We're only two days into the regular season, and already Major League Baseball's new expanded instant replay rules have come under review. The San Francisco Giants lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday after a run scored on a close, controversial play at the plate while the losing club's manager was left without any course of action after failing on a previous challenge.
In the end, the game was decided by one run, 5-4, in favor of the Diamondbacks.
The setup: With the Giants up 4-2 and two outs in the bottom of the fourth in Arizona, starter Matt Cain attempted to pick off A.J. Pollock at first base. Pollock was called safe by umpire Chris Guccione, but it appeared he might have, in fact, been out, so San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy elected to challenge. After a lengthy review, the call stood because the video evidence wasn't conclusive enough to overturn.
Here's video of the pickoff attempt, along with Bochy's challenge and the outcome of the review:
Remember, under the new rules, a manager only gets one challenge in the first six innings—after which umpires can initiate a review themselves—unless he gets it right. With Bochy thus out of luck after his first foray into this system proved a failure, things went from bad to worse for the Giants in a matter of a few pitches.
Gerardo Parra, the hitter at the plate during all this, would double, putting runners on second and third. With Aaron Hill at bat, Cain threw a fastball that crossed up catcher Buster Posey and ricocheted off to the first-base side behind home plate, prompting Pollock to bolt for home to try to score.
For a look at what happened next, skip ahead to the 1:00 mark of this video:
As you can pretty plainly see, Posey's throw to Cain was in time, and Cain made a nice play to get the tag down in front of the plate ahead of Pollock's slide. Yet for the second time in the span of three pitches, Pollock appeared to be out but was called safe.
While the Giants were still up at that point, Pollock's run made the score 4-3, and the Diamondbacks would go on to plate a pair in the bottom of the sixth. Had Pollock been called out in either instance, those runs would have tied the game, rather than leaving San Francisco down a run—the tally they ultimately lost by.
Replay giveth and replay taketh away. This time, from the Giants' point of view, replay only tooketh.
Was it entirely the fault of the new rules, though? Certainly, Bochy deserves some of the blame for choosing to challenge the pickoff play, which was too close to call—and perhaps too risky to try to have overturned.
As Bochy said afterward, via Chris Haft of MLB.com:
You can't do anything at that point because you've already lost your challenge. This is how the system works and you understand that. Would I have changed anything? No. You don't know whether you're going to get another call when you wish you could challenge.
Also in Bochy's defense? Cain's pickoff would have been the third and final out of the inning, which isn't an insignificant factor here.
Look, some sort of replay hiccup or snafu was bound to happen at some point, right? Why not get it over with early on, while the expanded system is still fresh and at the forefront of the new season?
Plus, this is merely the first time that the reworked replay format gets called into question. It will—and should—happen again going forward. In fact, when the changes were announced earlier this year, the league made it clear that this effort can be altered as needed going forward.
Joe Torre, MLB's Executive VP of Baseball Operations and an instrumental member of the committee that helped bring about expanded replay, had this to say at the time of the decision, per Paul Hagen of MLB.com:
We all felt that the fact that we're limiting challenges is really based on the rhythm of the game. We're going to start this way, and if something has to be adjusted, we'll certainly be aware of that. Like anything else, if we think something can make it better, we're certainly going to go in that direction.
In other words, the review process itself is under review all season long. In that sense, even though the Giants don't get any of the benefit, in the end, this initial controversy actually should be a good thing for baseball as a whole. As long as the decision-makers really are keen on discussing, addressing and ultimately fixing any problems that pop up along the way.
As for a possible—and rather simple—solution to what happened in Arizona on Tuesday, the league could consider adopting a policy in which every scoring play is to be reviewed off-site at the headquarters in New York City. That way, nobody at the ballpark would even need to be made aware of what's happening, unless the reviewing umpire catches something and alerts the appropriate parties at the actual game.
That's more or less what's done in the National Football League, which takes a second look at every touchdown, field goal and safety and has, of course, been using replay for a heck of a lot longer than MLB.
Not only would this prevent a lot of the second-guessing going on today around Bochy and the Giants, it also would ensure that more calls are correct.
Shouldn't that be the point of all this anyway?
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