Alex Rodriguez hit a 2-2 pitch from Rays closer Troy Percival high over the foul pole in left in the ninth inning and, to add to the confusion, the ball ricocheted off the D-ring catwalk. Third-base umpire Brian Runge ruled the ball fair.
Rays catcher Dioner Navarro immediately cried foul and asked for a replay. Manager Joe Maddon also thought the ball went foul, so he went onto the field to meet with the umpires.
"Being unsure of the process, I started with [home-plate umpire Greg Gibson], and I said, 'I can't really tell if it's fair or foul,'" Maddon said. "He said it was [Runge's] call, so I went down there and said, 'Brian, listen man, I'm not jumping on you right now. That ball is high and that pole is not high enough. And I would like you guys to talk about it.'"
Crew chief Charlie Reliford, who was at second base on Wednesday night, advised Maddon not to talk to Percival while they huddled.
"We all believed it was a home run, but since the technology is in place, we made the decision to use the technology and go look at the replays," Reliford said.
The umpires then headed for the third-base dugout where they viewed "several" replays on the monitor according to Reliford.
"And the replays we reviewed were conclusive that the call we made was correct," Reliford said. "We had it going right over the pole. All four of us had it going right over the pole on the field. And our views of the replays confirmed that. It was not inconclusive; it was conclusive that Brian's call was correct."
The crew took two minutes and 15 seconds to make the call.
"Sometimes it takes longer for the manager to get kicked out of the game," said Navarro, who complimented the process by calling it "perfect."
All televised MLB games are monitored and staffed by an expert technician and either an umpire supervisor or a former umpire at Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York. A television monitor and a secure telephone link to MLBAM, placed next to the monitor, have been installed at all 30 ballparks.
If the crew chief determines that instant replay review is necessary on a particular disputed home run, he calls the MLB Advanced Media technician, who then transmits the most appropriate video footage to the crew chief and the umpire crew on site. The umpire supervisor or former umpire does not have direct communication with any of the umpires on site, and the decision to reverse a call is at the sole discretion of the crew chief. The standard used by the crew chief when reviewing a play is whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the umpire's decision on the field was incorrect and should be reversed. The use of replay is limited only to home runs: in or out, fair or foul and fan interference.
For Rodriguez, the call validated his 549th career home run.
On May 21, umpires took a home run away from Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium, when he hit a ball off a set of yellow stairs past the fence in right-center field. The ball bounced back on to the field, and Rodriguez was forced to speed up and slide into second base with a double.
The lost long ball did not affect the outcome of an 8-0 Yankees victory over the Orioles, but it may prove to be a footnote in Rodriguez's chase to become baseball's all-time home run king, costing him what would have been No. 525. In response, the Yankees installed a fence over the yellow stairs shortly after to ward off future recurrences.
"There's probably 800 players in the big leagues, and the odds of me being involved were probably 2-1," Rodriguez said. "It's funny. Somehow I find myself in those situations all the time. It was just nice to get the right call and get a fair ruling."
Rodriguez also complimented the process.
"It was pretty time-efficient, and that was good," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes they meet for four or five minutes. Today probably saved us about four or five minutes, and they got it right. They feel good about it and we definitely feel good about it."
Ironically, what Percival saw as a blown call facilitated Rodriguez's home run. The Rays' closer threw a 1-2 pitch to Rodriguez with two outs that Gibson called ball two. Had the pitch been called strike three, the inning would have been over and the instant replay would not have been used.
"I was irritated about that," Percival said after the Rays' 8-4 loss. "As many pitches as I've thrown in my career, I think I deserve that pitch. ... It's tough to swallow. It was strike three. But my fault. The next pitch needed to be better."
If Rodriguez's home run had been reversed, it's likely the Yankees still would have won the game since they held a 6-3 lead. Maddon said the only effect of having the lead go to 8-3 was not being able to force Yankees closer Mariano Rivera into the game, which might have impacted Thursday's finale to the three-game series.
Having moved into a new era of Major League Baseball on Wednesday night, all parties seemed pleased with the first step.
"They're watching in New York and they've got a good view," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They can run it a couple of times by the time the umpires get in there. I said all along, the important thing is that the call is right. The process worked great, and I think part of that is because in New York they're watching right away."
Added Reliford: "Everything went exactly like they trained us it would go."
As for the long-term aspects of whether instant replay will work, Reliford did not have an answer.
"That certainly remains to be seen," Reliford said. "This is the first one of something we haven't experienced before. So I think time will give us the answer to that."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less