MINNEAPOLIS — Major League Baseball’s new replay system is still in its infancy stages just one week into the 2014 season. The Minnesota Twins — and particularly, catcher Kurt Suzuki — should already be fans of it after benefitting from replays three times in Wednesday’s 7-4 extra-innings loss to Oakland.
Suzuki was involved in all three replays that took place at Target Field on Wednesday, and all three calls went in his favor.
"I couldn’t get away from it," he said after the game.
The first instance came in the second inning, when Oakland’s Jed Lowrie barely made contact with a two-strike pitch. Suzuki appeared to have caught the foul tip, but dropped the ball as he attempted to transfer it to his right hand to throw the ball back to pitcher Phil Hughes.
Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza initially ruled that Suzuki couldn’t hang onto the foul tip, keeping the at-bat alive. But after the umpires conferred and reviewed the play, Carapazza overturned his initial call and ruled Lowrie out.
"Everybody’s trying to get used to it," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "As long as it doesn’t stop the game, it’s going to be good. They’re trying to get them all right."
It wasn’t until the ninth inning that Suzuki was the focus of another replay — or, replays, that is. With the Twins trailing 4-2 in the ninth, Suzuki slid into third base on a shallow fly ball to left field by Eduardo Escobar. While Jason Kubel scored on the play to cut it to a one-run game, the throw from Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes went to third base. Suzuki and the throw to third baseman Josh Donaldson seemed to arrive at the same time.
Third base ump Bill Miller called Suzuki safe on the initial play. But for the second time in Wednesday’s game, Suzuki was the subject of a video review. Several minutes later, the call was confirmed and Suzuki remained on third base.
In the very next at-bat, Suzuki tagged from third base and scored on a short sacrifice fly to right field by Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. Suzuki had to get creative with his slide at the plate but snuck his hand in to touch home before catcher Derek Norris could tag him after a strong throw from right fielder Josh Reddick.
"I know Reddick. I’ve really watched Reddick for a while now. He’s got a really good arm, pretty accurate," said Suzuki, a former teammate of Reddick’s in Oakland. "I was just trying to watch the catches and see where I could go to try to avoid it. I knew it was going to be pretty close. I just tried to avoid the tag and stay on the outside."
For the third time in the game, the umpires again took a look at the play, which was also shown on the jumbotron screens at Target Field. As the replay showed that Suzuki’s slide clearly beat Norris’ tag for the game-tying run, Twins fans erupted.
"You just didn’t know which way it was going to go," Gardenhire said. "I thought the best part about it was they were showing the replays on the big board and all the fans were hollering. . . . They were ‘ooh’ and then ‘aah.’ That was pretty cool. Through the fans, you could hear them cheering, so it was pretty cool."
It’s still early in the season, so the jury remains out on what the long-term impact of the new replay system will be on baseball. Each manager gets one challenge to use before the seventh inning. If they win their challenge, they’ll get one more to use in the first six innings. From the seventh inning on, all reviews will be initiated by the umpires — as was the case with both plays in the ninth inning Wednesday.
The worry among baseball fans is that games that already top three hours will drag on even longer. It certainly slowed up Wednesday’s game by several minutes, but the Twins didn’t seem to mind since they were the benefactors of all three replays.
Replays throughout baseball to this point have varied in length as it remains a learning process for everyone involved: players, umpires and fans.
"It’s different," Suzuki said of the new system. "It’s too early to judge how it’s going to go. It is what it is. It’s the rule that everybody agreed upon, so we’ve got to deal with it."