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The trend no one saw coming: ending the season on inaccurate strike three calls

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For the second year in a row the Giants were eliminated on an incorrect strike three call.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants season was all about reminiscing. Even as they strung together their best regular season in franchise history, every twist and turn reminded you of something.

The early-season competitiveness reminded you of scrappy, prior iterations of this team. Buster Posey’s brilliance reminded you of 2012. The contributions from previously unheralded players reminded you of other surprise difference makers: Marco Scutaro, Cody Ross, Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse.

The Brandons turning back the clock reminded you of their earlier All-Star seasons. Logan Webb’s dominant introduction to the postseason reminded you of Tim Lincecum in 2010 and Madison Bumgarner in 2014.

And then, cruelly, the final day of the season — the final pitch of the season — reminded you of the same thing from last year.

Here is how the 2021 Giants were eliminated, in a game that would have advanced them had they won:

And here is how the 2020 Giants were eliminated, in a game that would have advanced them had they won:

It’s not to say the Giants would have won with more timely accuracy from the umpiring crew. In each situation they were trailing in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes. I’ve been watching baseball long enough to know you don’t want to find yourself in that situation in a must-win game.

The funny thing — and yes, the word “funny” is doing a whole hell of a lot here — is that in each season-ending game, the final missed call was unlikely to be the one that most impacted the probability of the Giants winning.

Austin Slater being robbed of a ninth-inning opportunity last year was, shockingly, the third time that game he’d been rung up on a pitch woefully outside of the zone.

There was this one, in the third inning, with one out, the bases empty, and the heart of the order behind him:

And there was this one in the seventh inning, with one on and one out:

There was also this strike three to Evan Longoria:

And this one to Mauricio Dubón:

In 2021’s finale, the biggest missed call wasn’t a poorly-seen strike three, but rather a strike two ... and a strike one.

This is Kris Bryant in the fourth inning, with one on and no outs, taking five straight pitches outside of the zone before striking out swinging:

It’s impossible to Butterfly Effect a baseball game, but the expected runs for the situation the Giants ended up with (runner on first, one out) is 0.52, with a 27.3% chance of scoring. The expected runs for the situation they should have had (runners on first and second, no outs) is 1.51, with a 63.7% chance of scoring. That ignores the context, such as a struggling offense facing one of the game’s best pitchers, but still.

It was a trend, too. You can find plenty of called strikes in the game that were favorable to the Dodgers:

Baseball Savant

Luck tends to even itself out on the baseball diamond, but it’s hard not to notice how much less egregious the chart is when the teams are switched.

Baseball Savant

In fact, those two missed calls on Bryant, in a span of three pitches, were deemed the two worst zone calls of the night.

None of this is meant to make me, the team, or the fanbase come across as sore losers. The Dodgers won, deservedly. Luck is, beautifully, a critical part of the game, and we all know that no team wins 107 games without a very healthy dose of it.

It was fitting, then, that Darin Ruf was the first person to acknowledge the poetry of the season’s final call.

This is how baseball goes. The Giants benefitted from numerous missed calls this year — some subtle and some blatant — and were hurt by, quite likely, a nearly equal number.

But after throwing 23,529 pitches and seeing 25,427 of them over the last six and a half months, I’d sure love to cut off the trend of having the last one be one of the ones determined by people who aren’t playing the game.