TOP OF THE FIFTH: ORIOLES 3 – 2 PADRES
The umpires assemble. The headsets wrap around the heads. And the previous play, for as many times as necessary, repeats on a loop at the MLB replay center in New York, debates pinging back and forth through the line, all camera angles stitch together the evidence—with players waiting, managers waiting, fans waiting, for the chance at a revision of luck, a change of fortune, a foul ball turned fair.
Melvin Upton Jr. stands at the plate, Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound. There’s respite and angst, faces awaiting celebration or dejection. A one-run lead quivering like a compass needle, ready to change direction with some huge wind from the mouths of the umpires.
Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” plays on the PA system, with the whole of the Baltimore crowd singing along in their heads. Tell us something good, sir umpire, tell us something good.
Upton looks up at the jumbotron screen, at himself, swinging the bat through the zone with a huge follow-through, the ball sailing down the left-field line—and Jimenez throwing two arms across his body, over toward the line:“Foul! Foul!”
The artist formerly known as BJ Upton is trying to argue with video replay
— Jordan Katz (@NaturallyKatz) June 23, 2016
Buck Showalter looks over at his bench coach, thinking they’re in trouble—the first image in a series of zoomed-in views of managers with arms crossed, chewing gum, twiddling thumbs.
On the replay screen is Upton running to first, to second, stopping halfway between the bases. His arms up in the air, in protest of a home run just called foul. He shrugs it off, and continues the trot. Matt Kemp tags home, then Upton behind him, looking around at each other, at the dugout, at the replay board, at the umps.
The park goes suddenly quiet—a moment of silence for future, dreaded baseball casualty, a call facing conversion into a two-run homer for the away team.
And then, the headsets come off. The umpires split off and head back to their stations. And two arms rise up in the air from the home-plate ump, announcing it officially: “Foul ball!”
The fans rejoice. Camden Yards gone wild.
Upton’s home run is no more, Kemp returns to first, and it’s like that Coldplay song—the one with Chris Martin walking backwards and the car driving backwards and… Melvin Upton—staring sadly at home plate, finally accepting that he hasn’t scored:
Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part…
Nobody said it was easyyy
No one ever said it would be this hard…
I’m goin’ back to the staaaart….
He steps back into the batter’s box. Neck flexed out in anger, biting the inside of his lip. Picking up his bat, shaking his head, looking like he’ll punch out the home-plate ump. Matt Kemp mumbling to himself, trotting back to first-base.
And then, in the end, a strikeout—foul tipped into the glove of Matt Wieters, on the next pitch after the delay. Upton’s bat whipped down into the dirt. His helmet thrown down next to it. Batting gloves peeled off and added onto the pile. Head shaking like a bobblehead. Angry. The gods of replays looking the other way.
BOTTOM OF THE FIFTH: ORIOLES 6 (3) – 2 PADRES
Again, the umpires assemble. Again, the headsets snap into place around their heads. And with almost no time gone since Upton’s disallowed home run, they’re back on the phone with MLB officials in New York (specifically, in a windowless room on the fifth floor of a former Nabisco cookie factory).
The Orioles had worked the bases loaded, nobody out. Chris Davis at the bat. And the first pitch came whipped in on a hooking curve through the zone, sinking into the dirt with Davis shifting out of the way.
And off toward the backstop it went, bouncing from grass to brick wall and back, Adam Jones jolting home from third, Davis jumping out of his way, and the O’s lead going from two to three.
But then, the TV guys look at it again. They replay it, then replay the replay. The umps join in.
It’s off the back foot of Chris Davis. Clear as anything you’ll see.
“He even grimaced,” one of the TV guys says. Buck Showalter’s got his hand over his mouth, chewing gum, contemplating.
And Davis, still wanting to finish the at-bat, a prime RBI opportunity, pleading with the ump: “Shhh,” he seems to say, winking at the crowd as he covers the ump’s ears, “…No no, that didn’t hit me! No, no!”
I try to think if this has happened before, a player going against his interests, opting for the potential great play with a good one guaranteed. A striker, in soccer, protesting an awarded penalty call as he winds up for a highlight-reel volley shot. A quarterback arguing about a running-back’s score, wanting to have airmailed the touchdown.
Within thirty seconds, the headsets come off. The ump signals Davis to first. Disappointment on his face, but Jones still comes home to score. O’s lead 5-2.
Now that I think of it, Jones would’ve scored either way—wild pitch, or a bases loaded hit-by-pitch. So that makes Davis in the right—a weird, rare version of right, with the pangs of toe pain disguised as if they didn’t exist, holding back wincing tears to sneak back up to the plate, unencumbered by rules insisting that he advance to first.
But the replays gets it correct. O’s up three, Davis on first, and the Padres in a last-place bog of no return. Sinking deeper by the day, the inning, both replay reviews going the other way.
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) June 23, 2016
And so replay giveth, and replay giveth again, a two-for-two highlight for the hometown fans of Camden Yards.
The inning eventually ends after a Matt Wieters sac fly, Orioles up 6-2, the game won by an alert camera crew and busy major-league media hub, the newest body to be inducted into Baltimore hall of fame.
How does that Ernie Banks quote go? “Let’s replay two…”