Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart tagged up from third base and headed for home after Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton snagged a fly in short right field. Stanton’s throw was perfect and Cozart was easily tagged out. At least that’s what the umpire ruled.
The double-play ended the Reds’ half of the inning, and the Marlins led 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth. Or so they thought.
The umpires huddled and called the league’s central office in New York to request a review. Following a 6-minute, 10-second delay, the call was overturned. The replay crew felt that catcher Jeff Mathis had not allowed Cozart a path to the plate.
A rule enacted this year prohibits catchers from blocking the plate, a departure from the old rule that allowed for violent collisions at home. The change was designed to reduce injuries.
Instead of trailing 1-0 in the game last week in Miami, the Reds found themselves back at bat with the scored tied, 1-1. Ryan Ludwick followed with a single, driving in two more runs, and Cincinnati led 3-1 – all coming after the Marlins once believed the inning had ended.
Baseball has struggled with the new rule, and there’s no blaming Mathis, who handled the throw just as catchers have been taught for generations. Of course, the Marlins screamed foul, and the Reds praised the men in blue for getting the call right.
That’s the way it has gone in baseball this summer as teams adjust to a bigger, more challenging change — the introduction of instant replays. Some love the reviews, as obvious mistakes are corrected. Traditionalists bemoan the change and the slower pace it brings to a sport that already had a time-management problem.
Baseballsavant.com, a trove of granular baseball data including instant replay results, showed that 875 plays were forwarded to the review team through Aug. 4. Of those, 416 calls had been overturned (47 percent) while 459 (52 percent) were not.
Interestingly, umpires have led the way in requesting replays. So far, they’ve sought to double-check 152 plays with help from the New York office. By comparison, the Chicago Cubs have sought a replay 38 times — tops in the majors — while the Milwaukee Brewers and the Reds have been the least suspicious, asking for another look just 17 times.
One of baseball’s biggest concerns heading into this season was that review would dramatically lengthen games. That’s not been the case so far.
The average review takes slightly less than two minutes. The 6 minute-plus stoppage in the July 31 game in Miami was the most prolonged.
Not figured into the time analysis is a growing practice among managers to leave the dugout for a short period as their club’s video team quickly reviews what just took place on the field. If the video crew’s assessment shows a call might be overturned, the manager proceeds to the umpire. If not, he spins and returns to the bench.
Two types of plays have accounted for nearly 75 percent of the disputes — force outs (377) and tags (279) — according the Baseballsavant.com. Two other situations that have required plenty of second looks are home runs (69) and collisions at the plate (53).
In another unexpected development, many predicted that fewer players and managers would be ejected from games because the ultimate ruling would come from someone not even at the ballpark. That’s not been the case.
Highly charged, foot-stomping, base-throwing exhibitions may be fewer, but ejections are up slightly. Managers who lose a replay still want to rant and rave, and the home plate umpire is the one who catches the most flak. That was the case last week when Marlins manager Mike Redmond was ejected for throwing his hat to the ground, nearly pulling his jersey off and arguing with the umps.
So far, the instant replay has been more blessing than curse. Obvious mistakes are corrected. Getting the call right was baseball’s goal.
What hasn’t worked as well is Rule 7.13, which prohibits a catcher not holding the baseball from blocking the runner’s path to home plate. The rule will need refinement, and catchers will need retraining on how to take a throw from a fielder and make a tag.
That’s good because no one wants to see a replay of the 1970 All-Star game collision at home plate where Pete Rose sent Cleveland’s Ray Fosse sprawling, resulting in an injury from which he never fully recovered.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.