the Bruce walk. "Just before that pitch, [Halladay] threw a good one, but that's what happens. He could have been perfect all game."
A review of the Pitch f/x shows that Halladay was very nearly perfect -- and so was Hirschbeck. Halladay threw 79 strikes and only 25 balls all night. Of those strikes, 23 were called strikes and 15 of those were on or near the black. Sixteen of them were first-pitch called strikes to get Halladay ahead, 0-1, and none of those should have been called balls.
"When I stop and think about the game that Roy pitched," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Thursday, "like I said in here [last night], his command was so good. The big thing about it is he didn't get balls in the middle of the plate.
"He likes to get ahead. Last night he was getting ahead, but he was getting ahead with outstanding quality pitches. He pitched a tremendous game. ... As a hitter, when you let them or when a pitcher does that to you, what you're doing is you're getting anxious and you want to hit too much, instead of being patient and making the ball be a good pitch to hit. ... The pitcher expands the plate and you start swinging at them, and that's what I saw happen with Cincinnati, too. He pitched just like he wanted to, and they went right along with his plan."
The only two pitches that could have been called balls were called third strikes on Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in the fourth and third baseman Scott Rolen in the fifth. The pitch to Phillips, a 93-mph fastball up at the belt and on the outer edge, was close.
The pitch to Rolen, a 93-mph fastball at the knees but just off the plate, was probably a ball -- perhaps the only call Hirschbeck missed all night. Rolen had some words for Hirschbeck as he circled around him on the way back to bench, but was effusive in his praise of Halladay after the game. So, too, were most of his teammates, who marveled at Halladay's control on both edges of the plate and with all four of his pitches.
That control enabled Halladay to get ahead, 0-1, on an astonishing 25 of the 28 batters he faced. While he reached three balls only three times, he got ahead in the count, 0-2, 11 times.
"I think Doc actually took the umpire out of the game by just throwing strikes," said Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes. "I really didn't have any questionable strikes on me. I'm not really worried about the umpire too much. I'm worried about the guy on the mound. He did a great job -- all four corners down and in, up and in, down and out. He threw all four pitches in all four corners."
Halladay himself, of course, didn't take issue with Hirschbeck's zone.
"I felt like really it was a pretty fair zone," he said. "From what I saw in between innings, they were calling the same pitches that I was getting. It's one of those things that I think there's always going to be certain cases where people aren't happy with what's called, but that's part of the game."
In the view of Reds manager Dusty Baker, you reap what you sow.
"When a guy is throwing strikes, he'll get calls," Baker said. "That's how it's always been. That's probably how it will always be. I feel the umpires want to call strikes.
"If you keep throwing strike after strike after strike. Just like if you're calling ball after ball after ball, you probably won't get the same strike calls either. I think that is human nature."
Jim Banks is an executive editor for MLB.com. Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.