The Rays lost to the Blue Jays 5-4 in 10 innings on Saturday afternoon. But it was happened in the fourth inning that led to the Rays officially protesting the game and has Joe Maddon thinking the Rays deserve a do-over.
With Yunel Escobar at the plate, Mark Buehrle tried to pick Wil Myers off first base who was ruled safe. As Buehrle and Escobar settled in for the next pitch, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons came out to challenge the call. Even though the replay did not appear to be conclusive, the umpire in New York changed the call and ruled Myers out.
Joe Maddon, who is not allowed to argue replay rulings, came out to talk to the home plate umpire. At this point, Maddon told the umpire he wanted to play the game under protest and the umpire drew a P in the air to the official scorer to indicate the game is indeed now under protest.
The problem was not with the ruling but that the Blue Jays were allowed to challenge at all. According to the rule, no challenge may be issued once the next play has started and according the rule book, the next play is said to have started when the pitcher is on the rubber and the batter is in the batter’s box.
Replays clearly showed that Buehrle was on the rubber and ready to pitch and Escobar was in the box when the home plate umpire raised his hands to call time.
Rule II.D.1 of the replay regulations says the following:
And this is the rule that led Maddon after the game to say the rule is “cut and dry.” Maddon also went to Twitter to make this statement.
I believe our protest will be upheld. Pitcher was on the rubber, batter in the box. Timing has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.
— Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) August 23, 2014
Unfortunately for Maddon and the Rays, there is more to the rule. Rule II.D.5 seems to give the umpire some wiggle room to circumvent the earlier part of the rule:
Keep in mind. This is a pick-off play. There is very little time between the play and the ball being back in Buehrle’s possession and Escobar probably never left the box. The Jays in this case didn’t have much time to be untimely.
We also don’t know if or when Gibbons verbally challenged the play. After the game umpire Bob Davidson told the media that he felt it was “extremely close” and that Gibbons made the protest as Escobar was entering the box.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) August 23, 2014
Ultimately, rules II.D.1 and II.D.5 do seem to contradict each other in some sense and Major League Baseball is going to have to fix that. MLB appears to be trying to say “under the normal pace of play, this (pitcher on rubber, batter in box) is the cut-off to when a manager can challenge a play. However, if things are going too fast, a manager should still be allowed to have reasonable amount of time to challenge and that is up to the umpire.”
That’s not what it says but I think that is what they are trying to say and honestly, that seems reasonable.
But in the meantime, there seems to be enough of a grey area for them to cover their butts and turn down the Rays’ protest.
But what happens if the Rays win their protest?
This is more simple than many think. If MLB determines that the rule was not enforced correctly and it impacted the winner of the game the two teams will play an extra game when the Rays return to Toronto in September.
However, they won’t play an entire game. Instead, they will restart this game in the 4th inning at the point of the protest. So that game will start with 2 outs in the 4th inning with Escobar at the plate and the score 2-1. It will be like the final 5 innings from today had been “erased” and never happened.
The lineups will remain the same. If somebody is unavailable, (e.g. Buehrle or somebody else is injured) the managers will “sub” in new players.
Ultimately though, teams rarely win protests. The most famous is the pine tar game with George Brett between Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. In that case, the protest was upheld and the two teams finished the ninth inning three weeks later. Interestingly, because of some roster issues, pitcher Ron Guidry had to play center field and Don Mattingly played second base when they finished the game.
There was a game just last week between the Giants and Cubs that was protested and the protest was upheld. That was an easy one for MLB to uphold because they didn’t have to go back and “erase” any action since the Giants were simply protesting how that game ended (rain delay).
But in this case, it seems unlikely that anything will change because of the contradictions cited above.