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ON BASEBALL

‘There’s an art to it:’ The blown call against Kevin Plawecki and the Red Sox isn’t enough to make him want a robot ump

Kevin Plawecki (left) and Alex Cora argue with home plate umpire Adam Beck, who called Plawecki out on strikes on a pitch outside the zone, and then ejected both the player and manager.John Bazemore/Associated Press

ATLANTA — There will likely come a time in the next few years when Major League Baseball announces it is ready to use a tracking device to call balls and strikes instead of an umpire.

There are sure to be loud howls of protest from traditionalists. The human element is part of the game and has been for more than 100 years, they’ll say. Commissioner Rob Manfred is going too far.

Some of those complaints will come from inside the game because not everybody is in favor of robot umps.

That includes Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki, even after a terrible call went against him at Truist Park on Wednesday night.

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The Red Sox and Braves were tied 3-3 in the sixth inning. The Sox loaded the bases with two outs and had Plawecki at the plate against righthander Collin McHugh.

McHugh had pitched around lefthanded-hitting Franchy Cordero to get to Plawecki, a righthanded hitter.

McHugh got ahead 0-and-2 but Plawecki stayed disciplined and worked the count full. McHugh cracked, throwing a cutter several inches below the strike zone. The Sox had the lead.

Except umpire Adam Beck called the pitch a strike, ending the inning. The software used by MLB.com showed the pitch was two baseballs below the strike zone.

Not one baseball, two. It wasn’t anywhere close to a strike. Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, or Dale Murphy wouldn’t have called it a strike.

Plawecki looked up in disbelief, then fired his helmet into the dirt. He was immediately ejected by Beck. So was Alex Cora a few seconds after he ran over from the dugout.

Beck actually argued with Cora instead of just listening. He defended his terrible call.

Cora got his money’s worth, staying on the field and repeatedly gesturing to his shins to show Beck where the pitch was.

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It didn’t matter. Balls and strikes can’t be challenged.

“That’s a tough job. We know that. We understand that,” Cora said. “Sometimes we agree with them, sometimes we don’t.”

Alex Cora reacts after being ejected by umpire Adam Beck in the sixth inning of Wednesday's game.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Plawecki wasn’t quite as diplomatic as his manager.

“It’s a terrible call,” he said.

Beck had actually called a good game to that point, Plawecki said.

“I know he’s human just like us. But in that situation, that spot, be better than that,” he said. “Nobody thought it was a strike, even the other side.”

Let’s pause here and acknowledge the bad call occurred in the sixth inning. The Red Sox came to the plate three more times and didn’t have a hit.

Beck’s impersonation of Stevie Wonder cost them a run but didn’t necessarily cost them the game. A good team finds a way to win and the 11-20 Sox aren’t a good team right now.

“We had chances to add on and we had chances to make pitches and we didn’t do it,” Cora said.

As angry as Plawecki was after the game, he still prefers that people call balls and strikes, not a robot.

“I don’t want an electronic strike zone,” he said. “There’s an art to it. Am I mad about the call tonight? Sure. But that doesn’t change my mind.”

Baseball has gone through a period of change the last few years. The designated hitter is universal now and extra innings start with a runner on second base. Pitchers must face three batters unless they end an inning first.

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That the ball isn’t juiced any more is something you can’t help but notice.

Improving the pace of the game and getting more balls in play is a worthy goal. The rise of analytics turned baseball into an endless stream of walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Change was necessary.

But how much is too much? Plawecki is right, there is an art to umpiring. If it’s 8-0 in the second inning, a larger strike zone to speed things up is something both teams readily accept.

Umpires shouldn’t have wildly different interpretations of the strike zone. But as long as they’re consistent with their calls, it’s fine. That’s baseball.

But what we saw Wednesday was baseball, too, and it happens far too often. The robots are coming and glaringly bad calls like that invite them.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.