There’s no time better than the present. That may have been the line of thinking for skipper Rick Renteria as he challenged a call in the fifth inning of the Cubs 1-0 loss on Opening Day in Pittsburgh. It was the first regular season use of MLB’s expanded replay.
With the game scoreless in the fifth, thanks to solid pitching from both sides, the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija looked to move the runners along with a sacrifice bunt. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano fielded it cleanly and fired to third base to get the lead runner. The third baseman, Pedro Alvarez, then threw to second baseman Neil Walker at first who was covering on the play.
Samardzija immediately signaled safe as he crossed the bag, but first-base umpire Bob Davidson gave the out call. Renteria came out and had a brief conversation, then challenged the call. Davidson and home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck then consulted with the Replay Operation Center at Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s headquarters in New York. The replay was handled by MLBAM replay technician Timothy Atkins and MLB umpire Larry Vanover.
To the naked-eye, especially of a Cubs fan, it appeared that Samardzija beat or at least tied the throw. It was by all means a difficult call to get overturned without conclusive evidence.
The process seemed to go smoothly, and the call was confirmed in about 90 seconds. The replay was also shown on the video scoreboard at PNC Park, which is part of the replay process.
In the top of the 10th the Cubs were victims of instant replay once again. Pirates reliever Bryan Morris attempted to pickoff Emilio Bonifacio at first. Davidson signaled the runner safe. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made his way onto the field to engage Davidson. He and Hirschbeck immediately went to the headsets to consult with the Replay Operations Center.
After a 2 1/2-minute delay, the umpires ruled Bonifacio out, overturning the original call.
The Cubs were part of history as it was the first challenge in the use of expanded replay in regular season play. Unfortunately the Cubs were on the wrong side of that history, continuing their “lovable loser” luck.