After a rather miserable Game 1 for a sputtering Rangers offense, the top of the ninth inning provided a final nail in the coffin in the form of a foul ball that wasn't.
With the Rangers down to their last two outs, slugger Adrian Beltre stepped in to face dominating Cardinals closer Jason Motte. Beltre had never faced Motte before and wanted to be aggressive by swinging at the first close pitch.
Motte's 0-0 offering was a belt high fastball, which Beltre turned on and hit straight down.
In real-time, the ball appeared to take a funny hop, as its trajectory changed from that of a chopper in front of a home plate to a more routine ground ball to third base. Beltre immediately shouted out in pain, hopping around the right handed batter's box while favoring his left foot.
Play momentarily stopped. Cardinals third baseman Daniel Descalso fielded the ground ball, looked at Beltre, looked at the umpires, and threw onto first baseman Albert Pujols as umpire Greg Gibson sheepishly made a half-hearted out call.
The FOX crew, jumping at the bit, cued up their sequence of replays, headlined by their brand new infrared camera called "Hot Spot." Broadcaster Joe Buck had introduced the TSA scanner-like technology earlier in the contest, explaining its ability to show friction, useful for showing when a ball hits a body or other surface.
To lukewarm fanfare, the broadcast first used infrared earlier in the game, to show Albert Pujols fouling a pitch off his leg. Nothing special, just a routine foul ball.
But in the top of the ninth inning, with Adrian Beltre frantically hobbling around home plate to argue with crew chief Jerry Layne, FOX saw its golden opportunity.
They replayed the sequence using the infrared camera, which conclusively showed the appearance of a baseball sized white dot on Beltre's left cleat as his batted ball hit the dirt. As Buck explained, Hot Spot's replay was "clear evidence" of a ball hitting a shoe in the batter's box.
The play should have been ruled a foul ball, resulting in a 0-1 count.
Instead, the umpires, who had been perfect in non-ball/strike calls up until the ninth inning, did not see the ball hit the boot, and called what they saw: nothing.
Beltre was ruled out and the Rangers, down to their final out, lost during the ensuing Nelson Cruz at bat.
MLB has uploaded video of the infrared Hot Spot camera in the form of a replay of a called strike to Berkman. Contrary to Buck's color-commentary and MLBAM's labeling, umpire Layne ruled the pitch a strike by virtue of being in the strike zone, not due to a foul ball. Pitch f/x confirms the pitch was correctly ruled a strike.
As the Cardinals celebrated an important Game 1 on the field and the Rangers lamented an opening loss in the clubhouse, Buck, Tim McCarver, and the rest of FOX were collectively patting themselves on the back for introducing new technology to the game.
If MLB expands instant replay, could Hot Spot be used to determine if a ball was fair or foul, if a runner was safe or out? Or in its current incarnation, could Hot Spot be used to determine if a ball hit deep to center field was a home run or not?
I guess we'll have to wait for Mike Napoli to blast another mile high dinger before we find out.
For FOX, the only thing better than using their own technology to show what the right call should have been, would be to use their own technology to affect the game by actually changing the call on the field.
At this point, though, I think FOX is more than satisfied with Hot Spot's debut.
Update: MLB has since uploaded video of Beltre's disputed at bat. Check it out and decide for yourself.
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