Swisher took the first pitch for a ball. For some reason, Brooks Baseball missed the pitch as it is not on that site’s at bat statistics. The ESPN announcers had been stating all night that home plate umpire, Gerry Davis, had a small strike zone. As this was mentioned several times during the game, Davis’ zone kept getting wider as the game moved along. As the chart shows below, pitches Pavano wasn’t getting early in the game off the plate and at the top of the strike zone, Davis started to give him later in the game.
Pavano’s second pitch to Nick Swisher was one of the beneficiaries of that enhanced strike zone. It was a change up that started high and then plopped down at the top of the strike zone. Davis called it a strike. Swisher, who had strolled to the plate with energy and purpose before the at bat, was annoyed. But it was a strike. Earlier in the game, it would have been a ball and Swisher would be in control with a 2-0 count. Instead it was 1-1.
If Swisher was annoyed on the second pitch, he would be even more distressed at the third. Pavano’s pitch sailed outside, yet Davis called it a strike. As Aaron Boone mentioned correctly, a 2-1 count is a hitter’s count and a 1-2 count is a pitcher’s count and it makes all the difference in the world. At 2-1, Swisher would have been in a better frame of mind. He would have probably been more patient. But now annoyed with two calls and behind in the count, Swisher would become a more defensive batter. And it showed.
Swisher swung at a fastball down below the zone and fouled it meekly. Pavano threw his next pitch, a change up, that started on the same plane as the previous pitch and then it tilted downward and Swisher swung and missed it for strike three. Swisher missed the ball by at least a foot. That gave Pavano new life and he got Ibanez to ground out to second to end the threat and any chance the Yankees had at winning the game.
Of course, we cannot know what Pavano would have done if the count was 2-0 or 2-1 to Swisher. And we cannot reverse history and state with any kind of purpose that Swisher might have walked with such a count to load the bases or gotten a better pitch to hit to drive in a run or two. But it was clear that at least one of Davis’ calls changed the at bat and became a “what if” moment in the game.