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Umpire Ron Kulpa owns up to blown call that helped land Mets a victory

Crew chief Ron Kulpa awards Michael Conforto first base, and thus the Mets the victory, on a hit by pitch Thursday at Citi Field.
Crew chief Ron Kulpa awards Michael Conforto first base, and thus the Mets the victory, on a hit by pitch Thursday at Citi Field.Mike Stobe/Getty

Plate umpire and crew chief Ron Kulpa admitted he blew a call that handed the New York Mets a 3-2 victory in its home opener over Miami, allowing Michael Conforto to force in the winning run with a hit by pitch that should’ve been called a strike.

With the bases loaded and one out, a scuffling Conforto appeared to stick out his right elbow pad just enough to get it grazed by a 1-2 breaking ball from closer Anthony Bass that looked to be in the strike zone.

Kulpa at first signaled strike, then quickly ruled Conforto was hit by the pitch. As Luis Guillorme scored and the Mets celebrated, Marlins players and manager Don Mattingly argued with Kulpa before a replay review was initiated. The review lasted 58 seconds, and the call was upheld.

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“The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out,” Kulpa told a pool reporter.

According to baseball rules, if a batter is hit by a pitch in the strike zone, the pitch should be called a strike. According to replay rules, however, whether the pitch was in the strike zone or the batter made any attempt to get out of the way is not subject to video review. Those are umpire judgment calls. Only whether the ball touched the batter is reviewable.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly argued both before and after the review, and said Kulpa told him the video was inconclusive to overrule the call on the field that the ball hit Conforto.

“He knows it was a strike, and he ... he couldn’t go backwards in his mind,” Mattingly told reporters, shrugging. “To be honest with you, I bet he feels awful. Because they don’t want to do that either.”

Jeff McNeil, on his 29th birthday, had tied the game with a homer earlier in the inning. Before the game, New York put reliever Dellin Betances was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder impingement.

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Craig Kimbrel joins 350-save club

Craig Kimbrel made his 350th career regular-season save the first five-out one in the group, becoming the 12th pitcher with 350 by finishing off the reeling Pirates, 4-2, for the Cubs in Pittsburgh. The seven-time All-Star struck out Dustin Fowler and pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo with the bases loaded to end the eighth, then retired the Pirates in order in the ninth.

Craig Kimbrel celebrates with Willson Contreras as he finished off Thursday's game to reach the milestone.
Craig Kimbrel celebrates with Willson Contreras as he finished off Thursday's game to reach the milestone.Joe Sargent/Getty

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Kimbrel said. “Glad I was able to get here. Plan is to get to 400 now.”

Kimbrel’s only other career save of more than four outs came in Game 4 of the 2018 ALCS with the Red Sox, when he threw the final two innings of an 8-6 win, allowing a run. Kimbrel slogged through 2019 and 2020 for Chicago after leaving Boston as a free agent, going 0-5 with a 6.00 ERA in 41 appearances.

The 32-year-old needed only 22 pitches on Thursday. He is yet to allow a hit in 4⅔ innings in 2021.

Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant all homered to provide the runs for Chicago, which raised its major league-worst team batting average from .143 to .157.

Jays drop regular-season opener in new, new home

David Fletcher had a two-run single in the 11th inning, and the Los Angeles Angels beat Toronto, 7-5, in Dunedin, Fla., the first regular season game played at the Blue Jays’ spring training ballpark. The Jays became the first team in Major League Baseball history to play home openers in three different cities over three consecutive seasons, bouncing to Buffalo and now Florida due to the Canadian government barring them from Toronto during the pandemic. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio homered for the Blue Jays, while Mike Trout went 3 for 5 with a massive homer for LA . . . Lance Lynn pitched a 111-pitch five-hitter for the first complete game and shutout in the major leagues this season, the White Sox beating Kansas City, 6-0, in the home opener at rainy Chicago. Yermín Mercedes kept up his scorching start with a 485-foot homer, the 28-year-old rookie’s 2 for 4 giving him a major league-leading 15 hits in 27 at-bats . . . Nolan Arenado hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the eighth inning of his home debut with the Cardinals, lifting St. Louis over Milwaukee, 3-1. The Cardinals were without Paul Goldschmidt, who was held out for precautionary reasons with back tightness . . . Mitch Garver, Byron Buxton, and Luis Arraez hit home runs to back another strong start by José Berríos (2-0), and Minnesota beat Seattle, 10-2, in its home opener, the warmest April opener (67 degrees) since the Twins opened Target Field in 2010 . . . Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, and Jose Altuve homered as Houston beat Oakland for the fifth straight time this season, 6-2, in the Astros’ home opener at Minute Maid Park . . . Jon Gray took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and got his first win of the season, pitching Colorado over Arizona, 7-3, in Denver. Gray (1-0) allowed three runners through six innings and 83 pitches, but David Peralta sent a 1-2 slider into the gap in left-center field for a leadoff triple in the seventh. Also, Arizona put infielder Ketel Marte on the 10-day injured list; he hurt his right hamstring Wednesday against Colorado.

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