The Detroit Tigers ran into one of those ineffable, 'what just happened there' moments in umpiring during Monday's holiday matinee at Fenway Park, one of those incidents that cries out for expanding instant replay in Major League Baseball.
With two outs in the second inning, Tigers starting pitcher Doug Fister had an 0-2 count on the Red Sox's No. 9 hitter, Mike Aviles, and thew a curveball looking for a strikeout. He got a swing, but Aviles got a piece of it.
Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled that Aviles foul-tipped it into the glove of Tigers catcher Gerald Laird. First-base umpire Bill Welke overruled the call, and said Laird had trapped it. Replays showed that Laird did not. [You can see that here
, the .gif courtesy WalkOffWoodward.com]
If you thought this was going to be a "Tigers always get screwed rant," it's not. Sorry.
But it illustrates a point.
Almost to a man (you'll find some outliers, granted), big-league players and managers will tell you that the human element belongs in the game, it's what makes MLB unique.
True to form, Fister in a postgame interview on FOX Sports Detroit: "That's the 'human element' out there. ... I've just got to execute."
They'll also say that expanded replay would slow down the game.
Here's the reality when you look at what happened Monday.
The "human element" cost the Tigers three runs — the inning would have been over, rather than extended, as Aviles used the reprieve to double to the gap in left-center, followed by an RBI double by Daniel Nava. Fister ended up throwing eight more pitches than he otherwise would have.
The "human element" of Bill Welke's overrule (if there was an appeal for help from Nelson, I did not see it. Some are saying he did) took a correct call, and made it incorrect.
The "human element" also got into heated arguments with Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont and manager Jim Leyland, ejecting both. Yes, you can rightfully point out that the Tigers have had four different members of the coaching staff ejected on this road trip (first-base coach Tom Brookens and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon were ejected from consecutive games in Cleveland), and think that emotions may be boiling over.
You might be right.
"There shouldn't have been a second-inning rally. ... There should not have been a second-inning rally, because there was three outs," Leyland said in his postgame comments on FOX Sports Detroit (h/t to WXYZ-TV's Tom Leyden — @TomLeyden on Twitter — for the transcription.)
"I've been in the game a long time and when the catcher catches the ball and it's strike three you call the guy out, it's that simple isn't it?
"You guys that need to write something and hold people accountable... you know what, we're all accountable in this business. All of us are accountable. And when I say all of us, I mean everybody that's involved in the game needs to be held accountable, OK?
"That's exactly what needs to be done. There should not have been a rally in that inning.
"Now anybody that saw that, have the nerve to write what you saw and say it, because I'm not going to sit here and rip umpires.
"But you saw what you saw — clearly saw what you saw. I just saw it for the tenth time — clearly saw what you saw.
"Write it and say something once in awhile. Have the nerve to say something.
"Now, next question."
But you also have to admit that the 'human replay' applied by Welke 1) did not end up with the correct call, and 2) slowed down the game.
If those are the best arguments players can come up with for not expanding replay, they ring sort of hollow. IN PRACTICE it seems that more often than not bad calls slow down the game just as much as replay would.