A baffling ninth-inning ruling on the field set the stage for the Red Sox to achieve history. Thanks in part to an incorrect on-field ruling that was deemed unreviewable, the Red Sox matched a major league record by striking out 20 Texas Rangers in a nine-inning game, with Craig Kimbrel in the process tying a major league record with four strikeouts in an inning.
Kimbrel, summoned in the ninth inning of a 6-2 Red Sox victory, opened the inning in familiar overpowering fashion. On a 2-2 count against leadoff hitter Nomar Mazara, Kimbrel unleashed a textbook back-foot curveball. Mazara whiffed on a pitch that hit his left ankle and ricocheted toward the Rangers dugout.
By definition, the umpires should have ruled it a strikeout and a dead ball once it hit the Texas outfielder. On the field, however, home plate umpire Chad Fairchild didn’t see the pitch hit the batter, and so when Mazara scampered to first, he was deemed safe on a wild pitch.
“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that got away and he obviously reached first base,” said crew chief Alfonso Marquez. “The only thing that I will say is, this was a replay issue.”
Evidently, the umpires determined that the question of whether the pitch hit Mazara was unreviewable, much to the bafflement of Red Sox John Farrell, who argued the point with Marquez.
“Strike three/hit by pitch is an automatic out. That wasn’t the call unfortunately,” said Farrell. “I challenged the call, challenged that he was hit by a pitch, which in fact he was. And then it was brought back to me that it’s not a reviewable or challengeable pitch. Any hit by pitch is reviewable. I still to this moment don’t know why that ruling came down. It doesn’t matter what side of the baseball you’re on, a hit by pitch is reviewable.”
After the game, MLB acknowledged that the replay official and replay supervisor had misinterpreted the call on the field, and that the play should have been reviewable.
Kimbrel not only rendered the ruling irrelevant but also turned it into an opportunity to achieve history.
He ruthlessly dispatched Jonathan Lucroy (on a 98-m.p.h. fastball), Rougned Odor (swinging on a curve), and Mike Napoli (swinging on a 98-m.p.h. fastball) to deliver the 85th four-strikeout inning in major league history.
It was Kimbrel’s second time with such a frame, making him one of just four major leaguers ever – along with Chuck Finley (who did it three times), A.J. Burnett, and Zack Greinke – with multiple four-strikeout innings. Kimbrel had previously accomplished the feat on Sept. 26, 2012, against the Marlins.
Video: Mazara hit by pitch after striking out
“It’s good for the back of the baseball card,” mused teammate David Price, who then took stock of Kimbrel’s broader performance in a year when he has 40 strikeouts and two walks in 20⅔ innings. “It’s pure dominance. When people put a ball in play or hit a foul ball hard, it’s kind of shocking. He’s not walking people. He’s pounding the zone. He’s always ahead, 0-1, 0-2. Whenever he’s ahead 0-1, good luck.”
“The guy strikes out the world,” added Matt Barnes, who had two of the Sox’ 20 strikeouts. “What he’s doing right now, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Kimbrel’s performance was the final note of a historic team performance.
Of the six instances when a team has struck out 20 batters over nine innings, the Red Sox have been responsible for three.
Roger Clemens singlehandedly achieved the feat in 1986 and 1996. Thursday represented a group effort, with starter Drew Pomeranz (11), Heath Hembree (2), Robby Scott (1), Barnes (2), and Kimbrel (4) accounting for the 20 strikeouts.
Members of the Sox were unaware of their achievement until after the fact. But once they became aware that, with an assist from the umpires, they’d secured a shared place in history, the team could enjoy the shared achievement.
“Each guy that came to the mound did a very good job,” said Farrell. “A lot of powerful stuff to each guy that came in.”