PHOENIX — Needing three outs to seal a 3-1 win, Jose Leclerc’s 91 mph cutter appeared to sail outside. Gabriel Moreno dropped his bat and took two steps toward first before realizing he needed to return. Home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez had called the pitch a strike. Moreno hopped twice in disbelief.
Moreno asked for time to regroup and then grounded out on the next pitch. Leclerc struck out Christian Walker and Tommy Pham to end the game, giving the Texas Rangers a Game 3 win and a 2-1 World Series lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the best-of-seven series.
Playing its first Fall Classic home contest since 2001, Arizona managed just six hits. It’s why Leclerc’s 3-1 pitch to Moreno in the bottom of the ninth stood out so much. Limited opportunities make smaller moments look bigger. This was one. A leadoff walk with the heart of the order coming up would have given the Diamondbacks one of their better scoring opportunities.
It never materialized.
As the sold-out Chase Field crowd booed, Leclerc nodded approvingly, as if he were certain the pitch had caught the plate. Replays and other data, however, appeared to show otherwise. The Fox broadcast booth expressed surprise. So did much of the Diamondbacks dugout.
“I’m not happy about it,” said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, who nevertheless refused to blame the loss on the moment. “I know that if they were off the plate and there were missed calls, they got to tighten it up. I say that to everybody.”
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Moreno was not at his locker in the Arizona clubhouse immediately after the game. An Arizona spokesman said the catcher was getting treatment.
Walker said he did not get a good look at the 3-1 pitch because he was waiting on deck, which presented a bad angle. But his frustration was clear.
“The crowd reaction didn’t like it,” Walker said of the pitch. “But it is what it is, honestly. It’s s— we’ve been dealing with all year. It’s nothing new.”
The strike call did not rob the Diamondbacks of the game, it just robbed them of a potential opportunity. Walker could have hit into a double play (Arizona already had hit into two.) Moreno could have been stranded (the Diamondbacks were 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position.) But the pitch shows how tightly Game 3 was played, and how tightly the rest of the series could be.
Game 4 is Tuesday.
“It’s a game of capitalizing on the right pitch at the right time,” Lovullo said. “Sometimes it’s with two outs and we just didn’t get that job done.”
After a 9-1 win in Game 2, evening the series as it shifted to the desert, the Diamondbacks were in a good place, in position to take control. Monday’s atmosphere was electric. Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez, heroes of the 2001 World Series, threw out the first pitch and waved red rally towels.
Everything was ready to erupt — except the Diamondbacks themselves. A Walker base-running error cost Arizona a potential rally in the second inning. From there, it was a grind.
On the mound, Brandon Pfaadt made a mistake to Corey Seager in the third, which resulted in a two-run blast and a 3-0 deficit. But overall, the rookie right-hander pitched well enough, scattering four hits over 5 1/3 innings, to give the Diamondbacks a chance.
Their best opportunity came in the eighth. Pinch hitter Emmanuel Rivera led off with a double to center. Geraldo Perdomo then singled to left, scoring Rivera and pulling the Diamondbacks to within 3-1. With no one out, Corbin Carroll stepped in.
The Arizona lead-off hitter worked a 2-2 count, then watched as Texas lefty Aroldis Chapman fired an 89 mph slider for strike three. Carroll admitted the pitch froze him, but added, “I’d rather look foolish executing my plan than be up there scared.”
Ketel Marte, who earlier had extended his postseason-record hitting streak to 19 games, hit into a double play to end the inning. In the ninth, Arizona’s best chance ended on the 3-1 call to Moreno.
Lovullo stayed clear of pinning blame elsewhere.
“I will say this, that the umps are doing their absolute best,” he said. “(The) ball is moving at a high velocity. It’s getting manipulated at home plate. But there were some calls that didn’t go our way today. Was that the difference in the game? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
(Photo of Gabriel Moreno: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)