They say that winners win, and that losers blame the refs (or umps, in baseball parlance). To an extent, this is true, but it was not true the last time a Tampa Bay sports team beat a Kansas City sports team, and it was not true tonight—in both cases, the team that played better won. The Kansas City Royals thoroughly lost tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0, failing to capitalize on what few opportunities they created for themselves and self-inflicting multiple wounds along the way.
But in both cases, the refs—er, umps—were a true dumpster fire. Every year, there tend to be a few games every year where the umpiring is so extremely bad as to be front and center, its own show-within-a-show. Tonight was one of those games.
Umpires have two jobs: to call an accurate zone, and to be consistent. Home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz eschewed both duties with aplomb. Left-handed hitter Josh Fleming started for the Rays, and he got a wildly expanded strike zone that simply made no sense whatsoever. Fleming got half a dozen strikes that were completely off his left side of the plate. One was perhaps the worst strike call I’ve ever seen, a truly magnificent failure to perform the basic duties of home plate umpiring.
Having said that... this is obscene. pic.twitter.com/6GE1ThEiUJ— Craig Brown (@CraigBrown_BP) April 20, 2021
Meanwhile, Fleming was flustered by Duffy’s pitches, not only refusing to give him the same kind of zone but outright missing two pitches which were clear strikes nearly entirely in the zone.
Because I am fair and balanced... pic.twitter.com/vdeUjBOxKS— Craig Brown (@CraigBrown_BP) April 20, 2021
Duffy worked through it, to his credit. In fact, Duffy was phenomenal, and notched his 1000th career strikeout. It was one of eight on the day, against only a pair of walks and four hits—all singles—across six innings.
But while Duffy was able to overcome a wonky strike zone, he was not unable to overcome his defense. In the fifth inning, Duffy induced a popup from Willy Adames. Carlos Santana sauntered over a few feet from first base and dropped what would have been the third out of the inning for an error. Joey Wendle, who had previously singled, was dutifully rounding the bases. Santana had the opportunity to make a throw to home and get the third out, but doubled down and yeeted the ball over Nicky Lopez’s head at second base for his second error of the play. Kevin Kiermaier then singled to score Adames.
Another error—this time from Whit Merrifield—resulted in the Rays’ third run of the game in the seventh inning. They scored their fourth in the ninth inning off of Wade Davis.
But really, those first two runs were all it turned out they needed—the offense simply couldn’t get anything going, hitting the ball into the ground when they hit it hard at all. To be fair to the Royals, it is difficult to put together much of a cohesive offensive plan when you step up to the plate and the umpire calls a strike at eye level for reasons beyond comprehension.
You can’t see pitch one called a ball because pitch three called a strike is directly on top of it. Get Ortiz all the way out of here. pic.twitter.com/CgwAL0yZbM— David Lesky (@DBLesky) April 20, 2021
Kansas City’s lone run was due mostly to—who else—Salvador Perez, who doubled in the ninth inning, moved to third base on a wild pitched, and then scored on a Jorge Soler sac fly. The Royals have now scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their 15 games, and have scored a total of seven runs in their past four games. It is difficult to win baseball games when that happens, but somehow they are 2-2 over those games. Royals fans should probably gird themselves for more stretches like this than what happened at the beginning of the year—and it’s why trading one of those shiny young pitchers for a young bat with upside makes a lot of sense.
Still, tonight’s farcical baseball game was one game amongst 162. Tomorrow, the Royals have a chance to finally get back at Tampa Bay, and must win it in order to keep their series non-losing streak alive.
Regardless, congratulations to Mr. Duffy, a member of the 1000 strikeout club. You’ve earned it.