Even at peak efficacy, replay reviews are necessarily invasive. Sacrifice is inherent to the system. Games are paused. Awkwardness and boredom ensue. But the delays and all the attendant problems with replay are worth it if, because umpires get more calls right. Baseball traded one frustration for another, and it’s worth it.
The contract breaks down, though, when certain questions are asked. What is the point of using replay if umpires still can’t get calls right? What exactly constitutes conclusive evidence? One play Sunday afternoon tested the Nationals’ faith in the system.
In the fifth inning, Cody Asche stood on second after a double. As Stephen Strasburg pitched to Cole Hamels, Asche danced off the bag. Catcher Jose Lobaton rifled a pickoff throw from behind the plate. Ian Desmond made a spinning tag as Asche dove back to the base, holding the ball aloft and jogging off the field.
“I thought for sure he was out,” Desmond said. “I generally don’t rush off the field. I never do it, actually. Running off the field is trying to show the umpire up. I thought for sure he was going to be out.”
But second base umpire Tripp Gibson called Asche safe. Manager Matt Williams promptly scurried out of the dugout to challenge.
“Early on in a game, we’re not going to go out there unless we think we’re sure,” Williams said.
The crowd at Nationals Park cheered upon viewing the replay on the video board. It seemed to show Desmond’s glove brushing Asche on the shoulder before his hand touched the base. On his first slide, Asche never really even reached the bag, which imbued Desmond with even more confidence.
“I thought I tagged him kind of high, like up in his body,” Desmond said. “And I thought maybe his hand got in there or something, that was what the appeal would be. When I saw he wasn’t even to the bag, I thought for sure he was out. I thought there was no way.”
The three Nationals outfielders gathered by first base, anticipating a short walk to the dugout. Hamels walked into the dugout and prepared for the bottom of the inning. But the umpires continued talking on their headsets. The longer a challenge takes, the more it risks drifting into “inconclusive” territory.
After 3 minutes 3 seconds, the umpires on the field received a ruling from the umpiring crew watching the replay in New York. The call “stood” – the umpiring crew in New York deemed the evidence insufficient to reverse it. Nationals Park erupted with boos. Desmond crumpled to the ground in disbelief. He looked like Lloyd Christmas walking back into his apartment after the sweet old lady on a motorized cart stole his beer.
“I thought that I got it, and they said no,” Lobton said. “That’s the rule. Yeah, I’m going to get mad. That’s my out. But at the same time, let’s focus on the hitter and get that guy out.”
Strasburg induced a groundout from Hamels, needing only two more pitches to strand Aschee at second. The call didn’t cost the Nationals a run, but it mattered. They lost their ability to challenge, and rather than the pitcher leading off the sixth inning, Ben Revere came to the plate.
In the bigger picture, it may have shaken their confidence in replay in general. The system is in place to eliminate inherent errors in human judgment. But there are plenty of inherent errors to the replay system, too.
“It’s not an easy job,” Desmond said. “Those guys, it’s tough. Inconclusive is a little easier to swallow.”
FROM THE POST
FROM THE WEEKEND’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 3, Syracuse 1: Jhonatan Solano went 2 for 4 with a double. Aaron Laffey allowed three runs in six innings on eight hits and no walks, striking out two. Aaron Barrett pitched a perfect inning with no strikeouts. Matt Grace struck out one in a perfect inning.
Akron 6, Harrisburg 5: Austin Voth allowed two runs in five innings on five hits and three walks, striking out three. Adrian Sanchez went 3 for 4. Cutter Dykstra went 1 for 2 with three walks.
Potomac 9, Carolina 4: Ike Ballou went 2 for 3 with a walk. Stephen Perez went 2 for 4, but his average has dropped to .264. Dakota Bacus allowed four runs in five innings on six hits and no walks, striking out four.
Charleston 8, Hagerstown 1: Rafael Bautista went 2 for 4 with a triple and a walk. Narciso Mesa went 2 for 4 with a walk. Nick Pivetta allowed six runs in three innings on five hits and a walk, striking out three.
Auburn 5, Staten Island 4: Diomedes Eusebio went 2 for 3 with a double. Anderson Martinez allowed one earned run in five innings on six hits and one walk, striking out one.