It was ugly behind home plate in the Texas Baseball vs. Long Beach State game Sunday night in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the Longhorns will play Long Beach in a winner-take-all game Monday night at 10:00 p.m. CST (8:00 p.m. locally in California).
As for Sunday when Texas had a chance to eliminate the Dirtbags, the home plate umpire of record was Perry Costello. He was a recurring character in this game.
From the very first inning, it was clear that Perry Costello did not have a consistent strikezone for this important NCAA Tournament Regional game.
As an example, Costello rung up Kacy Clemens on a pitch three inches inside to end the first inning. Then during a key at-bat in the eighth inning, Costello called strikes on two pitches to Kacy that were three inches off the outer part of the plate.
But, that’s just the start of the Perry Costello controversy.
Texas Baseball Should Have Taken Lead in 5th
Texas needed four-and-a-half innings to finally solve Long Beach starting pitcher Tyler Radcliffe.
Down 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Texas catcher Michael Cantu singled in Bret Boswell to cut the lead to 2-1.
Then with the bases loaded and one out, Perry Costello called a third strike to Patrick Mathis that was on the outside part of the plate and not close to a strike. Again, Costello was erratic with his strikezone in this game.
But, senior leader Zane Gurwitz picked up Mathis with a sharply-hit single to left field to tie the score 2-2. On the same play, Michael Cantu raced around from second base and appeared to score the go-ahead run.
But, after Cantu touched home plate, Costello did not make a ruling. Long Beach catcher David Banuelos did not even try to tag Cantu after he slid past home plate and Cantu looked at Costello to make a ruling. With the play apparently still live, Cantu tried to scramble back to home plate, but the catcher tagged him, and the ruling was out at the plate.
Cantu ripped off his helmet to argue and Texas manager David Pierce had one of several confrontations with Costello in the game.
Replays showed two events happened in bang-bang fashion:
- Michael Cantu nicked the plate with a portion of his hand while the other portion of his hand landed on top of Banuelos’ cleat as he stepped backwards onto the plate.
- Ump Costello apparently only saw Cantu’s hand on the cleat and not the other portion on the plate, keeping the play alive.
A few innings later, ESPNU tried to defend umpire Costello’s ruling by showing a still-shot photo of Cantu’s hand on top of Banuelo’s cleat. They did not show the action immediately before that of Cantu nicking home plate. The photo did not accurately capture two events happening in bang-bang fashion, with Cantu’s hand touching a portion of home plate first.
And, as Texas Baseball has been hurt throughout this season, there was no available replay to address the error. So, Texas should have been up 3-2. Instead, the game was tied 2-2 after five innings.
Texas vs. Long Beach Battle Continued
Long Beach went up 3-2 in the next half inning. But, Texas responded with a run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game 3-3 through six innings.
Starter Kyle Johnston finished off Long Beach in the seventh, but the Horns could not get anything going in the bottom of the seventh. So, it was up to the bullpen.
Then in the eighth, Michael Cantu was in the middle of the action again. The first batter Garrett Nelson struck out swinging, but Cantu did not block the pitch and Nelson reached first on a wild pitch strikeout. Nelson then stole second when Cantu made an errant throw to second base.
Texas reliever Blair Henley initially prevented Nelson from scoring. But, with two outs in the inning, Texas chose to challenge leadoff hitter Jarren Duran.
Duran had just given Long Beach a 3-2 lead with a two-out single to center in his previous at-bat. In the exact same situation, Duran delivered the same single to center to give Long Beach a 4-3 lead. Ryan Reynolds then prevented an insurance run from scoring with a great play at third base.
Texas Baseball Can’t Catch Break
In the bottom of the eighth, ump Perry Costello factored in again. After Travis Jones reached first, Kacy Clemens got ahead in the count. But, two straight strikes that were three inches off the plate put Clemens behind in the count. Clemens had to be calmed down before returning to the box. And, he promptly hit into a double play to end the threat.
Then in the bottom of the ninth, it naturally came down to Michael Cantu.
With Ryan Reynolds on first via walk, Cantu swung for the fences on a 2-1 count and came up empty. Then on the 2-2 count, Cantu struck out swinging to end the game. Final Score: Long Beach 4, Texas 3.
In total, Texas struck out ten times in the game. The first time through the lineup, Texas struck out six out of nine times as the Horns hitters tried to figure out Long Beach starter Tyler Radcliffe and the unpredictable strikezone from Perry Costello.
Now the Horns have to regroup before another late-night game on Monday. The season is on the line at 10:00 p.m. CST and 8:00 p.m. in California.
It will be interesting to see which mid-week starting pitcher gets the call for Texas Baseball as they try to beat the Dirtbags. If they win, the Horns advance to the Super Regionals to face Cal State Fullerton in the Auggie Garrido Bowl.