Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is always looking for ways to stay that one critical step ahead of the competition. Another classic example of his forward-thinking surfaced earlier this week when members of the media noticed Maddon's Rays were getting used to finishing plays even after the final out of an inning was recorded, just in case a replay challenge overturns a call.
Essentially the Rays were playing through the whistle if we were talking in football terms, because like many of us, Maddon isn't exactly sure how the continuation of a play will be handled in cases where an inning would have ended, but replay determines the inning should continue.
Until he gets a better grasp of the system, Maddon believes there may be a few loopholes or nuances that can be exploited. If his players continue playing through, they may be rewarded for tagging another runner out, or at the very least force umpires to return a runner to his previous base if they were caught off guard. For example, if an opposing runner leisurely strolls home or stops running on a close inning-ending grounder, the Rays will throw home so the umpires have to decide if that lead runner would be out or forced to go back to third.
By the same token, Maddon is teaching his base runners to continue running hard in those situations on the chance they'll be rewarded the full 90 feet.
"I think the what-ifs are almost limitless," Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times. "And that's the part people don't even understand. When you open Pandora's box, it's not as cut and dried as you think."
It's all about putting pressure on the umpires to make judgment calls in their favor should an unusual scenario pop up. If you've followed baseball for any time at all, you know it's only a matter of time before one of the scenarios Maddon envisions plays out.
"I know there's going to be some definites written down, but there's still going to be some gray that pops up that had not been thought about, or interpreted differently at the moment," Maddon said. "So it's not about 'gaming' anything, it's about doing it for the first time and trying to not leave anything up to discretion."
For now, everybody is still in the feeling out process hoping to get a better understanding of how the system will ultimately work. That includes the umpires, who based on conversations Rays third baseman Evan Longoria has had with them this spring may not have a specific spot between the bases to determine whether a base is rewarded. That determination may vary among the different umpiring crews much the same way the interpretation of the strike zone varies, leaving open the possibility that an extra out or a base can be gained on a given night.
All the Rays — and everybody else, really — can do now is prepare themselves to take advantage of loopholes and potential chaos. After all, we're all learning this expanded replay system together. Every last one of us is starting in the same state of confusion.
BLS H/N: Larry Brown Sports
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