ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – If you thought Wednesday’s episode of Confusion at Tropicana Field was limited to the 21-minute delay on the field, please note that at 3:45 p.m., a full hour and three minutes after the whole thing got started, Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke walked swiftly to his locker, grabbed the lineup card, and carried it back to manager Alex Cora’s office for further discussion.
According to every indication – including the scoreboard, which usually has the final say — the Red Sox lost their series finale against the Rays, 3-2, because David Price gave up three straight hits in the fifth inning and the Red Sox couldn’t score a run after that. But the game was played under protest because of a confusing disagreement about the way home plate umpire Angel Hernandez handled a series of eighth-inning substitutions.
The chances of the protest leading to a replay of the final two innings seem remote. The last time it happened was 2014, when the Giants argued the Cubs grounds crew did not adequately protect the field from rain, leading to an unfairly shortened game. That’s the only upheld protest of the past 30 years. So, most likely, the Red Sox settle for winning two of three at the Trop and remain behind the Rays and Athletics for the second wild-card spot heading into their upcoming four-game series against the Yankees.
But, indicative of their need for every win they can get, the Red Sox are still trying to win a game that ended Wednesday afternoon.
According to Rule 7.04: “Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.”
That means, even though they’re arguing a lineup issue, the actual batters the Rays sent to the plate on Wednesday are not going to be a useful point of contention. Even if the wrong batters came to the plate in the ninth, the Rays never scored another run.
The Red Sox only hope of winning the protest is arguing that Rafael Devers, when he made the final out in the eighth inning, was facing a left-handed pitcher who should not have been allowed to throw a pitch. Devers should have faced someone else, and given the way he’s been swinging the bat, who’s to say he wouldn’t have hit a game-tying homer off someone else?
Here’s the sequence of events:
- • To start the eighth inning, the Rays brought lefty Adam Kolarek out of the bullpen. He faced one batter – pinch hitter Sam Travis – and got the out.
• Right-hander Chaz Roe replaced Kolarek on the mound, and the Rays sent Kolarek to play first base. Roe got Mookie Betts to fly out.
• Kolarek went back to the mound to face Devers, and Nate Lowe took over at first base. Cora came out of the dugout to argue. And argue. And argue.
It became a big mess because, the Sox argued, it had been a small mess all along. They believe Hernandez recorded the substitutions incorrectly, basically allowing Rays manager Kevin Cash to make an illegal move. There’s little indication that the Red Sox think Cash was trying to do something illegal, only that it was technically done in an illegal way.
According to the Red Sox, during that single at-bat between Roe and Betts, the Rays technically had two active pitchers in the game. They claim Hernandez did not officially put Kolarek into the Rays lineup. He was clearly still in the game – Kolarek was standing right there at first base – but he had not been officially added to the lineup in place of a position player, which means he should have been out of the game. And if he was out of the game, how could he come back to face Devers? And if he was in the lineup, why didn’t the Red Sox know immediately that he had been moved into the No. 3 hole replacing Austin Meadows at DH (Roe officially had taken Ji-Man Choi’s place in the No. 9 spot in the order).
“They brought in Roe for Choi,” Cora said. “They kept the DH at that moment. So, they had a pitcher, a first baseman, they had a pitcher on the mound, and they still had a DH. It’s kind of hard to explain. I’m sorry I can’t go over it because there’s a lot. It’s an illegal substitution, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Red Sox believe the lineup card was adjusted to reflect proper substitutions after they argued the point, and the box score will look like everything was handled correctly, but they say what happened on the field was mass confusion based on not properly putting the Rays substitutions in place.
“We saw what was going to happen,” Cora said. “When he put (Kolarek at) first, I asked Angel about it and he gave me an answer. I’m like, ‘OK, this is about to get interesting.’ And it did.”
The argument about the Rays hitters batting in the bottom of the eighth was a byproduct of the same issue, but it was ultimately a moot point. Red Sox rookie Josh Taylor said he expected to face either Meadows (the starting DH) or Lowe (the replacement first baseman) but instead got pinch hitter Willy Adames (who was technically pinch hitting for the pitcher Kolarek). It really didn’t matter, Adames struck out and Taylor pitched a scoreless inning. The change – illegal or not – did not affect the Rays offense, and thus did not affect the outcome of the game.
Where the Red Sox might have an argument is with the Rays pitching. If Kolarek was not put into the lineup when he went to play first base, why was he allowed to stay in the game and thus available to get Devers out – in a left-on-left matchup – with one pitch?
“I mean, I had no idea what was really going on,” Devers said. “I’m not familiar as to the rules of what was going on. In the moment, I just tried to stay together mentally and tried to be prepared so that when I did get my at-bat in, I would be as aggressive as I can, but I didn’t really know what was going on.”
It’s largely a clerical, record-keeping argument. Of course Kolarek was in the game, everyone could see him. The rules clearly allow the Rays to put a pitcher at first base and then back on the mound, and the lineup was ultimately changed in a proper way. The question is whether those moves were handled correctly.
Hernandez told a pool reporter that Cash did not specify, when Roe came into the game, where Kolarek would hit in the order, which could explain why he was not immediately placed anywhere in the Rays lineup. With no instruction from the manager, the rules state that Hernandez was allowed to put Kolarek wherever he saw fit (he put him in the DH spot, batting third, the first spot due up in the bottom of the inning). The Red Sox say they should have known that right away for the move to be legal. Cora specifically said the substitution was illegal because of “the way it was presented to us.”
“I’ve got my lineup card,” he said. “I know where I’m at. I have a good memory, as you guys know.”
A good memory means Cora knows he’s fighting an almost certain losing battle.