Craziness during the bottom of the eighth inning in Atlanta, as left field umpire Sam Holbrook called the infield-fly rule on a pop-up in shallow left field off the bat of Andrelton Simmons. However, it was far from a routine play.
The controversial play was some 30-40 feet into the outfield and the ball ended up falling between shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday. It was also a very late call by Holbrook, which was the major part of the argument by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. Kozma tracked the ball for a long time, so it’s possible the sound of Holbrook’s voice caused him to back off the ball, perhaps thinking it was Holliday calling him off. It would have set up a bases loaded situation with one out.
The controversial call was met with anger from the Atlanta crowd, who threw all sorts of debris onto the field. It’s naturally a pretty dangerous situation for all involved, so both teams are currently off the field as order is trying to be restored. When play resumes, the Braves will have runners on second and third with the pitcher spot coming up. It’s 6-3 Cardinals.
As just relayed through the broadcast on TBS, the Braves will play the rest of the game under protest. Good luck with that.
UPDATE: Jason Motte walked Brian McCann to load the bases when play resumed, but Michael Bourn struck out swinging to end the threat. The Cards have a 6-3 lead going into the top of the ninth.
UPDATE II: Here’s video of the play in question.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.