From the top of the second inning on, the A’s played Thursday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays under protest. Their 4-1 win behind right-hander Sonny Gray nullified the protest, but still featured one of the oddest episodes yet seen during this inaugural season of instant replay use.
The protest stemmed from a play in the second inning that led to the Blue Jays’ only run. With the bases loaded and one out, Anthony Gose hit a grounder to 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 Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged the ruling – in effect arguing his own player Kawasaki should be out, but that the runner from third, Edwin Encarnacion, should be safe because Vogt had not tagged Encarnacion.
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.”
Toronto’s lead did not last long. R.A. Dickey walked Brandon Moss to start the bottom of the second, allowed one-out doubles to Vogt and Freiman – the second of which drove in Moss – and then threw a knuckleball that handcuffed catcher Josh Thole for a passed ball that allowed Vogt to score and give the A’s a lead they never relinquished.
Melvin, meanwhile, said after the game that 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.
“The umpires did the best they could with it,” Melvin said.
Said Vogt: “It was an unfortunate play, but fortunately it didn’t end up hurting us.”
Gray was a major reason, weathering the long mid-inning delay and retiring Thole on a groundout to end the second and strand two runners. He allowed just two more hits – both singles, both erased on double plays – while throwing seven innings and allowing one run for the first time since May 22 in Tampa Bay.
In six starts between then and Thursday, Gray had pitched to a 5.50 ERA. Melvin said a big factor in Gray’s success against the Blue Jays was a more effective curveball, which mitigated fastball command that was “a little spotty.”
Reliever Dan Otero allowed a leadoff single to Thole in the eighth, but Jose Reyes’ line drive to right was run down by Moss, who threw out Thole retreating to first base. The A’s added two runs in the bottom of the inning as John Jaso doubled to drive in Craig Gentry and scored on Alberto Callaspo’s sacrifice fly, providing a more comfortable cushion for closer Sean Doolittle, who entered having blown his last two save chances.
Doolittle retired the side in order, as the A’s snapped a three-game losing streak after being swept by the Tigers in Detroit.
Before the game, the A’s activated reliever Eric O’Flaherty from the disabled list and designated reliever Jeff Francis for assignment, marking a “big day” for O’Flaherty, the left-hander who last pitched in the majors in May 2013 and spent the last year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“I couldn’t sleep last night for sure,” O’Flaherty said Thursday afternoon. “It feels like Opening Day.”
O’Flaherty was one of baseball’s most reliable relievers from 2011-13, recording a 1.45 ERA in 161 games for Atlanta. Melvin said he hopes to use O’Flaherty in low-leverage situations at first, and that his role in the bullpen will become clearer after he has pitched in a few games.