Three weeks after Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga entered the national spotlight with a missed call at first base, it was a called third strike on Johnny Damon for the final out that left the Tigers disappointed Saturday. This one didn't determine history, but the Tigers believe it might have determined the final score and the end to a bizarre comeback in a 4-3 loss to the Braves.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"The game should've been tied there," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We should've had [Ramon] Santiago up with a tie game. I mean, that doesn't make the walks excusable or stuff like that, but, you know, you can't miss those pitches. You just can't miss those."
Leyland wasn't about to blame all his team's trouble on one call. His Tigers managed three hits Saturday, and only put the tying run within 90 feet of scoring with four straight two-out walks in the ninth. They were trailing after Joel Zumaya walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches ahead of Chipper Jones' three-run homer.
On the other hand, he couldn't ignore the replay that showed Peter Moylan's payoff pitch off the plate to end the game. Judging by the number of players watching the replay online in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field following the loss, nobody could ignore it.
"It's a shame that we can't see [what] may have happened," Damon said, carefully choosing his words. "Unfortunately, he saw it differently."
Damon didn't erupt. Though he was ejected in April for drawing the inside corner of the strike zone in the dirt, that's not really his style.
Leyland usually doesn't blame calls, either, but when he was pressed about it, he picked up his tone.
"You know what you guys need to do, truthfully? You guys need to ask the umpire about that pitch instead of me commenting," Leyland said. "You need to go ask him. You guys should all march over there, and ask him right now, 'What about the pitch?' See what happens. That's what should be done. Because that's the only way some of this stuff gets taken care of. Ask him. I don't need to comment on it. I know it was outside.
"I don't mean to bury anybody or anything, but you need to ask the umpire about it. The pitch wasn't close. It was that far outside."
Cederstrom said: "It was a sweeping pitch, going away from Damon. It looked good coming in, then broke late.
"My timing was fast. Whenever you have fast timing as an umpire, you usually get in trouble."
Asked what he thought of the call after looking at a replay, Cederstrom said, "It didn't look very good."
The Tigers would agree. And they didn't sound willing to hug this one out.
"If it's a close pitch, that's something," said Gerald Laird, whose walk in the previous at-bat brought in a run and moved the tying run to third. "But from the looks of it, it wasn't even close. You have to get that right. That's why it's so frustrating. They had the lead, and we battled back in the ninth."
It took a ninth-inning home run from Miguel Cabrera, a marathon at-bat from Brandon Inge and a bizarre series of walks from the Braves bullpen to set up the controversial finish. What had been a 4-1 deficit was whittled down when Cabrera took Takashi Saito deep for his 20th homer of the year.
Saito caught Brennan Boesch looking for the second out and was a pitch away from getting Carlos Guillen and Inge before walking them both. Inge fouled off six straight full-count pitches before taking ball four on the 12th pitch of the battle.
"That was strictly good instinct," said Inge, who went from thinking game-tying homer to just staying alive in the at-bat.
"In my opinion, I wasn't going to let him [strike me out]. I'm sure his attitude was he was trying to strike me out. I was just trying to really compete right there in that situation, not think of anything else. ... It was one of my better at-bats this year. You don't always have to get a hit. That can lift a team just as much as a home run.
"It's so hard at that particular point in the game when you've got two strikes. I don't want to try to hit a home run there. I want to try to hit a gapper or put it in play somewhere. With two strikes, you kind of have to not necessarily hit breaking ball speed, but you kind of have to be in between, so you can just foul off a breaking ball."
That was it for Saito, but the collapse was just beginning. With closer Billy Wagner unavailable with an injured left ankle, Braves manager Bobby Cox went to lefty Eric O'Flaherty to face left-handed hitting rookie Alex Avila. Leyland countered by pinch-hitting with rookie infielder Danny Worth, who took a four-pitch walk to load the bases.
With the pitcher's spot up and O'Flaherty still in, Leyland used the .176-hitting Laird, his only right-handed hitter left on the bench. He took a sinker outside for ball four.
"Guys that normally are not wild got wild for some reason," Cox said. "I don't know. The good thing is we won the game."
Once Cox went to the right-handed Moylan, Damon was ready. He didn't swing until he had a 3-1 count, then pulled a pitch foul to run it full. After fouling off another pitch, Moylan fired outside -- and got the call the Tigers will be debating for a while.
"I mean, it's definitely a crucial situation," Damon said. "Anytime guys are on base, you want to try to put together as good of an at-bat as possible. I felt like that's what I did. Unfortunately, things don't go well for you all the time, but I just wish I could've come through."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.