Arguing over balls and strikes usually isn't a productive exercise. But the Boston Red Sox felt like they had a legitimate gripe Tuesday night.
Home plate umpire Laz Diaz had an objectively erratic strike zone in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park. And while Diaz spread his "misses" relatively evenly between the Red Sox and Houston Astros, one high-leverage call went against Boston in a big spot.
With two outs and runners on first and second in a tie game in the ninth inning, Nathan Eovaldi threw a 1-2 curveball to pinch hitter Jason Castro that appeared to catch the upper right corner of the plate for strike three.
Diaz ruled the pitch a ball, though, and Castro roped a go-ahead RBI single two pitches later, opening the floodgates for Houston to score six more runs and walk away with an ALCS-tying, 9-2 victory.
Eovaldi gave a matter-of-fact answer after the game when asked about the call.
"I thought it was a strike," Eovaldi told reporters, as seen in the video above. "But again, I'm in the moment. I'm trying to make my pitches. I'm attacking the zone.
" ... Facing Castro, I felt like I was in control of the at-bat. Felt like I made good pitch on the outside corner, and it didn't go my way. But I've got to answer back and make another good pitch."
Red Sox pitching prospect Connor Seabold felt similarly about Diaz's call watching from afar.
While Diaz's ball call on Eovaldi was his most consequential ruling of the night, it wasn't the one that upset Alex Cora the most. The Red Sox manager nearly got thrown out arguing with Diaz over a called third strike to J.D. Martinez in the third inning with a runner on second base.
"I didn’t agree with the J.D. call," Cora said. "I didn’t. The way the catcher reacted to the whole thing, I think we thought it was a ball. He thought it was a strike. We didn’t agree with that one.
"The last one I’m not going to get thrown out. I learned my lesson in Game 1 of the last time we played them and I told him, I said, ‘I’m not going to get thrown out of this game, but we thought that pitch was a strike.’ And he disagreed with us."
Cora got ejected by umpire Joe West in Game 1 of the 2018 ALCS against Houston for arguing balls and strikes and did well to toe the line with Diaz in the third inning. Cora also toed the line with his postgame comments, admitting the stakes of the Eovaldi blown call but giving Diaz some benefit of the doubt.
"If it’s a strike, it changes the whole thing, right?" Cora said of Eovaldi's pitch. "But I think we had chances early on. They did an outstanding job with the bullpen. We didn’t do enough offensively.
" ... It is what it is. It’s a tough job. I’ve known Laz since our days in Miami. He used to (umpire) our games when I played at the University of Miami. Every Friday he was the man in those games. So it’s a hard job. I understand that. It’s a hard job."
The Red Sox went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position Tuesday night, so it's hard to pin this loss on Diaz despite the momentum-swinging call. Cora's club will need to have a short memory, as Game 5 is set for Wednesday afternoon at 5:08 p.m. ET at Fenway Park.