NEW YORK -- For six scoreless innings, Saturday's ALCS Game 2 was a taut pitchers' duel between the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez and the Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda. Detroit pushed a run over in the seventh, and broke the game open with a two-run eighth, aided by a blown call that had New York manager Joe Girardi upset enough to get ejected, and then to speak out for expanded instant replay following the game.
With two outs and Omar Infante on first, Austin Jackson singled to rightfield. Nick Swisher made a strong throw to Robinson Cano at second base. Infante had taken a wide turn around the bag and scrambled back; as he did, Cano tagged him on the chest before his hand reached the base. Umpire Jeff Nelson ruled otherwise, and Girardi bolted out of the dugout to argue, to no avail. He then removed Kuroda in favor of Boone Logan, who yielded an RBI single to Quintin Berry. By the time Girardi came out to remove Logan and bring on Joba Chamberlain, he had seen a replay of the blown call, and he told Nelson so, leading to his ejection.
After the game, a 3-0 Tigers win that gave them a 2-games-to-0 lead in the series, an obviously frustrated Girardi spoke out strongly in favor of replay, saying "[I]n 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's a tough call for [Nelson] because the tag was underneath and it's hard for him to see. And it takes more time to argue and get upset than you get the call right." Later he would add, "I've been thrown out of games enough to know it would be quicker to get the call right or wrong or right on replay than for me to go out there and argue. And they talk about the flow of the game… It takes 30 seconds."
Girardi noted that a call at first base against Robinson Cano had gone against the Yankees in Game 1 when replay showed Cano was safe despite being ruled out. Girardi stopped far short of pinning either loss on the calls, but noted the tightness of the games, which magnified the mistakes. "[I]n this day and age there is too much at stake and the technology is available," he said. "That's what our country has done. We have evolved technology to make things better."
Since 2008, instant replay has been used by major league baseball for so-called boundary calls (home run/foul ball/in play/fan interference). The system hasn't appreciably slowed games down, with average game times varying by no more than a minute from year to year. The Collective Bargaining Agreement reached between owners and players last winter allows for an expansion of replay via fair/foul and trapped ball calls, but MLB's failure to reach an agreement with the umpires' union prevented it from being implemented in time for this season. In late August, MLB began testing two systems — one radar-based, one camera based — that may be used to aid the fair/foul and trap calls. Further testing is now going on in the Arizona Fall League, and the results of the testing will be reviewed at the owners' meeting in November, where the topic of 2013 implementation will be discussed.
The Infante play, a baserunning play, isn't one that would be reviewable under the new proposals, but it should be. While MLB is aiming to use next-generation technologies to aid the fair/foul calls, at a significant cost — $10 million in hardware, and $20-$30 million a year in operational costs via one estimate — the added cost of reviewing outs on the basepaths wouldn't be high. Basically, it would be the salaries of additional personnel.
The multitude of cameras available for television broadcasts already provides a variety of angles from which to review each play, and every game is monitored at the MLB Advanced Media headquarters in Manhattan, where video for reviews is delivered to the umpiring crews on site, who have the final decision on whether or not to reverse a call.
It's not even as though every game produces one call contested hotly enough to trigger a review. In fact, it would seem that if it's a matter of a minute or two per game at most, getting the call right should be the priority given the money at stake in a multi-billion dollar industry — particularly in the postseason, when viewership is at its maximum, and nothing less than baseball history is at stake. What umpire wants to be the next Don Denkinger, and what team the next 1985 Royals?
Critics of Girardi's stance will note that he wasn't vociferous about instant replay in the past. The Yankees' 2009 Division Series win over the Twins featured multiple blown calls on the bases, and that year's postseason, in which the Yankees won the World Series, was particularly full of them. Perhaps it's a question of whose ox is being gored. Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a member of MLB's rules committee, voiced his support for outfield fair/foul replay in his postgame press conference, but stopped short of endorsing Girardi's stance. "I don't want to make this a total replay game," he said. "I don't want to make this a game where we're checking with somebody else al the time because then people are going to say, 'safe or out?' I'm not for that. I like the human element."
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now the executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB, similarly backed the human element, and noted the proposed expansion of replay. "I know we're talking about balls past down the line and trap plays. But it always seems we want the replay to be of the last thing that happened…. we have to make sure we don't have any knee-jerk reaction… So we're looking into it. We're not saying it can happen, but right now we haven't really come to any conclusion on what's the best way to go about it and not make the game drag." The 67-year-old Leyland and the 72-year-old Torre are considerably older than the 48-year-old Girardi, so perhaps the desire for expanded replay is a generational matter, something that's more easily received from managers, players and fans increasingly comfortable with the advances of technology. As with the failure of the end of the world to arrive with the addition of boundary reviews thus opening the door for the addition of fair/foul and trap reviews, someday reviews of safe/out calls on the basepaths may be a part of the game. It will be too late for Girardi's Yankees, who have their hands full simply trying to scratch out a run in October, but every team deserves the right calls.