Nobody contests that Josh Hader's fastball struck both Michael A. Taylor and his bat. The disconnect was about the order of events. The Nats and home-plate umpire Mike Everitt said Taylor’s left hand was hit first. The Brewers said Taylor’s bat was. The eventual decision proved critical.
Here is a full breakdown of the pitch and the ruling that changed everything, and eventually put the Nationals in position to extend their season.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell couldn’t have planned the first seven innings better. His offense had scored three early runs off Max Scherzer, and then the skipper used three of his best pitchers to hand the ball to Hader, one of the game’s truly elite relievers, with a 3-1 lead in the eighth.
Hader ran a full count before striking out his first hitter, Victor Robles. Out of the Nationals' dugout came Taylor, pinch-hitting for Stephen Strasburg, who had thrown three brilliant innings in relief of Scherzer. Taylor, the former starting center fielder-turned September callup, was squeezed onto the Wild Card roster because of his speed, even though he had just 12 plate appearances over the season’s final month.
Hader fell behind Taylor with two fastballs out of the zone, then he got even with two more. Hader missed with a 2-2 slider to run another full count.
“I just didn’t have the location on my pitches,” Hader said. “I fell behind early in the count, which didn’t help.”
The 97.6 mph full-count fastball sent Taylor spinning out of the batter’s box. The ball struck both his left hand and the knob of his bat. The question was: Which did it hit first?
“Most of our dugout was saying it was really close, but they thought it hit the bat first and then hit off his hand, which probably [should be] a foul ball,” Counsell said. “I thought that should be the call.”
Said Hader: “Honestly, it could go both ways with these reviews. You can look at it both ways. It definitely got the bat, but it also got his hand.”
The Brewers had a challenge remaining, thanks to a successful review in the fifth inning, and they used it. Replay officials in New York determined the play would stand. That simply means they did not see enough evidence to overturn the on-field call. Taylor was awarded first base.
“The ball was initially left in play on the field,” read a statement from Major League Baseball. “After a crew consultation, the crew ruled the play a hit-by-pitch. Milwaukee then challenged the ruling of hit-by-pitch. After review, the replay official did not see clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call and ruled ‘stands.’”
Hader recovered to strike out Trea Turner. But with two outs, the inning unraveled for Milwaukee. Nats manager Dave Martinez opted for the platoon advantage, tabbing Ryan Zimmerman to pinch-hit for Adam Eaton, and in what had the potential to be his last at-bat at Nationals Park, Zimmerman dunked a broken-bat bloop single into center to move Taylor to third. Andrew Stevenson pinch-ran for Zimmerman, advancing to second when Anthony Rendon worked a full-count walk from Hader to load the bases.
That set the stage for Soto, who sent the Nationals Park crowd into an uproar by lining Hader’s 1-1 fastball cleanly into right. Taylor scored from third. Stevenson scored the tying run from second. Rendon came around from first when the ball scooted past Grisham, and the Nationals were on their way to their first winner-take-all victory since the franchise moved to Washington.
“You have to catch some breaks, but more importantly, you have to take advantage of them,” Zimmerman said. “And in the past, it seems like it’s gone the other way. But tonight, we caught a couple breaks, and maybe it’s finally our turn.”