Last night, Johnny Cueto returned to the confident, successful form the Kansas City Royals expected when they traded for him earlier this season, allowing just one run and two hits (both soft singles by Lucas Duda) in the course of completing a 122-pitch complete game victory.
Early on, home-plate umpire Mark Carlson seemed to be calling a fairly large strike zone, which appeared to tighten as the game progressed. No Mets hitter looked to be more frustrated by Carlson’s calls than the suddenly homer-starved Daniel Murphy, who struck out twice and walked twice, failing to register a hit (or put the ball in play) for the first time this postseason.
What follows is a quick look at each of Murphy’s four plate appearances last night, with the goal of determining whether he or Cueto received any benefit from Carlson’s as-called strike zone. (All pitch plots come from Brooks Baseball.)
Plate Appearance #1: First inning, two out, none on. Result: strikeout (looking).
The initial encounter between Cueto and Murphy looks like a wash. On the first pitch, Murphy benefited from an in-zone pitch called a ball, but the third pitch, a low ball called a strike raised his indignation, which the final pitch, a called third strike at the top of the zone, likely exacerbated in his mind.
Plate Appearance #2: Fourth inning, one out, runner on first. Result: walk.
The fourth inning was the only moment in last night’s game when Cueto appeared to waver. He walked Curtis Granderson to lead off the inning, and, after inducing a David Wright popup foul for an out, would walk Murphy on five pitches, none of which were in the zone. The third pitch of this plate appearance was in a similar location to the third pitch in the parties’ first meeting of the night. It was a called strike the first time, so perhaps Murphy was recalling that low pitch when he swung and fouled off this one. Ball four here appears to be only slightly higher than the pitch that was called for the third strike in PA #1, but clearly further outside. Murphy eventually would score New York’s only run of the night thanks to Duda’s first hit, an RBI single.
Plate Appearance #3: Sixth inning, two out, none on. Result: strikeout (looking).
Cueto got Murphy to foul off two outside-ish pitches, tossed him very low and very high balls, and then delivered an in-zone inside pitch for a called strike three to end the inning.
Plate Appearance #4: Ninth inning, two out, none on. Result: walk.
The outside strike against the lefty Murphy was there for Cueto on the first pitch of this plate appearance, which probably again upset Murphy, a feeling to which his team’s then-dire circumstances– down six with an out left in the game– likely contributed. Murphy still walked on four non-close pitches, but the game still ended three pitches later, when Yoenis Cespedes flew out for the third out.
Conclusion: Against Murphy, Cueto was the beneficiary of two called strikes on pitches out of the zone and another borderline pitch called for a strike, while Murphy benefited from one in-zone pitch called a ball. On balance, Carlson’s calls appear to have favored Cueto in this matchup last night, but they aren’t the reason Cueto was able to silence the 2015 postseason’s hottest bat.
The World Series heads to New York for game three Saturday night. The bad news for Murphy and the Mets? He’s hit much better on the road than he did at home in 2015.