PORT CHARLOTTE — Twice during Wednesday’s game, Rays first baseman Vince Belnome threw the ball home after recording the final out of the inning, drawing cheers from his dugout on both occasions.
Belnome continued the play not because he lost count of the number of outs. He threw home because each time there was a runner on base and that runner continued to run the bases.
Neither play at first base was close, but what if they had been, and what if Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged the out call? What happened if replay showed the batter was safe? What happened to the runner? If he crossed home plate, does the run count? Do the umpires send him back to third base?
Welcome to the world of instant replay.
“I think the ‘what ifs’ are almost limitless, and that’s the part people don’t even understand,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “When you open Pandora’s box, it’s not as cut and dried as you think.”
The Rays get their first opportunity to see how replay works this afternoon when they play the Blue Jays in Dunedin. It is the Rays’ first televised game this spring (it is available in the Toronto market and will be shown on MLB Network).
To say Maddon is curious is an understatement.
“It would be good to get it into practice somehow,” Maddon said.
Maddon, his coaching staff and players have been thinking not only about the plays that can be reviewed, but also the scenarios that arise with the reviews.
Maddon had a long talk with an umpire between innings Sunday after a throw from the outfield sailed into the visiting dugout at Charlotte Sports Park, allowing Desmond Jennings to score from third and David DeJesus, whose line-drive single to right field started the action, to advance to third base.
Maddon didn’t want to reveal what was being discussed — he doesn’t want other teams to know what he’s thinking — but it was related to a possible replay challenge.
“Regardless of what we hear and how this is supposed to be implemented, I believe it’s a fluid and living organism that can be changed at any moment, and it’s going to be up to interpretation,” Maddon said. “I know there’s going to be some definites written down, but there’s still going to be some gray that’s going to pop up that’s not been thought about or interpreted differently at the moment, so it’s not about gaming anything. It’s about doing it for the first time and trying to not leave anything up to discretion.”
Pitcher Alex Cobb starts today and is more interested in how the interruption caused by a replay review will affect the pitchers. Replay was used three times Monday. One review took 2 minutes, 34 seconds, and another took 2:31.
“How I can make sure I stay mentally focused and ready to get the next batter or whatever the case may be is really the only situation I can take away from that,” Cobb said.
Regarding Belnome, Cobb said he was doing what all Rays first basemen were instructed to do during a meeting before Wednesday’s game — to basically play past the whistle. Hence the cheers.
“We think it’s a bang-bang play at first. We think we have the guy out, the umpire calls the guy out, the guy (on base) continues running home, we have to make sure that that out is made at the plate in case it goes to replay and they got that guy safe at first,” Cobb said.
In other words, four outs are better than three.
“Other than that, it’s out of our hands,” Cobb said. “We’re just playing the game like we always have and let Joe take care of that. We’re pretty fortunate to have a guy like Joe that probably enjoys this challenge show.”
And Maddon does, or will once he figures it out.
The replay rule is convoluted, Maddon said, and that makes it difficult to understand. It also makes it difficult to explain to the players what you don’t quite understand yourself.
The ultimate goal, Maddon said, is “How do you prevent interpretation from causing you a loss?”
And, while he’s at it, how can he use the replay to his advantage?
“Of course,” Maddon said. “Always, always, always, always, absolutely.”