28 October 2011

Amazing baseball!

Game 6 of this year's World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals was one of the most thrilling baseball games I've ever seen.  The Rangers were one strike away from winning their first World Series in both the 9th and the 10th innings.  The Cardinals fought back each time.  The game ended in dramatic fashion when David Freese hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 11th to win it for the Cardinals.

As great a game as tonight's game was, I can't help but wonder how many sports fans missed the final couple of innings.  I saw 12:40 am on my clock here on the east coast of the US when Freese touched home plate with the game-ending run.  I have to get up early on Friday morning and get ready for work; many other sports fans will need to do the same.  Major League Baseball has got to do something about important games starting so late.  Sure, extra innings make for a late finish.  Still, one of the most thrilling games in the sport's championship series should not end at midnight, much less 12:40 am, on a weeknight.  I'm curious to know how television ratings for tonight's game changed as Thursday gave way to Friday on the east coast.

One interesting bit of physics caught my eye in tonight's game.  Albert Pujols led off the bottom of the 6th inning by striking out looking.  He took two straight pitches that appeared to cross the plate at roughly the same point.  The first was a breaking pitch that home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called a ball, and rightly so because the pitch was low.  The second was a fastball that Cederstrom called a strike, much to the dismay of Pujols because that was strike three.  That pitch was low and should have been called a ball.

Think about the view of the two pitches from the umpire's point of view.  The breaking ball that Pujols took was dropping with an acceleration greater than that of the local acceleration due to gravity. The fastball that Pujols took for a called strike three was dropping with an acceleration less than the acceleration due to gravity.  Though he was wrong to call the latter pitch a strike, I can't blame Cederstrom too much for the missed call.  After having seen a ball dropping quickly to a plane below the strike zone, Cederstrom saw the next pitch at about the same location, but it was not accelerating downward as much as the previous pitch.  He clearly thought the pitched crossed the plate higher than the previous pitch.  Given that the human eye cannot fully track a Major League fastball during the roughly 0.4 seconds it takes to get from the pitcher's hand to home plate, and given the different downward accelerations of the two pitches, I can understand how Cederstrom could have perceived the two pitches as crossing the plate at different heights.

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