When Orioles left fielder Nelson Cruz ran through first base on a close play April 19 at Fenway Park and was called out by first base umpire Ted Barrett, it sparked a chain of events that has become common in the major leagues this season.
After almost one month of the new instant replay system, there have been plenty of praises and criticisms as teams, umpires and Major League Baseball continue to search for the best ways to reach accurate calls using replay.
"I think when it's all said and done, people will like having it in the game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think you'll see more things reviewable next year. I think you'll see some more things get tweaked. We said this in spring training. They told us there are going to be some growing pains. It's like developing a young pitcher. You've got to go through some bumps and grinds to go through the finished product."
While Cruz and Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby emphatically waved their arms safe on the play in Boston, Showalter strolled out of the third base dugout and Adam Gladstone sat inside the cramped visiting clubhouse, looking through 15 different angles of the play.
He had between 15 to 20 seconds to find an angle worth the Orioles making their first challenge of the season. At that point, the Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals were the two teams yet to challenge a call under the new system.
Among reviewable calls, the play at first base offers some of the best angles available.
And Gladstone — a Pikesville native and former minor league umpire who the club hired to review replays — was confident he found an angle that conclusively showed Cruz's right foot beating Boston Red Sox third baseman Brock Holt's throw to first base.
He relayed that information to bench coach John Russell, who sent Showalter a signal to challenge the call. Less than one minute later — 55 seconds, to be exact — the play was overturned, giving the Orioles the game-tying run on the play.
The Orioles' first and only challenge to this point of the season was quick, efficient, and most importantly, ended with the correct call, which is the ultimate purpose of the new system.
"It's not like it's affecting the outcomes of games," Showalter said. "It's affecting the fairness of the game in a lot more positive manner."
'Help them reach the correct calls'
Heading into Monday, 172 plays had been reviewed in baseball this season.
Seventy-five — nearly 44 percent — have been overturned, another 46 have stood or been ruled inconclusive, and 48 were confirmed, meaning there was clear and convincing evidence that the call was correct. Three others fall under the record-keeping category, which involves counts or outs.
"I think as long as the call is getting right, the team is able to live with the ruling," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "I think it's different than before. A player is thinking about, 'OK, they reviewed it. They had to change the call. We have to live with it that way.' It's actually an easier pill to swallow, even if you're on the losing end, than in years prior. That's the reason replay got put in."
Orioles' opponents are 0-for-4 on challenges so far this season. Of two other plays against the Orioles that were reviewed by umpires' decision, one stood and the other was overturned.
"I think, every day, we continue to use the system, the more we learn how it can serve and benefit getting the calls right," Gladstone said. "We've used what we've done in the first month as education. It's still such a learning process. … When you're home, I certainly know [what angles I'm getting]. MASN has been phenomenal.
"I know what I'm getting with them, but I'm also getting, every night, a different set of angles on the road. So it's not like this is cookie cutter, so every day there are moving parts. It's a part of the learning process."
Gladstone not only has to track every play, but also every pitch.
In a game last week, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar struck out after drawing four called balls. The play was reviewed by umpires, and it stood, but Major League Baseball later admitted an error in tracking the count.
"The way I try to look at it is that I'm umpiring the game along with the crew on the field," Gladstone said. "Look, these are four major league umpires. They've been through the wars. They're the best guys in the world. My job is to help them reach the correct calls."
For Gladstone, the most difficult challenge is trying to make his decisions based on how he thinks the review crew of umpires in New York — where all challenged calls are reviewed — will interpret the calls.
That's why his day begins with a regular check of the MLB Instant Replay account on Twitter (@MLBReplays), which tweets every call that is challenged, shortly after the play concludes. That gives Gladstone better insight into how plays are being interpreted in New York.
When the Orioles were in New York to play the Yankees earlier this month, Gladstone visited baseball's Replay Operations Center in New York, where he took notice of everything down to the lighting of the room to see how it could help him do his job better.
'An evolving process'
When the new replay system was introduced, Major League Baseball promised to constantly evaluate it and make changes when necessary. And Friday, it adjusted the interpretation of the highly unpopular transfer rule on double-play attempts.
Baseball officials recognized that the rule, which changed the definition of possession to include a clean transfer from the glove hand to the throwing hand, prompted mass confusion in the first four weeks of the season.
"When we set out on this process, we said it would be an evolving process, and we will continue to make the system better as we go along," Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said about the transfer rule.
A day after the Orioles won their challenge on the call involving Cruz at first base, they suffered from the initial interpretation of the transfer rule during the nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when shortstop Ryan Flaherty lost control of the ball on the transfer while attempting to turn a double play.
Showalter didn't challenge the play, knowing that the call wasn't getting overturned in the first month of the season.
"I knew they weren't going to overrule that exchange," Showalter said. "It was 40 degrees, and Zach [Britton] is sitting on the mound for another two minutes. It's just worth the fact that it's not going to happen.
"The umpire even said, 'You're not going to check that? I went, 'No.' He said, 'Really?' I have a lot of confidence in Adam. He's worked very hard at it."
'Something to talk about'
A primary complaint from players about the system is that it takes too long and disrupts the pace of the game.
"So far, I don't think it's been run very well because I think it's slowing the game down," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "I don't like, every close play, someone is coming out, just waiting [whether to challenge]. It bothers me.
"It can affect us. It definitely affects the pitcher when he's just sitting there waiting for a play to be called. I think they need to get the calls right. They should be able to review them, but this whole thing they're doing just doesn't seem to be working the way I was kind of thinking it would."
Showalter said that, in most cases, he already has word whether to challenge by the time he gets to the umpire.
"You know how I hate slowing the game down," Showalter said. "I have a lot of confidence in Adam that I've never had to be out there and wait. I've been so impressed with him. He's already made 15 to 20 good decisions. … Sometimes it's just as tough a decision to not challenge it."
Entering Monday's games, the average time from the challenge to a ruling has been 2 minutes, 6 seconds, but just 18 reviews have taken less than a minute.
"I think we thought it would be a little more efficient process than it's been," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. "Obviously, we don't see all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes when they make a call, but I think we thought it was going to be a little quicker, a little more efficient. It's still early. I'm all for getting the call right, but I think it probably does distract from the game."
Showalter said the growing pains are worth the endgame.
"I love the fact that it has people talking about baseball," Showalter said. "I think it's a real source to give people something to talk about, and for the most part, that's a good thing. … We all confuse change for a lack of respect for tradition. I don't think that's the case. I think when the finished product is there, people will like it.
"If you took it out right now, what would be the response? You would have five plays today where people would be asking for replay."
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