EXPLAINER: What exactly is a check-swing?

Sports

San Francisco Giants’ Wilmer Flores, right, is called out swinging in front of Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith for the final out of the ninth inning of Game 5 of a baseball National League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It’s always been one of the most murky areas in baseball: What exactly constitutes a check-swing?

Suffice to say, a lot of people were taking a swing at that one Thursday night after San Francisco’s Wilmer Flores was ruled out on precisely that kind of call, ending the Giants’ 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deciding Game 5 of their NL Division Series.

A hotly disputed call, too.

So how far does a big league hitter have to go with his swing in order for a pitch to be called a strike? Is it when he “breaks his wrists” trying to hold up? Or when his bat crosses the plate? Or when he appears to be trying to hit the ball?

Don’t bother looking for it in the Official Baseball Rules: Amazingly, in the nearly 200 pages that govern Major League Baseball, there’s no mention of how to decide.

Officially, it’s purely an umpire’s judgment.

With a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Flores appeared on TV replays to hold up on a low-and-away slider from Dodgers ace Max Scherzer on an 0-2 pitch that missed the strike zone.

Home plate umpire Doug Eddings checked with Gabe Morales at first base — umps at first and third often have a better vantage point on check-swings, and plate umpires routinely ask for their help on such calls.

In Morales’ judgment, Flores swung. Morales raised his right arm for strike three, and the highly anticipated playoff game ended with a whimper.

By rule, judgment calls are not reviewable under Major League Baseball replay rules and there’s not been any movement to change that. Some angry fans at Oracle Park tossed pieces of trash onto the outfield grass.

“Check-swings are one of the hardest calls we have. I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live. When it happened live I thought he went, so that’s why I called it a swing,” Morales said.

Morales said he had seen a replay of the last pitch. Asked whether he still thought it was a swing, veteran crew chief Ted Barrett answered.

“Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say,” Barrett said.

As for the whole notion of check-swings, Barrett offered this: “We talk about it lot at our meetings because it is one of our most difficult calls and we try to get all on the same page as a staff that we’re all trying to call the same thing. … So there’s some ambiguity there, but we do our best to try to be consistent, so players know what’s a swing and what’s not.”

Giants manager Gabe Kapler said he thought Flores held up in time.

“That’s going to be the thing that is talked about quite a bit and I understand why,” he said.

Said Cody Bellinger, who got the go-ahead hit for the Dodgers in the ninth inning: “The umpire said it was a swing, so it was a swing.”

New York Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar, who once played with the Giants, summed up the entire controversy.

“Worst call in sports- the check swing,” he posted on Twitter. “.. terrible way to end this epic series/rivalry.”

That was a call most everyone could probably agree with.

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