Nats' inside-the-parker overturned by Braves' challenge
With ball lodged, Desmond settles for double after circling bases; Atlanta wins by run
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals lost by a run. They had an inside-the-park homer taken away by baseball's new expanded instant replay system in the fifth inning. Which, incidentally, isn't the same as saying they lost because of the challenge by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Here's how it all unfolded during the home opener at Nationals Park on Friday:
After Atlanta took the lead in the top of the inning on a solo homer by catcher Evan Gattis, Nats shortstop Ian Desmond led off the bottom of the inning by ripping a line drive into the left-field corner. The ball rolled to the wall and stopped, wedged between the padding and the warning track. Braves outfielder Justin Upton immediately threw up his arms, asking for a ground-rule double.
But third-base umpire Marvin Hudson did not give him the call. Desmond kept running. When Upton realized what was going on, he picked the ball up and threw it in, but by then Desmond had already crossed the plate.
Gonzalez came out and, after a discussion, challenged the call. That triggered the review process out of Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York. The conclusion of the replay official was that the ball was not live. The call was overturned, and Desmond returned to second.
Gonzalez challenged the ruling that the ball was still in play.
"You don't want to get too specific is what they told us," he said later. "I mentioned that the ball got stuck in the padding. You let the guys do their job, the umpiring crew here and the guys up in New York who watch."
The review led the umpires to institute Rule 7.05f, which states a runner will be awarded "two bases, if a fair ball bounces or is deflected into the stands outside the first or third base foul lines; or if it goes through or under a field fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery or vines on the fence; or if it sticks in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines."
Since the Braves ended up winning, 2-1, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that without replay the Nationals would have at least had a chance in extra innings. But that's a vast oversimplification. Washington had plenty of other chances.
"I'm not really too concerned about that. There were some other mistakes that were made, especially by me, that were probably a bigger story in the game than that," Desmond said, referring to the fact that he was still in scoring position after the replay but was promptly tagged out easily trying to steal.
There was also the fact that the Nationals had runners on first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth before Braves reliever David Carpenter struck out Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper to extinguish the threat.
Nationals manager Matt Williams believed that, since Upton was able to eventually pick up the ball and make the play, the ball could have been ruled as being still in play.
"[Hudson] didn't make a call," Williams said. "For me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, it tells me that he didn't think it was lodged under the fence. But it's a reviewable play, and they decided to review it and determined that it was a double, the ball was lodged under the pad."
Said Upton: "It's not so much about it being lodged. When I took it out and went to throw the ball, it kind of spun in my hand because it hit the [edge] of the fence. If it spins in your hand, it's hard to get a grip on it. I knew I was right. It was just a matter of if they were going to kill the play or not. The next time it happens, if I'm 100 percent sure like I was, I will stand there and make sure they come out and see it.
"I should have trusted my instincts. I made the play a little more confusing than it should have been."
The on-site umpires are not allowed to comment on plays that are reviewed.
The Braves were naturally pleased with the outcome of the review process. Third baseman Chris Johnson had a good view.
"It kind of stuck in there," he said. "Talking to Justin after, he said he ran over there, looked down and he wasn't sure where the ball was. He didn't want to get on his knees and kind of crawl around in there. I think it went the right way."
Added Braves right-hander David Hale: "[Upton] told me it just stuck under there. From his angle, it disappeared. But I see what the umpire was saying, too. From our angle, you could see the whole thing. I think they made the right call. I'm glad they went back and looked at it. I was just confused. I didn't know what was going on. I was thinking that's an interesting way to give up a home run."
The Nationals, not surprisingly, were less happy but accepted the ruling.
"One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure 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."
After the decision was announced, managers can't continue to argue. But Williams was allowed to come onto the field and get an explanation from crew chief Jim Joyce.
Desmond was asked about his feelings on expanded replay.
"Obviously, everyone is trying to figure it out," he said. "It's brand new. It took a little long, but they're doing their best, and what we have to do is deal with it.
"My instincts told me, what I thought I knew, was that it was going to hold up. But the rules are the rules, and I don't know every one of them. I don't know the rule [whether the outfielder has to make more of an effort to retrieve the ball]. It is what it is. We had opportunities to win the game, and we didn't. And we move on."
Expanded replay didn't cost the Nationals a win. It gave the Braves a win they deserved. Which is exactly how it's supposed to work.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.