Programming note: For all the day’s sports news, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight and every night at 6, 10:30 p.m. and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
PHOENIX – Whenever Bruce Bochy tires of managing, perhaps he can pursue a second career in diplomatic service. With Matt Cain as his attaché.
Both were asked benzene-soaked questions about the expanded replay procedure, which royally backfired for the Giants in every way in the fourth inning Tuesday night. Both replied with a variation of the following:
“It’s only been two days.”
They did not make any rash statements or call for the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater – even if the baby was clearly out at the plate.
A.J. Pollock sure was. But his run in the fourth inning counted because umpire Eric Cooper blew the call, it was too early for the umpiring crew to initiate their own review, and the Giants had lost their challenge earlier in the inning.
Ah, the human element. Don’t mourn its passing just yet.
Even with expanded replay, Pollock was allowed to be safe twice in an inning when he appeared – once conclusively appeared -- to be tagged out. Major League Baseball officials expected the replay system would require some tweaks. If the impetus behind this confusing tangle of rules is to get calls right, an overhaul might be more in order.
Not that Bochy, after getting buffaloed in a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, is calling for that.
“I’m fine with how they are,” said Bochy, all but handed a lit match when asked about the replay procedures. “We’ll see how it goes. We’re in our second game now. Ask me deeper in the season. I may say something, may have an opinion.”
Cain saved his criticism for giving back half of a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, for crossing up Buster Posey on the passed ball that led to Pollock’s controversial run and for not throwing more strikes.
But when he stuck his glove inches in front of the plate, and appeared to tag Pollock’s shoe…
“He was out,” Cain said. “I had him.”
Rather than lambaste the umpire, Cain empathized with him. He said he saw the same thing that Cooper did – that Pollock’s foot appeared to clear Cain’s glove before he stepped on the plate. Cooper could not feel the kick that Cain felt. And yes, replays –- unreviewable though they were -- showed beyond a doubt that the tag was applied.
“That’s what you call, `Hang with ‘em,’” Bochy said. “You can’t do anything at that point.”
Try to make sense of this: Umpires can review disputed home runs at any time during a game, because they are not subject to a manager’s challenge. But a tag play at home plate, which counts the same as a solo home run on the scoreboard, cannot be reviewed by an umpire’s discretion until the seventh inning or later.
The Giants could not challenge because they burned theirs earlier in the inning, when they appeared to have Pollock picked off at first base. Bochy went on the field to argue – the third time in the game he bought time on a close play – while awaiting the dugout call from Giants replay adviser Shawon Dunston.
Although one replay appeared to show that Brandon Belt applied a tag to Pollock’s elbow before a hand reached the base, the replay official in New York did not deem the video evidence to be conclusive. The call stood.
Meanwhile, Cain stood on the mound and threw a few warmup pitches. The delay was supposed to take a minute, or a bit more. It took at least three, plus the time Bochy spent on the field before issuing the official challenge.
“It did take a long time,” Bochy said. “It looked like one of those that could’ve gone either way. I didn’t know it would take that long.”
Bochy took the risk, in part, because the pickoff would’ve resulted in the third out and saved some pitches for Cain, who wasn’t sharp or efficient to that point. It might have ended up hurting Cain in more ways than one, since the first pitch he threw to Gerardo Parra after the delay resulted in a double.
Cain called the long delay “tough.” But the attaché chose his next words wisely.
“Those guys are trying to get the play right,” Cain said. “They’re doing everything they can to get it right.”
Except, you know, actually have replay rules that ensure it.
“I’ve always said that’s the one play that could be reviewable,” said Bochy, of plays at the plate. “It’s the toughest play to see. But hey, that’s not the system.”
It's a system that went through countless revisions over the winter; even as late as February, when MLB held a powerpoint presentation for nine clubs at Salt River Fields, teams were told they would get an additional challenge after seven innings. That changed. (Now, if there's a play worthy of review after the seventh, it's understood that umpires won't initiate it while the aggrieved team still has its original challenge.) If expanded replay were a board game, you'd probably give up after five minutes of wrestling with the instruction booklet and go play Candy Crush on your phone.
The only thing Bochy can do after Tuesday's loss is learn from it. Calls on the field won’t be overturned unless the video evidence is clear and compelling. Expect Bochy, and other managers, to get conservative with those challenges, lest they find themselves unarmed at 20 paces later in the game.
Pollock’s run in the fourth merely cut into the Giants’ lead. It still took Juan Gutierrez blowing Cain’s decision in a two-run sixth inning for the Diamondbacks to win. But when Bochy said in spring training that the replay rules would be a difference maker in some outcomes, he didn’t know how right he was.
Bochy was unarmed as Cain hopped and shouted his protestations to Cooper, both pitcher and manager knowing there was nothing that could be done to fix a very big, very busted call.
Cain said he didn’t even think about the exhausted challenge at that point.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’ll have times as a player when you think guys are out or safe and it’s just going to be that way. That’s just part of the game.”
As it’s always been – and apparently still is, replay or no.