New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto will do whatever it takes to win games ... even if it requires some slight rule breaking. The Mets' game ended in controversy Thursday after Conforto appeared to lean into a pitch for a walk-off hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded.
The Mets entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 2-1, but Jeff McNeil quickly evened the score with a leadoff home run. After a groundout by James McCann, the Mets hit two straight singles. The Miami Marlins walked Francisco Lindor to load the bases for Conforto.
On the 1-2 pitch from Anthony Bass, this happened:
The pitch — a slider — appeared to drop into the zone and into Chad Wallach's mitt for strike three. But wait, before the umpire could signal for the strikeout, Conforto turned back to argue he got hit with the pitch. The umpire awarded Conforto with the base, and the Mets won on a walk-off hit-by-pitch.
If the play looked bizarre in real time, well, that's because something else may have been going on. In slow motion, it definitely looks like Conforto deliberately stuck out his elbow so he would get hit by the pitch.
That's against MLB rules, which state a player must attempt to move out of the way of a pitch if possible. MLB rules also state if a player gets hit by a ball in the strike zone, that pitch should be ruled a strike. You could argue both points in this instance.
That's precisely what the Marlins tried to do. Manager Don Mattingly was furious about the call, and argued with the umpires over the ruling. The umpires reviewed the play, but allowed it to stand. There was some confusion over whether the play could be reviewed. If the umpires were limited to reviewing if Conforto was hit by the pitch — and not whether he attempted to avoid the ball — it wasn't something they could reverse.
If Conforto was hoping to get some help from the Mets' broadcasting booth, that wasn't going to happen. Even the team's broadcasters though Conforto should have been ruled out on the play. It was a refreshing change of pace considering most booths would have blindly backed their team. The Mets' booth was disappointed the game ended on that play.
Will Michael Conforto face punishment from MLB?
It's unclear whether MLB will do anything to punish Conforto or the Mets for the play. In order to take action, MLB would have to review the play and determine Conforto deliberately stuck out his elbow to get hit. Even then, the decision to award Conforto with a hit-by-pitch came down to home plate umpire Ron Kulpa. Under MLB rules, Kulpa should have called the pitch a strike. The responsibility falls to Kulpa to make that call, making it hard for MLB to do anything to Conforto or the Mets.
That doesn't mean Conforto will get off scot-free. The Marlins are likely furious about the loss. With the teams set to play two more games in the series, it wouldn't be a huge shock to see Conforto get hit again before the weekend is over.