In Saturday night's NLDS Game 2, the Los Angeles Dodgers had runners on the corners and no outs in the bottom of the third inning. Catcher A.J. Ellis was on third and pitcher Zack Greinke was on first. Leadoff man Dee Gordon hit a soft grounder between first and second base. Kolten Wong charged aggressively, fielded the ball, tagged a juking Greinke with his glove, and thew the ball to first just in time to retire the swift-footed Gordon. Ellis scored, giving L.A. a 1-0 lead, but the double play clared the bases of Dodgers. Or so it appeared.
Initially, I thought Wong had made a slick play, but it turned out that he had executed a slick trick, duping the umpires into calling Greinke out with a sleight of hand and glove.
Replay revealed that Wong had already transferred the ball from his glove to his throwing hand when he tagged Greinke—his glove was empty when it touched the baserunner. Thus, the call on the field was incorrect. Greinke should not have been called out on the tag.
Here's the video:
Cards should use Martinez in the 8th
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Wong tags Greinke with the empty glove, throws to first in time to retire Gordon, and then first baseman Matt Adams throws the ball—apparently initiating a toss around the horn with the bases cleared and there now two outs. Wong plays it cool, apparently saying nothing to his teammates about his phantom tag. Greinke trudges from the basepath to the home-team dugout without even an attempt and getting to second base. Not that he had reason to make such an effort, the base umpire had demonstratively called him out.
A year ago, that would've been that. Wong would've done what so many fielders have done before, tricking the human eyes who must adjudge out and safe in realtime on the major-league bases. But this is the instant-reply era and the Dodgers' video watchers caught Wong red handed. They promptly relayed to the L.A. dugout that Greinke shouldn't have been called out and that manager Don Mattingly should request a replay review. Mattingly did just that and the call was overturned. The replay official awarded Greinke second base because that's what the official MLB replay rules empower the replay official to do. Replay Regulation IV(A)(2) states:
Unless directed otherwise by the Official Baseball Rules (for example, Official Baseball Rules 6.09(d)-(h), 7.04(c) Comment, and 7.05(f)), the Replay Official shall place the base runners on the bases he believes they would have reached had the reviewed call been made correctly. (For example, Official Baseball Rule 3.16 Comment states: "Batter and runners shall be placed where in the umpire's judgment they would have been had the interference not occurred." Rule 7.06(a) states: "[A]ll runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire's judgment, if there had been no obstruction.") Any doubt regarding the placement of runners should be resolved in favor of the last base legally touched at the time of the challenged call. More than one base should not be awarded unless it is obvious to the Replay Official that a runner would have safely advanced beyond one base had the call been made correctly, or the Official Baseball Rules otherwise require such advancement.
The rules give more guidance:
3. Factors to Consider. The Replay Official should consider several factors when placing the runners, including: (a) the depth of fly balls; (b) the speed of runners; (c) the location of runners on the field when the play occurred; (d) the number of outs at the time of the play; and (e) whether the incorrect call affected the subsequent behavior or conduct of the offensive or defensive players.
4. Subsequent Calls and Outs. If the Replay Official determines that an incorrect call on the field had no effect on the subsequent behavior or conduct of the offensive or defensive players, the Replay Official shall change the incorrect call but let stand the on-field calls made on the runner(s) unaffected by the incorrect call. No runner may be declared out by the Replay Official if no play was attempted on, or call made regarding, that runner (e.g., umpire cannot assume that a fielder would have thrown a runner out).
This is where I have some issue with the MLB replay system. During the third inning, Eric tweeted a similar gripe and called it the "continuation" rule. I like the name, as it sums up the uncomfortable spot the review official is placed in: projecting where the baserunner would've ended up had he (or another runner, for that matter) not been incorrectly called out by an umpire during the play. In my gut, I have a problem giving a runner credit for reaching a certain base even though they never did. But that has always been the rule with obstruction and interference, too, and it isn't likely to change anytime soon.
The discretion given the replay official has me wondering what the best practice is for fielders in such situations. The rules don't give much guidance on this, in my opinion. As I see it, there are two options for the fielder on a play in which he knows the ump incorrectly gave his team an out and a baserunner is not standing on a base:
1. Play it cool and attempt to carry the con through to the next pitch, avoiding a review.
This is the tactic Wong used in the third inning of NLDS Game 2 and it was unquestionably the correct one for every year of baseball until this MLB season, with replay review in place. The Dodgers sniffed out his deceit and challenged the call, but it wasn't for Wong's lack of making it seem like nothing untoward happened during the play.
2. Tag the runner even if he's already been called out by the umpire.
What if, in Game 2's third inning, Wong had signaled for Adams to throw him the ball and he went and tagged Greinke as he lollygagged back to the Dodgers dugout after being called out? Would L.A. have still challenged the on-the-field call? If they had, what would the replay official have done? As I read the rule, the replay official would still have the discretion to award Greinke second base even if the Cards had gone ahead and tagged him based in part on "whether the incorrect call affected the subsequent behavior or conduct of the offensive or defensive players." The reason Greinke walked and then trotted into his team's dugout instead of sprinting to second base was that he thought he was out due to the umpire's incorrect call. So, should the Cardinals have nonetheless tagged him in attempt to dissuade the Dodgers from review the call and, potentially, force replay official to make a more difficult decision regarding whether the runner should be deemed safe? It seems that it probably wouldn't have changed the outcome of the replay review.
Having mulled this over, I'm not entirely sure what the proper course of action is in such circumstances. It seems to me that the fielders are damned if they do and damned if they don't. So I'm asking you, dear readers, to share your opinion in a poll and the comments section below.