Replay victories instant hit for Ausmus, Tigers
First-year skipper 2-for-2 on first challenges in walk-off win against KC
DETROIT -- The Tigers are still waiting for their even-keeled, Ivy League-educated rookie manager to blow his top.
"I want to see what his move is," Max Scherzer said. "Does he get in the umpire's face? Does he throw a hat? Does he kick a base?"
And like just about everybody else in the Major League Baseball industry, the Tigers are also still feeling out the new instant replay challenge system put in place for 2014.
But in the wake of a 2-1, 10-inning walk-off win against the Royals on Wednesday afternoon -- in a game in which Ausmus went 2-for-2 in the challenge department, with the second playing a particularly big role in the result -- there were certainly no complaints about the system's efficacy or Ausmus' ability to navigate it.
Of course, that feeling is, if you'll pardon the pun, subject to review, too.
"I'm still on the fence about it," said Ian Kinsler, whose game-winning hit closely followed the overturned call that ended the Royals' at-bat in the top of the 10th. "But it worked out well for us today."
What we saw here at Comerica Park, ultimately, were the positives of MLB's "Welcome to the 21st Century" revelation, as well as the wrinkles that still need to be ironed out.
Ausmus' first challenge, while ultimately fruitful, featured all the stall-ball effects that has some folks fretting about instant replay's instant impact on pace of play. Ausmus took a slow stroll out to the field while Tigers video coordinator Matt Martin scrambled to watch the footage of the would-be double play the Royals turned to retire Kinsler and Tyler Collins at the end of the sixth.
Ultimately, the Tigers got their opportunity to bat Miguel Cabrera with runners on the corners.
Scherzer hopes the delays will be shorter moving forward.
"[The system] is not going to be flawless immediately," he said.
And that's one we all ought to embrace here in the early going, because the Tigers became an early testament to how much this system can fundamentally address former flaws.
MLB's video research of the 2013 season uncovered a "blown call" just once every 6.4 games. But this Motown two-fer, in which both botched calls came from first-base umpire Chris Conroy, is evidence that the errors are not spread uniformly across the scope of the season. And if anything, the increasingly sophisticated scrutiny of the on-field action seems likely to uncover more than a once-every-6.4 phenomenon.
Ausmus demonstrated the benefits of the "buy one, get one" feature of the replay rules for managers whose first challenge leads to an overturned call, because when Conroy again erred in the 10th, he was able to waste no time asking for another look-see.
This time around, the call in question was Nori Aoki's infield single to put runners on the corners with two out in the top of the 10th. Aoki had hit a weak grounder in front of home plate, reliever Al Alburquerque fielded it and was deliberate with his throw to first, giving Aoki time to make it a bang-bang play. Replay confirmed that Alburquerque's throw had just barely beaten Aoki to the bag, and, just like that, the inning was over.
Mere minutes later, so, too, was the game, thanks to Kinsler's heroics.
"That's what the system's there for," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Both calls went against us, but that's what it's there for -- to get the call right. I don't have any problem with it."
The potential problem is the forced strategic element the manager challenges create. We saw in Phoenix on Tuesday night the ill-effects of the limitation on challenges in the game's first six innings. Because Bruce Bochy had already expended his first challenge and lost it, he was in no position to challenge a clear blown call at the plate that cost the Giants a pivotal run in that same inning.
Putting the challenge in the manager's hands has altered both their role and, in some cases, their viewing habits in a significant way.
"What I've found is that, before, you watched the game," Yost said. "Now, you're almost like an umpire. Say there's a steal at second base. I never watch the throw now. My eyes go straight to the base. Because now we do have an option to challenge. Before, whatever the call was, that's what the call was going to be."
Certain segments of managerial scrutiny are unchanged and unchanging. Prematurely pull three of your better hitters -- as Yost did when he inserted pinch-runners for Salvador Perez in the eighth and Omar Infante and Billy Butler in the ninth, before the game went to extras -- and you're going to be vilified. Show debatable judgment with your bullpen usage -- and here, Yost opted, as managers questionably tend to do, to save his closer, Greg Holland, in a 10th-inning tie on the road -- and skepticism will surely come your way.
Ausmus, on the other hand, was unflappable and unassailable on this day, because replay -- and, ergo, the game -- went his way. It remains to be seen if sportswriters factor replay percentage in their Manager of the Year voting, but Ausmus is obviously off to a strong start.
Same goes for a Tigers team that has won its first two games against a division foe in walk-off fashion and had instant success with instant replay, too.
"It was nice to get those calls overturned when you can correctly see it on replay," Scherzer said. "This is a billion dollar industry. Let's get the calls right."