OAKLAND -- In this inaugural season of instant replay in Major League Baseball, Thursday night’s 4-1 A’s win over the Toronto Blue Jays provided one of the oddest uses of review yet.
In effect, Toronto manager John Gibbons argued that a Blue Jays baserunner ruled safe on the field should be out -- and won. The catch: It led to a run for the Blue Jays that they originally did not have. It also led to the A’s playing most of the game under protest, a wrinkle that became moot when they secured the win. Here’s how it played out:
With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the second, Anthony Gose hit a grounder to A’s first baseman Nate Freiman, who tried to tag runner Munenori Kawasaki going from first to second before throwing home to catcher Stephen Vogt, who was standing on home plate.
First-base umpire Vic Carapazza signaled Freiman did not tag Kawasaki, making the play at home a force-out. But Gibbons challenged the ruling -- arguing Kawasaki should be out, but that the runner from third, Edwin Encarnacion, should be safe because Vogt had not tagged Encarnacion.
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After a review of 4 minutes and 27 seconds, umpires overturned the call, ruling Freiman had tagged Kawasaki, nullifying the force-out at home and allowing Encarnacion’s run to count. A’s manager Bob Melvin immediately ran to the umpires and lodged the protest, making this the first game the A’s played under protest since July 3, 2003 -- 11 years before to the day.
Melvin later said his argument was that Vogt did not try to tag Encarnacion because he’d seen Carapazza signal Kawasaki safe, which Vogt confirmed. "If you see the umpire say ‘Out,’ obviously I’m tagging (Encarnacion)," Vogt said. "That’s why I took the force."
Umpiring crew chief Bill Miller, though, told a pool reporter that when replay confirmed Freiman had tagged Kawasaki, "Our hands are tied."
"We can’t put runners back, we can’t reverse the field," Miller said. "We have to go with what happened on the field, and what happened on the field was the guy tagged home plate but did not tag the runner. Unfortunately that was in direct relation to the call on the field at first base, and that’s something we just can’t explain."
Melvin said he believed this was only the second time in his managing career he lodged a protest in-game.
Miller’s explanation of the protest: "When (Melvin) came out, he thought that it was not fair that his catcher was penalized, because he saw the no-tag sign, so he thought the force play was still in effect. That was Bobby’s argument, ‘You’re giving them a run because my catcher did what he was supposed to do.’
"Unfortunately that’s kind of a byproduct of replay. Sometimes things don’t work out. We had to fix it."
Again, this would be a bigger deal if the A’s had lost the game, particularly by one run. Vogt shrugged the play off afterward as "unfortunate," but said he wouldn’t handle it any differently given a second chance.
"You can’t change the way you’ve played baseball your whole life," he said. "That’s the tough part with replay now, but I wouldn’t do anything different on the play than I did. The umpire didn’t signal (Freiman) tagged him, so I have to assume he missed the tag and get the force-out at home."
Melvin, meanwhile, said after the game his "understanding now is that you can’t protest anything that has to do with replay, so I don’t know if it was a legitimate protest or not.
"You’re going to come up with plays like that over the course of the season based on replay being brand-new," Melvin said. "The umpires did the best they could with it."
* Gray played a big part in nullifying the odd play, returning from a delay of more than five minutes to retire Josh Thole on a groundout to strand two runners and end the inning, then allowing just two more hits before turning things over to the bullpen in the eighth.
Gray threw seven innings while allowing only one run for the first time since May 22 in Tampa Bay. After that outing, his ERA stood at 1.99. In six starts since, he had pitched to a 5.50 ERA, including his shortest outing of the year last Saturday in Miami, five innings with five hits and seven runs allowed.
One big difference, both Melvin and Gray said, was a more effective curveball Thursday, which Melvin said helped mitigate fastball command that was "a little spotty." Four of Gray’s five strikeouts came on the curveball.
"That was kind of the idea, to really get (the curveball) going again," Gray said. "I think the last five or six starts it’s been OK, but it hasn’t been a big factor. So we did some things a little different this week and I was able to find that again and get it going."
"His curveball was disgusting," Vogt said. "It was back to the Sonny Gray I’ve known for the last year and a half. He’s got one of the best curveballs in baseball, had it tonight and it showed. He got a lot of weak contact on it, and a lot of swings and misses."
* Thursday was also a bounce-back opportunity for closer Sean Doolittle, who entered in the ninth having blown his last two save opportunities. Doolittle kept this outing clean, striking out Jose Bautista, getting Encarnacion to fly out and striking out pinch hitter Steve Tolleson to end it and improve his season strikeout-to-walk ratio to 59-to-2.
Doolittle said after blowing saves last Saturday in Miami and Monday in Detroit, "I was really trying not to over-think things or panic, or make too many adjustments." He said the loss in Detroit, when he allowed a walk-off grand slam to Rajai Davis, had been more troubling because he "was just a little out of sync, couldn’t repeat my delivery," but that he tried to treat it as "just a really bad time to have an off-night."
"That was the biggest thing was trying not to change too many things, try to stay in a good place mentally," he said. "I had a couple days off to kind of clear my head and think about it, and just go out there and be back in attack mode."
* Melvin said he thought the A’s at-bats against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey improved as the game went on. Namely, he thought they were too aggressive early, but made Dickey work more in the later innings, ultimately making the right-hander throw 126 pitches in eight innings and scratching out four runs on six hits.
Vogt and Freiman both doubled in the bottom of the second, with Freiman’s driving in Brandon Moss, and Vogt then scored on a passed ball. In the eighth, Craig Gentry led off with a single and scored on John Jaso’s double to right, with Jaso then scoring on Alberto Callaspo’s sacrifice fly.
For a matchup between the highest-scoring team in the majors (the A’s) and the league’s home-run leaders (Toronto), it was a pretty tame offensive output. But there’s still plenty of series left. It’s Tommy Milone (6-3, 3.79) for the A’s in the second game and righty Marcus Stroman (4-2, 4.01) for the Blue Jays.
First pitch at 1:05 p.m., so that everyone can get home for fireworks.