The Cubs won Thursday’s NLDS Game 5 by a 9-8 score over the Nationals and were aided in part by replay review in the eighth inning, helping Wade Davis escape a jam. The Nationals had scored a run on a Michael Taylor RBI single, cutting their deficit to one run. Lobaton kept the rally going with a line drive single up the middle.
The next batter, Trea Turner, worked a 1-1 count against Davis, then took a cut fastball for ball two. Catcher Willson Contreras snapped a throw back to first base as Lobaton had stayed a bit too far off the bag. Lobaton awkwardly slid back into the first base bag and was initially ruled safe. The Cubs challenged, however, as Lobaton’s foot appeared to pop off of the first base bag for a microsecond while first baseman Anthony Rizzo still had his glove on him. The call was overturned, Lobaton was out, and the Nationals’ rally was over.
The ultimate ruling was correct: Lobaton, indeed, was out. Furthermore, the slow-footed Lobaton shouldn’t have been straying so far from first base. He was at fault, for sure. But it feels unfair to use replay review in this manner. Both teams’ success or failure hinged on Lobaton’s foot coming off of the bag for one-sixteenth of a second. It’s a technicality, like coming back to your car at 10:01 only to see the meter maid walking away and a ticket on your windshield.
The spirit of replay review wasn’t about microscopic technicalities, it was about getting certain calls right: home run/not a home run, fair/foul, safe/out (in other areas, obviously, given this argument). Major League Baseball should greatly consider amending the rules to make it so that a player simply returning to the bag is grounds to be called safe, ending the pedantry of these types of reviews. Semi-related: a switch from above-ground bases to flat bases would be a welcome change as well.
Matthew Pouliot made a great point on Twitter. What we’re asking of with players, expecting them to stay on the bag at all times while sliding back, is not realistic. Pouliot adds that an unintended consequence of these types of reviews is seeing more players sliding head-first into bases and, as such, suffering more hand injuries. Even if the “spirit of the rule” argument doesn’t jibe, the player health angle should.