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Rays play under protest after Blue Jays are allowed to make late challenge

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Giants filed the first successful protest in MLB since 1986 after the Chicago Cubs grounds crew was unable to cover the field in a timely manner, leading to the game being called off after 4 1/2 innings.

Now, the Tampa Bay Rays are hoping to follow suit, arguing that the umpiring crew in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays incorrectly allowed John Gibbons to challenge a play beyond the time frame specified in the new expanded replay rules. The call in question was not only reviewed, but ultimately overturned, and immediately afterwards Maddon made it known that he was protesting the game. 

It's probably a long shot, but it appears Joe Maddon and company have a legitimate gripe.

Here's how it played out. 

During the fourth inning, Blue Jays hurler Mark Buehrle appeared to successfully pickoff baserunner Wil Myers at first base, but Myers was initially ruled safe by first base umpire Bill Welke. After giving the play a look, Gibbons eventually decided to challenge the call. However, by the time he left the dugout and communicated his intentions to home plate umpire John Tumpane, Buehrle was already back on the mound and the batter was in the box, which according to the rule means play should have continued without a challenge.

Here's the rule in question.

Except as otherwise set forth in Sections II.D.2-4 below, to be timely, a Manager must exercise his challenge (by verbal communication to the appropriate Umpire), or the Crew Chief must initiate Replay Review (if applicable pursuant to Section II.C above) before the commencement of the next play or pitch.

For purposes of these Regulations, the next "play" shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter's box (unless the defensive team initiates an appeal play in which case any call made during the play prior to the appeal still may be subject to Replay Review).

There are different rules that apply to the end of an inning and the end of a game itself, but this covers the situation on Saturday. Per the rule, Gibbons challenge should not have been accepted by crew chief Bob Davidson, and the original safe call should have stood, even though it was determined to be wrong. 

That means the inning should have continued with Myers on first base with one out and Yunel Escobar at the plate. Escobar ended up making an out to end the inning, but in a game that was ultimately decided by one run, every baserunner carried a little more significance, which could add to Maddon's argument. 

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(AP)

(AP)

''It was inappropriate for Bob to do what he did and permit that to happen,'' Maddon said. ''I'm trusting that they're going to interpret the rule properly and get us back to that point in the game.''

Again, it seems like a longshot that MLB will set a precedent here and uphold the protest. It took one of the more bizarre occurrences in recent memory for them to act on the tarp situation in Chicago. The fact that the grounds crew error actually led to the game ending prematurely was likely the biggest factor taken into consideration. On Saturday, the Rays still had a chance to win despite the apparent mistake, and nearly did in extra innings.

It could also easily be dismissed as a judgment call, since it's difficult to accurately determine when Gibbons first made his move, and when both the pitcher and batter are ready for play. That was Davidson's argument when speaking to pool reporters following the game. 

''(Escobar) was just about getting in, but I'm looking at Gibbons and he's coming out and he's not a speed merchant, and I thought, it's on time,'' Davidson said. ''We want to get the play correct. That's what we're out here for.''

As if there haven't been enough already, perhaps another rule tweak is in order to eliminate another possible inconisistent interpretation. 

Either way, nothing is official until it's official. Maybe the league will surprise us again and give the Rays another shot.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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