Could MLB uphold the Rays’ protest?

Jose Reyes singled home the winning run in the 10th inning, and Toronto beat Tampa Bay 5-4 on Saturday in a game the Rays played under protest.

TORONTO, Ont. – The Toronto Blue Jays’ win over the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday afternoon not only came with a lot of intrigue, but when all is said and done it might not be a win after all.

The game was played under protest after Rays’ manager Joe Maddon argued that Blue Jays’ skipper John Gibbons didn’t ask for a replay review of a fourth-inning pick-off play in a timely fashion.

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Wil Myers had reached base when Danny Valencia made an exceptionally poor throw on Myers’ routine grounder to third to lead off the fourth, but Buehrle made a great pick-off throw to get him at first. The call on the field by first base umpire Bill Welke was that Myers had safely beaten Buehrle’s throw, but replays showed otherwise.

Gibbons didn’t immediately spring forth from the dugout to challenge the play — he has said in the past he doesn’t like how managers waste time on the field waiting to see if they should ask for a review. The problem is that Buehrle was pitching, and we all know how quickly the veteran lefty likes to work. Buehrle was back on the rubber and Yunel Escobar had stepped back into the batter’s the box when catcher Dioner Navarro stepped out from behind the plate to slow things down until Gibbons came out of the dugout to ask crew chief Bob Davidson to review the call.

As soon as Gibbons emerged from the Blue Jays’ dugout, Maddon did the same from the Rays’ to tell Davidson that Gibbons was too late, and the rules stated that the time to ask for a review had passed. Davidson, famous for doing things his own way, decided he would allow the review and the officials in New York overturned the call on the field, calling Myers out.

Once the call was overturned, the Rays officially filed their protest.

A judgment call cannot be protested, only a rules interpretation, and Maddon protested the way that Davidson interpreted the rule as far as the timeliness of asking for a review is concerned.

Here’s the rule:

1. Except as otherwise set forth in Sections II.D.2-4 below, to be timely, a Manager must exercise his challenge (by verbal communication to the appropriate Umpire), or the Crew Chief must initiate Replay Review (if applicable pursuant to Section II.C above) before the commencement of the next play or pitch. Such challenge or request will be considered timely only if the Umpire acknowledges that communication within the time period specified above. For purposes of these Regulations, the next “play” shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter’s box (unless the defensive team initiates an appeal play in which case any call made during the play prior to the appeal still may be subject to Replay Review). A challenge to a play that ends the game must be invoked immediately upon the conclusion of the play, and both Clubs shall remain in their dugouts until the Replay Official issues his decision. No substitutions or pitching changes may take place while the Umpires are in the process of invoking Replay Review.

So here’s the deal: You can forget the part about the defensive team initiating an appeal play, because although the defensive team did initiate the review in this case, it wasn’t an appeal play. No base was missed; nobody left anything early. It was a pure safe or out call, not an appeal play.

Therefore, it’s about the “commencement of the next play or pitch.” The pitcher (Buehrle) was on the rubber and the batter (Escobar) had entered the box. Was Buehrle preparing to start his delivery? That’s something that could be open to interpretation, especially since he didn’t ever start into his pitching motion let alone actually throw a pitch. While it appears as though the Rays are on the right side of the rulebook with their protest as far as this part of the rule is concerned, they’re not right beyond the shadow of a doubt.

However, there’s another part of the rule, if one is to read a little further on:

5. If the Crew Chief determines that a Club’s invocation of a Manager’s Challenge is untimely, the play shall not be reviewed, the Umpire’s call shall stand, and the Club shall not be charged with a challenge. The Crew Chief shall have the final authority to determine whether a Manager’s Challenge is timely. The judgment of the Crew Chief regarding the timeliness of a Manager’s Challenge shall be final and binding on both Clubs, and shall not be reviewable by Replay Review or otherwise.

First of all, you have to love the use of the word “invocation” there – it’s like they’re holding a séance or something.

Anyway, this rule is pretty clear; it’s up to the crew chief as to whether a manager requests a replay review in a timely fashion. “Final and binding” is pretty strong wording, and it seems to completely contradict the first portion of the rule above.

It should be noted, though, that “shall not be reviewable by Replay Review or otherwise” does not mean that the decision can’t be protested. But it does make it easy for Major League Baseball to deny the protest.

Denying protests is something that MLB does a lot. In fact, there has only been one protest upheld in the last 28 years. That one did happen earlier this week, though, with a San Francisco protest of a rain-out in Chicago upheld because of a problem with the tarp at Wrigley Field, which is under the control of the Cubs.

If the protest is upheld, then a lot of fun things happen. The game would have to be replayed from the point of the protest, so things would be restarted with Myers on first and one out in the fourth, Escobar at the plate and the Blue Jays leading 2-1.

It’s highly unlikely there would be a ruling on the protest before Sunday’s series finale, so the replay would have to take place the next time the Rays come to town, before one of the regularly scheduled games on Sept. 12, 13 or 14. That would make things interesting, because the teams would have expanded rosters by then.

The result of the game that was actually played on Saturday afternoon and any statistics accumulated would be erased from the point of the Myers single in the fourth inning, so no home run for Navarro, no blown saves for Brad Boxberger and Casey Janssen, no win for Dustin McGowan and no walk-off RBI single for Jose Reyes.

If history is a guide, though, there’s rarely an inclination for MLB to uphold a protest, and it does appear as though the latter section of the rule would make it easy for the protest to be denied.

But we shall see…

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