Tuesday night, there was a fascinating play in Pittsburgh, in perhaps just the second game this season that ended with video review.
The first (I believe) was in this Braves-Reds game, which ended on Joey Votto’s groundout to first base, which was challenged. But that one wasn’t particularly dramatic. Even if the call had been reversed, the score would have remained the same, with the Braves still just an out away from sealing their 5-4 victory. But the call wasn’t reversed; what everyone thought initially happened, actually happened.
Here’s what I’m thinking after the end of the Giants-Pirates game that ended with Starling Marte called out at home plate and then called safe, giving the Pirates the not-so-dramatic walk-off reversal: Isn’t this exactly how we don’t want games to end? With a committee meeting?
God knows we have enough of those in the NFL and Congress.
After all, if baseball is entertainment, where does a meeting fit in? Does anybody, in the late stages of life, ever say, "I wish I had attended more meetings. Well, the ones that had the pink frosted doughnuts with sprinkles at least."
Well, I agree that we don’t want games to end with committee meetings. It’s not ideal. Before we get into that, though, I want to take a closer look at the play in question:
You know what’s really interesting about this play? No, it’s not that Starling Marte was safe, and that it took a while for everyone to know. It was a tough call for the umpire, and this is a wonderful example of how difficult that job can be — or was, prior to 2014.
What’s interesting is how Buster Posey and Starling Marte turned this into a battle of intellect and athleticism rather than a naked display of brawn and machismo. Just a year ago, Posey — actually, maybe every catcher but Posey — simply stands astride the plate with the ball and Marte slams into the catcher as hard as he can. Or maybe Marte still slides, but smack into a catcher blocking the plate.
That’s not a baseball play. That’s a football play, bereft of finesse or judgment and somewhat likely to result in an injury that will rob fans of a great baseball player for a few days or weeks or months.
Instead we’ve got a baseball play here. A beautiful baseball play, filled with finesse and athleticism. There’s Posey setting up to receive the ball, and Marte pitching himself plateward with both arms outstretched, and then suddenly withdrawing his left arm and trunk, ever so slightly, while reaching for the plate with his right hand.
Posey made a nimble baseball play, but Marte was just slightly more nimble … and shouldn’t Marte be rewarded for this?
I thought I’d like it more than I have, too. But this play makes me like it more, not less. The plays that make me like video review less are the bang-bang plays at first base in the fourth inning, plays that look like a tie to the naked eye and almost look like a tie even with the 21st Century’s most advanced video technology. Do the benefits of those reviews really outweigh the costs?
Maybe? I don’t know. It’s possible that my question will seem utterly ridiculous in a year or two, by which point we might be perfectly willing to burn down Twitter if every single call, first inning or ninth, isn’t made correctly.
Yes, I know that fourth-inning play might be the difference between winning and losing … but it quite probably was not. Meanwhile, a play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game obviously has a huge impact on the outcome. It’s vitally important, I think, to get that one right if you can.
It’s easy to rip Major League Baseball for this, that, or the other. All of those make me retch. But Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, we saw a beautifully athletic event with a just result. Hard to see how things get much better.