A.J. Burnett and the Story of Strike Four

Before Andrew McCutchen sent chills down the spines of every person on the North Shore. Before the Pirates came back to tie the game in dramatic fashion in the eighth inning. Before AJ Burnett helped himself with his fourth career home run and first since 2005. Before all of these events that made PNC Park an electric place to be on Saturday night, there stood 36-year-old Vic Carapazza, who ultimately made a decision that affected the entire outcome of the game.

A.J. Burnett began the game on a roll with 6 5, straight outs, seemingly with ease. There was one way to stop Burnett’s roll – by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza forcing him to record four strikes in an at-bat to Mark Reynolds in the second, rather than the age-old, traditional three strikes. Burnett was not able to record the elusive fourth strike of the at-bat, as Reynolds took him deep to left field, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

On a 1-2 count to Reynolds, Burnett pulled the string on a 12-to-7, 83 MPH curveball, and Reynolds appeared to swing and miss for strike three. Unfortunately, Carapazza did not agree, saying that Reynolds foul tipped the ball into the dirt.

Sound familiar? Last Monday, Burnett faced Derek Norris of the Padres in the 8th inning. Burnett went up in the count 1-2, Norris appeared to swing and miss at a Burnett fastball, the home plate ump disagreed and said it was a foul ball, and Norris eventually singled to right field.

Lucky for us, the internet is a fantastic place, and @ForbesToFederal captured both “foul tips” in GIF format. See for yourself:

On Monday, the missed call cost Burnett an out and forced manager Clint Hurdle to remove him from the game before completing eight innings. In the end, though, the missed call did not affect the final outcome of the game. Unfortunately for Burnett and the Pirates, this missed call loomed much greater as Reynolds cleared the left field wall on the next pitch, and ultimately changed the whole dimension of the game.

The missed call led to the ejections of catcher Francisco Cervelli, who immediately was tossed for his comments to Carapazza following the hit, and manager Clint Hurdle.

Crew chief Larry Vanover said after the game that home plate umpire Vic Carapazza heard a foul tip on the pitch. He then ejected Cervelli immediately because of language. Hurdle explained that he was more upset with the quick hook on Cervelli than the actual call.

Burnett was extremely efficient before the home run, with 14 strikes and 5 balls for a strike rate of 73.7%. After the home run and not including the intentional walk later that inning, Burnett threw 50 strikes and 38 balls. That’s a strike rate of 56.8%, a stark contrast of how Burnett was pitching before the home run.

More balls will surely be thrown as a pitcher goes later into the game; however, the ramifications of that home run are glaring. It forced Burnett to throw 13 extra pitches in the second inning. It also allowed John Lackey to bat in the second, rather than the third inning when the Cardinals were able to have the top of their rotation batting. Even though the home run was only one run, all of the corresponding factors to follow inevitably gave the Cardinals an edge.

Undoubtedly, these two blown calls against Burnett this week will bring up the role of instant replay in Major League Baseball.

“I think there will be a lot of conversation this winter over it,” Hurdle said about being able to review that play. “The second time in three innings with AJ on the mound and Cervelli behind the plate. It complicated the game in the eighth inning. It complicates the game today. Both times would have been the third out of the inning, the inning would have been put away.”

The times that review is currently allowed and disallowed really doesn’t make much sense. Without giving personal views of replay, I simply believe that these two plays will be shown over the offseason as reasons why MLB’s review policies need… well… reviewed.

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Sean W

Looks like Reynolds tipped it to me. Honest.


Why is there no disciplinary action for umpires who blow calls this obvious. These swings and misses were obvious in real time on the broadcast. You did not need replay to see them.
When the dispute is that vehement, the ump should ask for help. Surely the first or third base umpire had to see it.


And we used pitchers in extra innings that didn’t need to be used.

David A

yep, but so did the Red Birds, and there is no game tomorrow. The marginal competitive advantage change balances out in my mind.


The umpiring has been awful league wide. Folks have been complaining about umpires since the begining of baseball. This is not just complaining this is a real problem. The umpires now are not even consistent during the same at bat let alone a whole game. Players used to know which umps would call a high strike or one oustside, now they don’t know what the umps gonna call from pitch to pitch. Like I said last night, I thought replay was going to make umps better, instead it has made them worse, at least at the plate. Mlb has got to rectify this travesty.


A terrible night for Carapazza. I guess I can understand the missed call on the foul tip. To his credit he did ask for help from the other umps. I was surprised that they, as a group, could not get that call correct. But what was worse for Carapazza was his strike zone. He was totally and obviously influenced by the catcher’s positioning. He missed several calls that were outside, but because Yadi was positioned there he called them strikes. But somehow that makes this Buc victory seem even more impressive !


Winning games like last night where everything was turning against us, is definitely a turning point for this team. I’m pleasantly surprised by the clutch hitting by kang last night, his defensive play, and his aggressiveness on the bases. Very impressive, that win last night was his, even though Cutch hit the homer


Twice in one week – obvious swing and misses called foul tips. Could have cost us the game. I agree with Hurdle, throwing out Cervelli in the second inning was uncalled for.

This reminded me of the Cards/Cubs game the other night – Wacha appeared to strike out Montero – instead it was called a ball. Next pitch, bases clearing double. Molina and Matheny both get tossed after that.


The difference is that this was as clear of a blown call as possible, but beyond that they gave Cervelli the hook WAY too early. If an umpire is not more aware of what is going on in the game (game awareness as Hurdle called it) then why is he an umpire at all? There is nothing that Cervelli could have said in that moment of anger that would warrant a seasoned ump to toss him…maybe if he came BACK at him against once returning to the plate…but in that moment? What a joke.


Cervelli being a jackass in general finally came back to haunt him. I’m sure that umpires around the league are getting tired of him whining and throwing a fit everytime he’s at the plate, questioning a call and i’m sure behind the plate he’s just as bad. I just wish he had gotten tossed for being wrong, rather than for whining and being right like he was yesterday.

Zach H

I think that actually was a foul tip, though I’m skeptical of just about every foul tip call now. But on the replay, I think the ball changed directions just a little bit.

Bernie A

Nearly as bad was the foul tip called in extra innings during Peralta’s at bat. It led to the go-ahead run.


I actually thought I heard that one on the broadcast, though barely. The other two ? If I had performed at work in the manner of both of those crews, I would have drawn a warning.


leo- interesting. Looking at the replay it’s hard to believe that Stewart would have misjudged that pitch enough that it would hit in the heel of his glove, without a foul tip. Its possible, but unlikely. That being said, I didn’t see a tip there either and it could have been the end of the game. Something does need to be done about this. I’ve never seen this many blown foul tip calls in 20 years.


I wondered if Stewart may have missed judged it because it was going to be close and he was trying to frame it a little higher to get the call. That a lot with the path of the bat so close. I would have to see it slow down again. But I don’t think the bat got it.


If he was trying to frame it, he wouldn’t have caught it web down.


Yeah, I do not actually know about the one in the 14th, but I am certainly much more skeptical of that call with everything that’s transpired. How these umpires are “hearing” foul tips when the guy is 2 feet in the first case and 6+inches in the second case away from the ball really leads me to question not only their abilities but their motives!

David A

Speaking as a referee in a different sport (soccer), sometimes the most difficult thing to actually see is what is immediately in front of me. At that point, I am using my eyes, and my ears for the contact as well as trying to read the players movement. Bang bang happens and I am not trying to track a ball I can fully palm that is moving at 85 MPH in a funny manner. I understand how the home plate ump got it wrong. I am pissed that his crew did not help him get it right.

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