- The Washington Times - Friday, April 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like many of those at Nationals Park on Friday, Ian Desmond isn’t totally sure what happened on a play that saw what appeared to be an inside-the-park home run by him turned into a ground rule double. 

He knows one thing for sure: That play didn’t cost the Nationals in the game they lost 2-1 to the Atlanta Braves.

“There were some other mistakes that were made, especially by me, that probably are more of a bigger story in the game than that,” Desmond said.

No question there.

The Nats had two runners thrown out trying to steal, one of them Desmond and the other Bryce Harper, when the Braves sniffed out what was coming and used a pitchout to trap both in rundowns.  The Nats had Adam LaRoche thrown out at the plate early in the game when he probably should have been held at third. The Nats saw LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Harper go down on strikes after putting two runners on with none out in the eighth.

They had their chances despite the overturned home run. Instead, the Braves got the first laugh in the initial battle between NL East contenders.

But the play was an interesting subplot in the game anyway if for no other reason than it showed the sellout crowd of 42,834 that baseball has joined some of its other major-sport brethren in using available technology to make sure as often as possible the proper call is made.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean the proper call was made here.  The whole scene, though, makes for some interesting discussion as managers, players and fans try to get their arms around the whole replay thing.

To reset the scene:  Desmond led off the fifth with a scorcher that headed toward the left field corner.  The BravesJustin Upton took off for it and then raised his hands, the signal that the ball is stuck under some padding or out of view.  No umpire immediately went out to check. Desmond kept running.  Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons told Upton to throw the ball in. Desmond scored.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez used his challenge on the play.  The umpires conferred with replay central in New York.  Desmond was sent back to second, which brought Nats manager Matt Williams out with some questions of his own.

Then Desmond was thrown out trying to steal, which really has nothing to do with the replay debate but serves to illustrate the way things went for the Nats. Instead of a 1-1 game, instead of a runner on second with nobody out, they’ve got no one on and one out and they’re still down 1-0.

The Braves, of course, thought the correct call was made.  Williams‘ point is also valid: If the ball was lodged to the point, it should have been a double, how was Upton able to pick it up and throw it in later?

For that, Upton apologized.

“I should have trusted my instincts,” he said. “I made the play a little more confusing than it should have been.  Next time it happens? I will stand there if I’m 100 percent sure like I was. I knew that I was right.  It was just a matter of whether they were going to kill the play of not.”

Gonzalez couldn’t see the play from the Braves dugout. With Desmond still running and the ball not coming in, he initially worried Upton had injured himself.

“I’m thinking something just isn’t right,” Gonzalez said.

Then the ball came in and Gonzalez at least knew Upton wasn’t hurt.  He headed onto the field, stopping to talk to third baseman Chris Johnson.

Johnson had probably the best view of the scene as it unfolded. He’s convinced the right call was made. 

“You’re used to the ball bouncing out and when it doesn’t, you kind of look,” Johnson said.  “I went out there, I saw it.  I thought it was the right call.  Any time the ball disappears from the sight of the outfielder, I think it should be a deadball double.  I honestly think the umpires did it correctly. They let it play out. Desmond kept running, rather than stopping him altogether in case it wasn’t [stuck].”

David Hale, the rookie pitcher who gave Atlanta five scoreless innings, also thought it was the right call.

“I thought it was a clear double,” he said.

From the Nats side, there wasn’t necessarily a dispute as much as there was a question based on what Williams alluded to about Upton being able to pick the ball up and throw it into the infield.

“Yeah, well, one of the reasons that we have replay is to make sure that we get the calls right,” Williams said. “I have a question with that one, though, because of what happened after the fact – the fact that when he had to, he reached down and threw it in.

“Well, [the umpire] didn’t make a call, and that’s – for me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, it tells me that he didn’t think it was lodged underneath the fence. But, it was a reviewable call, and a reviewable play, and they decided to review it, and they determined that it was a double. The ball was lodged underneath the pad.”

Said Desmond, “I saw it. I saw it. I mean, I saw it. It’s sitting in the corner. You could see it down there.”

Less than a week into the season, no one is real sure yet how replay is going to work out in baseball. Even with someone in New York taking a good look, so much of it remains judgment. An outfielder should be able to retrieve a ball with reasonable effort. He shouldn’t have to get on his hands and knees or dig the ball out. Can he get to it in a normal motion and throw it in (which Upton eventually did)?  Someone watching in New York determined he couldn’t, so it was a double. Someone else watching it may have seen it differently but that wasn’t the case Thursday.  The guy in replay central said it was a double, so it was a double. 

Williams got an explanation but he couldn’t get another review. The umpires on site weren’t required to give an explanation to a pool reporter because they didn’t make the call.

Johnson, the Braves‘ third baseman, is convinced that replay will be a good thing.

“I think it is going pretty well,” Johnson said. “This was the longest one we’ve had and we would have had that back and forth anyway [even without replay]. It may have kept some people in the game, too. If they ruled a double, their manager would have been upset. If they call it a homer, our manager would have been upset.

“Take a look, get the right call and move on.”

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