Three plays upheld in expanded replay's debut
Players, coaches and umpires share confidence in efficiency of new system
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After months of detailed preparation and 5 1/2 innings of growing suspense, the first challenge-based instant replay in Major League Baseball history occurred in Monday's Grapefruit League game between the Blue Jays and Twins at Hammond Stadium.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth and a runner on second, Minnesota outfielder Chris Rahl hit a grounder to Toronto shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. The throw was high and wide, pulling first baseman Jared Goedert off the base. First-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth called Rahl safe.
And, with that, history was made. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons walked matter-of-factly onto the field and informed Culbreth he'd like to have the play reviewed. After an interval officially clocked at two minutes, 34 seconds -- during which the public-address system played "Twist and Shout" by the Beatles -- replay official Brian O'Nora ruled that the original call would stand.
That was quickly followed by two more reviews. At Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., Angels runner Luis Jimenez was called out at second base on a hit-and-run that went awry in the second inning against the D-backs. Halos manager Mike Scioscia challenged, thinking the runner may have slid in under the tag. But the call was upheld after a period of two minutes and 31 seconds.
At that point, both Gibbons and Scioscia were out of challenges. The new rules give a manager one appeal. If he gets it right, he's allowed one more.
After the seventh inning, the umpires can initiate a review on their own. That's what happened in the top of the eighth back in Fort Myers, where it was ruled that Twins pinch-hitter Doug Bernier beat out a grounder to shortstop Kevin Nolan. This time the fans were treated to "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. Again, the umpire's call was affirmed.
"The first play, I saw it the way Fieldin had it," the Blue Jays manager said. "But I thought that was a perfect play to come out there and try it."
Said Culbreth, via a pool reporter: "John came out, and basically, he told me, 'I'm not too sure that you're not right here. But since we haven't done it before, let's go take a look.' And I said, 'OK. That's what it's for.' And then I went over there, got on the headset and called up to Brian [O'Nora] and told him exactly what he was challenging."
O'Nora picked up the narrative at that point. "What I saw, when [the video technician] brought up the replay, she brought up two of them, from two different angles. On the one angle, you could not tell. It was all blurry. On the second angle, [it showed] the back of the first baseman. You could see he was up in the air, and when he was coming down, he wasn't on the base, wasn't on the base and then, when I could definitely tell he was on the base, the Twins runner's foot was already on the base."
Even though Toronto trailed by six runs at the time and eventually lost, 12-2, Gibbons said he might have challenged that play during the regular season.
"We have an offense and a ballpark where you can score some runs, so maybe you try to cut off an inning," Gibbons explained.
Gibbons was not surprised that the umps agreed to take another look at the second play.
"They want to get it right, too, so unless it's ridiculous, they'll check -- unless you get carried away and go out every inning," Gibbons said. "I thought it worked fine."
In both Grapefruit League situations, the technical ruling was that the play stands, meaning there isn't conclusive evidence to overturn. The other options are to confirm, indicating that the call was absolutely correct, or overturn.
Culbreth expects the process to be quicker and sharper when the regular season begins, because the replays will be of higher quality and, counterintuitively, because the replay official will have more angles to view.
"I know it [sounds] weird to think -- you've only got a couple, so you should just look at it and be done with it," Culbreth said. "But I think once we have nine or 10 angles, and when we have quality feeds, I think you'll see that time really tighten up, because everything hopefully will be so much quicker that we can make that determination clearer because of it."
Twins coach Terry Steinbach, standing in for manager Ron Gardenhire, who took a split squad to Sarasota, Fla., to play the Orioles, also thought the process was level-headed and professional.
"The whole concept of this is, we want to get it right," Steinbach said. "So as long as we can keep the pace, and it doesn't slow it way down, I think it's something that's here and we're going to make it work."
Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek, who was on the mound during the first challenge, said he didn't find the wait disruptive.
"It wasn't too long," Drabek said. "All of the infielders stood on the mound. I was just about to tell [catcher A.J. Jimenez] to go back behind the plate so I could start throwing again. That's when the umps were ready to go again."
Added Goedert: "They've done it on home runs, obviously, so that wasn't completely out of the ordinary. It was almost like it was a mound visit with no coach out there. I'm glad we have it. I think it's better to get it right. Obviously, if we can make sure we do that in a relatively timely manner, it's better overall. There might be some wrinkles in the beginning, but I think it's good overall."
Steinbach didn't challenge any plays, but he got a sense of what expanded replay review might be capable of anyway. In the bottom of the first, Aaron Hicks scored on a double by Brian Dozier, who then came home himself on a wild throw. Steinbach didn't think Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro had given Dozier part of the plate to target on his slide, a violation of the new rules designed to prevent home-plate collisions.
"I went out there just to ask, 'What would have happened [if] they had tagged him out?'" Steinbach said. "[Home-plate umpire Bob Davidson] didn't see whether there was a lane or not; he thought there was. Then, as the game progressed ... [they] actually checked the call and said, 'You're absolutely right; there was no lane.' So that would have been one of those where if he would have been tagged out, the call potentially could have been overturned. The catcher was blocking the plate without the ball."
This was the first Grapefruit League game designated to test the new challenge-based replay review system, along two games in Arizona: Cubs at Brewers and Rockies at D-backs. The procedure was also used in a handful of Arizona Fall League games.
There were no challenges in the Cubs-Brewers game.
Before the Twins and Blue Jays even took the field, three headsets had been hung with care on a green padded railing at the end of the visitors' dugout closest to home plate. When play began, an MLB technician wore one, ready to coordinate communications between the replay official and the umpires on the field.
Assigned to review any potential challenges, and ultimately make the final determination, at the start of the game was Adrian Johnson. He was in the television control truck outside the stadium. During the regular season, all replay officials will work out of MLB Advanced Media's headquarters in New York.
In the fourth inning, Johnson went to the field at third base and was replaced by O'Nora, who got the first play to review. In the seventh, the umpires rotated again; O'Nora went back into the game and Culbreth took the seat in the truck.
Sean Harlin of the Twins' video staff watched a televised feed of the game on a monitor. He would have communicated with bench coach Paul Molitor via walkie-talkie had there been a play in question. The Blue Jays decided to do without a so-called "eye in the sky" on Monday, but all teams will have one during the regular season. Also, that part of the process will be more sophisticated when the games behind to count. Teams will have a permanent location for that person, with a dedicated phone line to the dugout.
Players from both teams were talking about replay after the game.
"It's pretty exciting," Rahl said. "It's one of those things where I was just trying to hustle and beat it out, just trying to get to that inside corner of the bag. I didn't really get a good look if he pulled or not off first. When the coach came out and they went to the replay, I was thinking, 'Maybe I'm the first one. This could be kind of cool.'
"It was exciting. Interesting to see the process and how it works. I thought it went fairly well and was pretty quick. They got the call right, so that's the point of the process. It was good. I didn't think it took that long. I don't know exactly the time frame that they were shooting for, but it seemed like they got it done pretty quickly, in a timely manner, and went through the whole thing and got the call right."
Goedert laughed when asked if this was something he'd tell his grandchildren about.
"Maybe so," he said. "I'd probably tell them I was part of history and then tell them to guess why. And I'll bet they wouldn't guess that."