Upon further review: The challenge is when to ask
PHOENIX -- The fine art of deciding when to use an instant-replay challenge was on display in all its glory on Tuesday night at Chase Field.
And by the time Giants manager Bruce Bochy could have really used his one challenge on a call at the plate that ultimately decided the game, he had already lost it trying to overturn another play.
"That's what you call a hang with 'em," Bochy said after the Giants dropped a 5-4 decision to the D-backs. "You can't do anything at that point, because you've already lost your challenge. This is how the system works and you understand that. Would I have changed anything? No. You don't know whether you're going to get another call when you wish you could challenge."
Still, it turned out to be a learning lesson for Bochy in the fourth inning after he used his challenge on a pickoff play at first base. Matt Cain tried to nab A.J. Pollock. Safe was the call by first-base ump Chris Guccione. The replay wasn't conclusive, the call was upheld and Bochy lost his challenge.
Later in the same inning, Pollock was on third when catcher Buster Posey let a Cain pitch get by him for a passed ball. The sphere was close enough to the plate that Posey scurried back for it and made an accurate toss to Cain covering as Pollock hurried home.
The ball in Cain's glove seemed to meet Pollock just as he hit the plate. Safe or out? Plate umpire Eric Cooper called Pollock safe. The replay seemed to offer another account.
"[The ump] said [Pollock] slid over the tag," Cain explained.
Bochy again rushed on to the field, but to no avail. He had already used his one challenge, and did not have it for what turned out to be a key call. If he had prevailed on the earlier call, Bochy would have retained the challenge. It was a perfect example of how using a replay challenge is now an integral part of baseball strategy.
Because it was prior to the seventh inning, the crew chief could not request a review.
"Yeah, that's what can happen," said Joe Garagiola Jr., Major League Baseball's vice president of baseball operations, who happened to be at the game. "He used his challenge, and because he was wrong, that's it, he has no more challenges. And until the seventh inning, the umpires have no ability on their own to even go look at a replay."
When the owners approved the expanded replay system during their January meetings, Tony La Russa opined that how a manager utilizes his lone challenge will become as important a strategy as when to use a pinch-hitter.
La Russa, a former manager and now a consultant for MLB, was on the three-man replay committee that included Joe Torre, another former manager and MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, and John Schuerholz, the Braves' president.
"[What] I like about the one challenge is that if you get it right, you get one more," La Russa said at the time. "Think of it this way. If you are the Cards last year and you have [Carlos] Beltran on the bench, when do you see that weapon? You may have a chance in the sixth inning. Is it better to use him in the eighth or ninth? That's exactly what the replay is. The replay is more fair."
Bochy was on the field three times at first base on Tuesday night with the possibility of challenging a call. During the first inning, he questioned whether a line drive smacked down the right-field line by Joaquin Arias was actually foul as ruled. In the third, he was back out there after Hunter Pence grounded to shortstop Chris Owings. The throw short-hopped first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who recorded the out. Was Goldschmidt's foot on the bag?
On both occasions, Bochy spoke long enough with Guccione to let his coaches view the replay.
A legal tactic, "within reason," Bochy said.
Both times Bochy was told not to challenge. The third time, on the Pollock pickoff, Bochy was given a green light, beginning a three-minute review process with an umpiring crew in New York that ended when the call was upheld. Even though the decision was ripe for second guessing, Bochy didn't doubt himself.
"When we think the call was not right, we're going to challenge it," Bochy said. "Now, that doesn't mean it's going to be overturned. It's got to be conclusive in their eyes. In our eyes, it looked like he was out. But that's the gamble you take. Sure, there could be another play, but you don't know that. It's [not] like these cards have backs on them. That's a pretty big pick off if we had gotten the call."
As it turned out, had Bochy prevailed on the pickoff, there would have been no play at the plate. But had he not used the challenge, he would have had it when it really counted on a crucial play at the plate.
"I've always said that's the one play that should be [automatically] reviewable," Bochy said. "But that's not the system. It's the toughest play to see. I haven't looked at it, but from what I hear Matt did get the tag down."
Under the circumstances, though, the play was not reviewable. Lesson learned.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.