Matheny faces new challenge with MLB’s upcoming implementation of video replay

ST. LOUIS — Flash forward to April. It’s the bottom of the ninth of a tie game and Matt Carpenter is on third with two out when Allen Craig hits a grounder between shortstop and third base. Reds shortstop Zack Cowart ranges into the hole, fields the ball and zips a throw to first. On a bang-bang play, Craig is called out and the game is headed to extra innings.

But wait. Before the Reds even have retreated to their dugout, Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete receives word from the Cardinals’ video room that Craig undoubtedly was safe. Aldrete tells manager Mike Matheny, who jumps up to challenge the call.

Back in New York, at MLB’s Advance Media office, the replay officials are ready. Once they see the call has been challenged, it takes less than two minutes for them to study the play and notify crew chief Joe West at Busch Stadium that Craig actually was safe. Cardinals win on a walk-off call.

What do you know? An umpire didn’t cost the Cardinals. Replay works. Life is wonderful.

Hey, it’s coming. Though the details have yet to be finalized and the system still must be approved by the umpires and players unions, you can be sure that expanded replay will be in use by Opening Day.  

We know that managers will be allowed two challenges they can use at any time in the game. Actually, they will be allowed at least two challenges because when they challenge and are proven right, they retain the same number of challenges.

We don’t know how managers formally will issue a challenge. Who knows, it could be similar to football where a flag is tossed from the sideline.

We also know when a manager comes out to argue a call, he forfeits his right to challenge it. That should prevent some of the stall tactics that might allow the video guys more time to scrutinize a play.

We don’t know how long a manager will have to make a challenge. You would think it would have to be before another pitch is made, which if so, could go a long way toward actually speeding up the game. Picture teams hurrying to get the next pitch off as the batter, meanwhile, waits for a sign that he’s clear to step in the batter’s box.

We also don’t know exactly what plays will be challengeable, though it sounds like just about everything but balls and strikes could end up eligible for review.

While there is plenty we don’t know about expanded replay, this much is certain: Another responsibility will be added to a manager’s job. With a limited number of challenges, deciding what and when to use them will require a decision that, not unlike a pitching change, could mean the difference between winning and losing. Another layer of strategy has been piled on his plate.

“No question,” Matheny said Wednesday is his first remarks on expanded replay since last week’s approval. “There’s going to constantly be challenges to know when to use your challenges. It’s going to be on the manager’s shoulders to use them appropriately.”

Matheny stopped short of giving his full support to the change but allowed, “Getting calls right is better, right? Bottom line, they’re making a step forward to try and improve the game.”

The extra scrutiny that is certain to fall on managers won’t bother him, he said. “It happens anyhow,” Matheny said. “What did you think about that play? Why didn’t you argue it?”

Sensing a challenge system could be coming, Matheny and his staff started preparing last season. After close plays, he often would talk with Aldrete, who sometimes would have consulted with the video room, about whether the Cardinals might want to challenge.

“We were trying to get ahead of it as much as we can,” Matheny said.

Smart move. More replay is coming soon, giving Matheny and all managers another way to make a difference between winning and losing.

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