First MLB instant replay upheld during Twins-Blue Jays game

The first Major League Baseball review came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Twins right fielder Chris Rahl was ruled safe on a close play at first base.

Tommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla. — History took place Monday at Hammond Stadium as the first-ever challenge in Major League Baseball was made.

Before MLB unveils its new replay and challenge system during the 2014 season, it will be given an extensive test run in spring training. That began Monday, and Hammond Stadium was one of a few parks to try it out.

The first review came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Twins right fielder Chris Rahl was ruled safe on a close play at first base. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons walked over to first base and spoke with umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who went to Toronto’s dugout and put on a headset. After a two minute, 34-second delay, Culbreth and fellow umpire Brian O’Nora — watching replays from the truck — ruled that Rahl was indeed safe.

“It’s one of those things where I was just trying to hustle and beat it out, just trying to get to that inside corner of the bag,” Rahl said. “They got the call right, so that’s the point of the process. It was good.”

A second review of two minutes and three seconds took place in the bottom of the eighth inning on a similar play at first base when Twins shortstop Doug Bernier was ruled safe on a chopper up the middle. Once again, the review was favorable for Minnesota as replay showed that Bernier was safe. Culbreth was in the truck for the second replay of the day, while Will Little was the first base umpire who made the initial call.

“I had the play standing because I just couldn’t confirm that it was 100 percent,” Culbreth told a pool reporter. “But definitely, at the same time, it was not conclusive enough to overturn. So the play stands.”

The two reviews took a combined four minutes, 34 seconds of Monday’s three-hour game. The general consensus in the Twins clubhouse was that neither review seemed to take longer than it should have.

“It’s hard to tell. They get the calls right, I think that’s what’s most important,” Bernier said. “I didn’t think the delay was that big of a deal. I think it’s going to be interesting, because I haven’t really looked into the rule that much, but I think it’s going to be interesting once you have multiple runners and things happening, like where they’re going to place certain guys. But no, I didn’t think it slowed the game down or anything too much.”

Added Culbreth: “I don’t expect a minute and a half or two minutes will be the norm. It’s just today, that’s what it is because of having to look at it from just a couple of views, as opposed to nine or 10 views (during the season).”

MLB owners approved the new rules in January. Each manager is granted one challenge per game but can be awarded a second challenge if the first one is successful. Beginning in the seventh inning, the crew chief can choose to review a call he believes is close, even if that team’s manager has used up his challenge.

Not every call can be challenged — such as ball as strikes — but Monday’s bang-bang plays at first base were perfect examples of what can be reviewed under the new system. Plays at any base can be challenged. Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach said that teams were told to ask for a review within around 25 seconds of the play, but that number could be a little looser this spring as MLB experiments with the process.

“If the pitcher takes the rubber and hitter’s in the box, you can’t challenge,” Steinbach said. “But I think in spring training it’ll be more of a liberal approach so umpires learn and so managers learn.”

Preparations were made before the game to get everything ready for Monday’s trial run. A truck was stationed outside of Hammond Stadium with video monitors. One umpire from Monday’s crew was in the truck at all times, with the five-man team switching duties every three innings. O’Nora began the game at first base but moved to the truck after three innings, replacing A.J. Johnson.

Monday’s process was a bit simplified from what will happen during the regular season. Each team’s dugout had a headset connected to a walkie talkie, which was capable of relaying the replay truck. Sean Harlin, the Twins’ director of major league video, also assisted with Monday’s replays.

"It’s such a rudimentary system right now," said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony. "They don’t have all the camera angles and they don’t have all the monitors that they’ll have during the season."

With the hope of trying out the new replay system, teams were encouraged to be liberal with their challenges. The best moment for the Twins and Blue Jays didn’t come until the sixth inning.

"I think they basically just said, ‘You know what, if there’s a play you see, that’s what this is all about,’" Antony said. "It’s a test for the umpires, for the managers, for the instant replay people just to get familiar with how the process works as much as anything."

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