The arguments against using replay to determine close plays included that it would take a big, big, big piece of the human factor out of a game. Well, what the hell was that we saw in Atlanta Sunday night?
It was the human factor getting it wrong despite having what Braves pitcher Drew Smyly called five different angles on a nationally televised game.
It was home plate umpire Lance Barrett missing a call on a bang-bang play at the plate in the top of the ninth but the replay review crew out of New York essentially doubling down on the wrong call, despite how right Smyly was and having five or even more angles to review.
It was Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm colliding with Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud as he arrived sliding as d’Arnaud with the ball lunged to block the plate, forcing Bohm to slide just offline enough to miss touching the plate even with his lead foot.
It was the Phillies winning 7-6 when the Braves went three-and-three in the bottom of the ninth and Bohm saying almost nothing but, “I was called safe. That’s all that matters.” Note that “I was called safe” isn’t exactly the same thing as saying, “I was safe.”
Even the Mets weren’t that coyly disingenuous about Michael Conforto elbowing his way to a blown call in his favour and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch walkoff against the Marlins last Thursday.
With one out in the top of the ninth Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius lofted a fly the other way to left. Marcell Ozuna strode in toward the line to catch it. As Bohm tagged at third, Ozuna fired a two-hop strike down the line that hopped into the crouching d’Arnaud’s mitt. In the same split second d’Arnaud turned right, his folded leg across the plate with the tag on the sliding Bohm’s back leg.
D’Arnaud did bump Bohm in front of the plate for a moment. Bohm’s left foot, his lead foot, never touched the plate, flying just over it, and neither did the rest of his body parts, before he sprang up in a bent-knee pirouette and turned another one upright, waving his arms, including one wave that looked as though he were making a safe call.
If you want to give Barrett a benefit of the doubt you could say plausibly that d’Arnaud sprawling across the plate after the bumping tag on Bohm might (underline that) have obstructed his full view of Bohm’s slide.
“We saw it,” insisted Phillies manager Joe Girardi standing by his man and the review crew at once. “It looked like his big toe kind of hit the corner of the plate is what we saw when we saw a lot of the angles.”
I saw it, too, from a lot of the angles. For Girardi to say that, Bohm’s big toe must have been on his heel. On the angle his foot flew over the plate, his heel was actually a hair or two closer to hitting the plate than his big toe was.
Smyly didn’t pitch all that well Sunday night—he surrendered five runs on five hits in five innings’ work, including a two-run homer to Ozzie Albies in a three-run first and a leadoff solo to Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the fifth. But his perspective on that play at the plate was anything but impaired.
“[I]t’s clear that his foot didn’t touch the plate, that it was on the chalk,” Smyly told reporters post-game. “Everyone saw it and sees it, everyone knows it. And for MLB not to overturn that, it’s embarrassing. Why even have replay if you won’t overturn that? That’s the way I feel about it. I think everybody feels that way. There’s five different angles. It’s clear, he didn’t touch the plate.”
#HeDidntTouchThePlate became a Twitter hashtag almost as fast as the original play went down in the first place. Better that than the Truist Park audience throwing debris down onto the field. They had every right to be outraged, but better chanting (as they did) Bull-[sh@t]! Bull-[sh@t!] than throwing junk and at least one bottle kept from doing damage by, ironically, the netting hoisted to protect fans from bullet-fast foul balls.
Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, himself native to Atlanta, may have felt his team got jobbed, but he wasn’t too thrilled about the fans’ display, either. “It’s an embarrassing representation of our city because I know from being from here, that’s not how we act,” he said after the game.
And then probably the worst part of it all, I don’t think people realize we have families here. There are kids that are here, kids that are sitting in the front row, and you’ve got bottles whizzing by their heads. Just endangering kids that may not be able to protect themselves is downright embarrassing, and it should never happen again. It just can’t happen, and it never needs to happen again.
It spoiled a night on which both teams brought their bats to town and swung them with authority. From Albies in the first and Freeman in the fifth to Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s fourth-inning sacrifice fly and mammoth seventh-inning home run. From Rhys Hoskins’s leadoff bomb in the fourth and Gregorius’s three-run homer two outs and back-to-back singles later, to Bryce Harper’s opposite-field leadoff launch seven or eight rows into the left field seats in the sixth.
When The Athletic queried the New York replay crew about the Bohm safe call, the journal received an e-mail reply: “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official could not definitively determine that the runner failed to touch home plate prior to the fielder applying the tag. The call STANDS, the runner is safe.” How many angles was “all relevant angles?”
“It makes me not even want [replay review] anymore,” d’Arnaud said. “Honestly, it just slows the game down. It took like five minutes for them to decide that and, to me, they got it wrong. So I’d rather just not have it and get the game going.”
Some plays take a little longer than five minutes to decide, some take a little less. D’Arnaud’s frustration is the most understandable among any Brave. When Conforto was ruled a hit batsman as plate ump Ron Kulpa changed his strike call in the bottom of the ninth last Thursday, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling asked why have replay if the review umpires can’t get it right.
Kulpa admitted his mistake the following day. (He got a lovely ovation from the Citi Field audience Saturday for his admission.) Barrett hasn’t weighed back in at this writing. But the issue isn’t replay itself. The issue is that there’s still a human factor in baseball games, major league or otherwise, and that factor can still get it wrong even with every potential angle showing otherwise.
Even a major league player or two ripped the call. Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweeted, “How do you watch that replay and say he’s safe. Hahaha this is a joke.” Of all people, Angels all-everything center fielder Mike Trout tweeted, “So bad…” followed by an emoji showing a smiley face in tears laughing. D’Arnaud’s brother Chase, himself a former major league utility infielder, tweeted back to Middlebrooks and Trout, “the guy makes that call in New York should be interviewed just like players who get interviewed after games.”
Not just by reporters but by baseball’s government, too.
It’s far too early in the major league season for a game and a call like that to wreak real havoc on a pennant race, of course. If the safe call was overturned as it should have been, it would have meant the Braves and the Phillies each at 5-4 and tied for first in the National League East this morning.
But if a replay review crew can still blow what angle after angle showed them wasn’t a runner safe across the plate in mid-April, how egregiously will they blow a similar call down the stretch in a game that weighs like a bank vault on the races?