Instant replay advocates, rejoice. Change is coming to Major League Baseball.
This is unofficial, but rest assured that our national pastime is about to enter the 21st century as it relates to replay technology. How do I know? The New York Yankees were victimized by blown calls in consecutive postseason losses, that’s how.
When the Minnesota Twins were wronged by an incorrect and game-turning call in the 2009 playoffs — at Yankee Stadium, I might add — the story had legs for a few days. But now that the same thing has happened to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, well, the MLB switchboard is about to light up with calls from some very influential folks.
Joe Girardi, your thoughts?
“Let’s have instant replay — and not just home run, fair, foul,” the Yankees manager said Sunday after his team flailed its way into a 2-0 series hole. “Let’s have instant replay.”
MLB commissioner Bud Selig maintains there is little appetite for expanded replay within the sport. Opinion on the issue can run hot and cold — usually, depending on how one’s team was affected by the latest controversial call. But for those who thought sweeping change would come only when the Yankees (or maybe the Red Sox) lost a meaningful October game in this fashion … well … the tipping point may have come over the weekend.
Before we go any further, let’s make something absolutely clear: The Yankees’ season is nearing the brink — with Detroit ace Justin Verlander looming in Game 3 — because their hitting has been lousy in the ALCS. Their team batting average is .192. They have scored runs in one of the 21 innings in this series. Yankees batting coach Kevin Long was encircled by a couple dozen media members after Game 2. Not an encouraging sign.
If that doesn’t sound dire enough, the Yankees’ best all-around player in this postseason — Derek Jeter, heartbeat of the franchise — is out for the year with a fractured left ankle.
The umpiring, though, has been another substantial impediment. Has it created the same uproar as the infield/outfield fly in Atlanta? No, not quite. But a pair of momentum-turning calls went against the Yankees, and neither was correct. And now the hardworking staffers at Instant Replay Campaign Headquarters are popping corks over the fact that this particular Yankees lineup is apparently unable to outhit the bad breaks.
In Game 1, Robinson Cano appeared to beat out an infield single that would have given the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the second inning and kept the bases loaded for Mark Teixeira. Instead, Rob Drake called him out. The Yankees went on to lose the game — and Jeter — in extra innings. If Cano had been called safe, the Yankees might have won in regulation; in that parallel universe, Jeter would not have had to make the 12th-inning play that caused his injury.
Cano was at the center of another blown call Sunday evening. The Tigers were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth when Austin Jackson singled to right with Omar Infante at first base. Infante started for third before retreating to second. Nick Swisher’s throw arrived in time, Cano applied the tag to Infante’s chest before his hand touched the bag … and umpire Jeff Nelson called him safe. The Tigers added two crucial runs in the inning and secured the 3-0 win.
Nelson watched a replay — but only after it was too late to do anything about it. He acknowledged to a pool reporter that the call was “incorrect.” To have checked the same replay feed during the game would have been illegal under the current rules. If that makes sense to you, please raise your hand.
“It’s frustrating,” said Girardi, who was ejected from the game — on his 48th birthday — after continuing his argument with Nelson during a pitching change. “I don’t have a problem with Jeff’s effort. I don’t. He hustled to get to the play. But in this day and age when we have instant replay available to us, it’s got to change. These guys are under tremendous amounts of pressure. It is a tough call for him because the tag is underneath, and it’s hard for him to see. It takes more time for me to argue and get upset than to get the call right.
“There’s just too much at stake. We play 235 days to get to this point. We had two calls go against us. We lose by one run last night. I’m not saying if Robbie Cano is safe last night that it changes the game. The outcome still might be the same, but I’d like to take my chances. [In Game 2], there is more pressure on the pitcher when it is 1 0 in the eighth and your club is hitting than when it’s 3 0. I would like to take my chances.”
We are conditioned to believe the Yankees always catch breaks in the postseason. I’m not sure if that’s true. Yes, there was the Jeffrey Maier ball in right field, the Chuck Knoblauch call at Fenway Park, the Phil Cuzzi mistake on Joe Mauer’s should-have-been double in 2009. We remember those plays as part of Yankees lore, because their players were game enough to take advantage of them. How many calls went against the Pinstripes but were lost to history because of something Jeter, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams or Scott Brosius did in response?
Cano, mired in a miserable 0-for-26 slump, has become an unwitting actor in the replay melodrama. When I asked him after Game 2 if he is in favor of more replay, Cano answered, “Yeah, of course. If you had replay yesterday, (we would have had) one run and the bases loaded with Raul (Ibañez) behind me. I’m not going to say he’s going to hit a grand slam, but you never know what’s going to happen in the game.”
Cano’s view of the Game 1 call: “I was safe.” And Game 2: “I had him at second base by five feet.” OK, then.
When replay is discussed, questions arise about cost, time, technology, format (e.g., manager’s challenges), and how extensive the review should be (e.g., calls on the bases). Girardi didn’t get into specifics about what his ideal plan would look like, other than to say, “I just think it’s available to us, and I think it could be done fairly quickly.”
Girardi’s predecessor as Yankees manager, Joe Torre, spoke at a postgame news conference in his capacity as MLB executive vice president of baseball operations. Torre pointed out that when replay was raised at the All-Star Game, little attention was given to safe and out calls on the bases. “It always seems we want the replay to (cover) the last thing that happened,” Torre said. (He’s right, of course. And that could be accomplished with a replay official, seated upstairs, who buzzes the crew chief when a call is obviously missed. But I digress.) “We’re looking into it,” Torre continued, “but right now we haven’t really come to any conclusion on what’s the best way to go.”
So it continues. At a time of year when we all love to make predictions, here’s one more: If the Yankees lose this series, we are going to hear a lot about instant replay in the months to come — and maybe, finally, see some substantive reforms.
All of a sudden, there’s more riding on this Yankee season than the effort for one more world championship.