Matt Shoemaker will probably never forget Saturday’s game between the Tigers and Angels.
Brad Ausmus is going to remember it for a long time too, but for entirely different reasons.
Shoemaker, facing the team he grew up idolizing for the first time, pitched seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win over the Tigers with his family in the stands.
"This is incredibly special," said Shoemaker, who attended Trenton High and Eastern Michigan. "To have my mom, dad and sister in the crowd as I beat our hometown team — that’s just a blast."
For Ausmus and anyone cheering for Detroit, though, Shoemaker’s performance was overshadowed by another controversy involving the Tigers and Jim Joyce. While Joyce is widely considered one of baseball’s best umpires, his career will always be remembered for the missed call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010.
The situation began in the third inning, when Joyce ruled that Eugenio Suarez was safe on a pick-off attempt at first base. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols didn’t argue the play, and the game appeared to progressing normally. However, with Shoemaker on the rubber and Austin Jackson in the batter’s box, Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia came out of the dugout to challenge Joyce’s call.
Ausmus immediately pointed out that, according to the rules, Scioscia had waited too long to make the challenge.
"The rule states that once the hitter is in the box and the pitcher is on the rubber that you can no longer challenge the play, and that was the case," he said. "The umpires can initiate reviews on their own, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Mike Scioscia coming out of the dugout initiated the review. The rule is pretty black-and-white."
Joyce, though, chose to review the play.
"The whole idea is to get it right, and that play was such that I felt that play needed to be reviewed," Joyce told the media after the game. "I just knew it was really, really a close play. And if he’s going to come out and ask me to review it, I’m going to review it."
After a lengthy review, Joyce called Suarez out, and Ausmus came out to continue to protest the decision. Joyce threw him out of the game as soon as he stepped on the field — arguing a replay review is an automatic ejection — but Ausmus didn’t agree with that, either.
"You aren’t supposed to argue a challenge, but I wasn’t technically arguing the challenge," he said. "If I was arguing the call, that’s one thing, but I was questioning how they decided to look at it a second time. Given the rule, I don’t even see how they could review this."
Joyce said he was sympathetic to Ausmus’s argument, but didn’t think he had violated the rules by reviewing the play.
"I understand what Brad was thinking," he said. "But to tell me I can’t do it is not what the rule is."
The dispute comes from the exact meaning of a phrase in baseball’s new replay rules. While Ausmus’s description of the deadline — the batter in the box and the pitcher on the rubber — is how most people understand it, that’s not exactly how it is worded:
"For purposes of these Regulations, the next "play" shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter’s box…"
The key is the phrase "preparing to start his delivery".
A Major League Baseball spokesperson told FOX Sports Detroit during the game that because Angels catcher Chris Iannetta was not set to receive a pitch — he was standing up and looking into the dugout — Shoemaker had not reached the stage of preparing to start his delivery. Therefore, Scioscia’s challenge beat the deadline.
Whatever the reasoning, Ausmus wasn’t impressed and he certainly wasn’t willing to concede that the play had little impact on a shutout loss.
"The play does matter," he said. "We’ve seen a number of times this year where a review changes an entire complexion of an inning. To say it doesn’t matter, I don’t think that’s accurate."
The defeat means the Tigers will need to win Sunday afternoon’s game to split the four-game series with Los Angeles. The game can be seen on FOX Sports Detroit at 3:30 p.m., with Tigers Live beginning an hour earlier.