Jose Tabata has fashioned himself a nice little career as a utility outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In six Major League seasons, he has batted .276 with 437 hits in 505 games. He does the job of a backup outfielder pretty well, but for some strange reason, I’m willing to guess that only the most dedicated fans of the game of baseball had heard his name before yesterday afternoon.
Tabata, of course, is the fellow who came to the plate with history on the line in Washington, D.C. Max Scherzer, in full on Mad Max mode for the second straight game, was one strike away from a perfect game. This, after allowing only one hit and striking out 16 while retiring the first 18 Milwaukee Brewers faced last Sunday.
With the crowd roaring, the Washington Nationals’ ace quickly got ahead of the pinch-hitting Tabata 0-2. Tabata, doing all the things a pesky bench player is supposed to do, worked the count to 2-2 before fouling off two straight pitches.
Then, this happened.
Yup, that’s Tabata’s elbow chicken-winging down into Scherzer’s backdoor slider. There is no denying the fact that he made a blatant attempt to run into the pitch with something other than his bat. The home plate umpire, however, was not as aware of that Tabata did not “make any attempt to avoid being touched by the ball,” as the MLB rulebook spells out. The catcher likely blocked his view, but no one else protested as Tabata made his way to first base. To be fair to the umpires, I have watched a lot of baseball in my life and never seen a batter called back to the box after being struck by a pitch, no matter how blatantly he did not attempt to avoid it. No-hitter still intact, Scherzer retired Josh Harrison on a lazy fly to left to receive a still tasty, chocolate syrup covered consolation prize.
The reaction to Tabata was swift and vicious on social media. Here are some of my favorites:
I’m not in favor of throwing at players, but I’m okay with someone throwing at Jose Tabata tomorrow.
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) June 20, 2015
Getting hit by a pitch might just be the greatest thing Jose Tabata has ever done in his major league career.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) June 20, 2015
That was absolutely ridiculous of Jose Tabata. You lean into a 2-2 pitch as the 27th out of a Perfect game??? BUSH League.
— Ryan Ruocco (@RyanRuocco) June 20, 2015
— Ryan Sullivan (@NatsGMdotcom) June 20, 2015
Other than having a hickey tattooed to his neck, I can find no evidence that Jose Tabata is an awful human being. Did he lean into Scherzer’s pitch? Absolutely, but that same move has been worked to perfection by Chase Utley. How many times have we seen the Philadelphia Phillies second baseman turn rigid at the sight of an inside pitch, and ever so slightly turn into it?
This situation begs the question, at what point do you stop playing the game? Ben Davis caught incredible flack back in 2001 when he bunted for a base hit while Curt Schilling was working on a perfect game of his own in the eighth inning of a 2-0 game. He brought the tying run to the plate with his single, but was widely vilified for breaking an unwritten rule. That situation clearly doesn’t apply fully to Tabata, as the Pirates were down 6-0 and down to their last strike, but he is well within his rights as a player to try and reach base by any and all means. No player will willingly admit to being happy going down in history as the final out in a perfect game, and Tabata saw his opportunity to avoid becoming the answer to a trivia question.
I’ll admit to coming very close to sending a few of those “Jose Tabata will get beaned, he’s the worst, bush league player on the planet” type Tweets, but I chose not to. I will leave you with this thought from the great Herm Edwards.