Upon further review, Nationals manager Matt Williams isn't sure the on-field umpires conferring with New York-based replay officials got it right when they reversed a call on an apparent inside-the-park home run by Ian Desmond in a Friday's 2-1 loss to the Braves.
Neither does Desmond, who acknowledges he doesn't know all the ins and outs of the new expanded replay but says he's seen plays in the past when outfielders have picked up a ball resting at the base of the wall and thrown it in while play continued unabated.
But both Williams and Desmond took the high road in explaining the impact the reversed call had in a one-run game. It might not have cost the Nationals a victory, they said, but things could have unfolded differently had Desmond's homer been allowed to stand.
"Obviously, everyone's trying to figure (replay) out. It's brand new. I think it took a little long between when the call was made and when it was overturned. But they're doing their best. What we have to do is just kind of deal with it."
The controversial play unfolded in the fifth inning, when Desmond laced Braves starter David Hale's first pitch down the left field line. Left fielder Justin Upton trotted into the corner as the ball came to rest at the base of the wall in the corner and immediately raised his arms, a signal to the umpiring crew that he believed the ball was wedged under the wall's padding and could not be retrieved.
While Upton stood there, Desmond scampered around the bases, never breaking stride. Third base umpire Marvin Hudson had moved into short left field to follow the play, but gave no signal. In that case, it would usually be Hudson's responsibility to either raise both hands in the air with wrists crossed to signify a ground rule double (because the ball was lodged in the padding) or to signal the fielders, runner and base coaches with a safe sign to alert them the ball was in play.
"(Hudson) didn't make a call and, for me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, it tells me that he didn't think it was lodged underneath the fence," Williams said.
While Desmond was in the dugout waiting to see if he could accept congratulations on his second homer of the year, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez strolled out to left field to ask for a review. The umpires first huddled before crew chief Jim Joyce, the first base umpire, and home plate umpire Cory Blaser, broke off to confer with replay officials in New York.
But it took about four minutes before they ruled that the ball was stuck beneath the padding and sent Desmond from the dugout back to second base.
Williams questioned why Upton, who claimed the ball was lodged under the padding, had no trouble picking it up and throwing it back to the infield once he realized no ground rule double was called.
"They told me that from replay, it was lodged underneath, between the pad and the dirt," Williams explained. "I questioned it with Jim because when (Upton) had to, he reached down, picked it up and threw it in. So that was my question. He threw up his hands and generally that is an indication that the ball is lodged, but when there was no signal from the umpire, throwing his hands up and saying it was a double or was a ground-rule double or lodged underneath there, Justin reach down, picked it up and threw it in. By that time, Ian scored."
Desmond may have been racing around the bases, but he could clearly see the white of the baseball sitting on the dark, brown warning track.
"I saw it," he said. "It was sitting in the corner. You could see it down there."
And he remembered the meeting with Major League Baseball offiials about replay back in spring training, when the Nationals were told to react and continue a play instead of slowing down and waiting for a ruling to be made. Think back to Gio Gonzalez's weird stop-and-start trot around the bases at Citi Field on a home run Wednesday - Gonzalez said he didn't want to leave anything to chance if umpires ruled the ball that bounced off fencing above the left field wall was still in play and a live ball.
"I was just going," Desmond said. "With the replay stuff the way it is now, I'm not going to leave anything to doubt. That's what we talked about in spring training. No one said anything, so I wasn't going to stop. We've seen that happen in the past. So just keep on going and the least that happens is I go back to second base, and that's how we ended up."
Desmond hoped he wouldn't be summoned back to the field.
"My instincts told me what I had thought I knew was that it was going to hold up," he said. "But the rules are the rules and I don't know every one of them."
In this case, Joyce told Williams that Rule 7.05(f) was what the replay reviewers determined was the correct application. That rule states that when a ball becomes lodged in the padding, a runner is awarded a double.
Williams knows the rule and the rulebook. Having a ball lost in the ivy at Wrigley Field or seeing the ball hop into the stands would have made that the right call. He just isn't convinced that's what should have happened in this case, given Upton's actions and how easily he retrieved a supposedly stuck baseball.
"I've never seen that one before," Williams said.