Mason: Meltdown in Tampa Bay was MLB at its worst

AP Photo/Chris O'MearaAngel Hernandez's crew turned an eighth-inning substitution into a convoluted mess. 

Somewhat remarkably, Major League Baseball tried to cram everything wrong with its sport into one game on Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field. 

In the top of the eighth inning, Rays manager Kevin Cash brought lefty Adam Kolarek into the game to face Sam Travis. He was then removed for Mookie Betts, put at first base, and brought back in to face left-handed Rafael Devers. 

First things first: Why does Cash have to do this?

Tampa Bay's payroll of less than $63 million is roughly a quarter of Boston's — Sox starters alone make $26 million more than the Rays — and as such, Cash is tasked with squeezing every possible drop out of his bargain-basement roster. He doesn't have the luxury of depth, which is why he invented the opener last year.

But that's a big picture problem for another day. 

After Cash tried to make his eighth-inning swap, the game devolved into a gong show. 

As Angel Hernandez's crew tried to figure out the proper substitutions, there were two delays that totaled more than 20 minutes. Kolarek wound up warming four times in one inning. Alex Cora and Cash repeatedly came back out, lineup cards in hand, and nobody had any idea what was going on. 

Not in the crowd. Not on the television broadcast. Not in the press box. Heck, not even of the diamond. 

Hernandez called the league office in New York for clarification on the rules, and the game resumed after the delay with no explanation. 

Famed NFL referee — and weight-lifting enthusiast — Ed Hochuli may have been long-winded, but at least viewers were kept in the loop. 

"We felt that they made some illegal substitutions," Cora told reporters in Tampa Bay. "It was a mess at one point. I wasn’t able to keep up with Angel."

Here's a simple explanation to save you from further brain freeze: Feeling the umpires and Cash had initially botched the lineup card and placed the pitcher, Kolarek in the No. 9 spot instead of the appropriate No. 3 spot, the Red Sox decided to protest the game.

OK, so what does that mean?

The MLB rulebook states, “Managers can protest a game when they allege that the umpires have misapplied the rules. The umpires must be notified of the protest at the time the play in question occurs and before the next pitch or attempted play begins... No protests are permitted on judgment calls by the umpires.”

The umpires aren't mic'd up to give explanations in real time because that'd make too much sense, so for a half hour nobody had knew what was happening with any certainty.

On the NESN broadcast, Dave O'Brien and Carlos Pena ran through a few theories with shots of Cora and Cash, while Joe Castiglione read straight from the rulebook on the radio. 

There was no clarity until MLB made an announcement in the ninth inning, and over an hour after this fiasco began, Hernandez finally explained his account of what had happened to a pool reporter.  

"Kevin Cash didn't specify where Adam Kolarek was hitting in the lineup when he was moved to first base," Hernandez said. "Cora's dispute involved the Rays having what he thought was two pitchers and a DH in the game at the same time...  in case the manager fails or refuses to make a decision, the plate umpire is authorized to decide the necessary batting order. The umpire’s decision is final."

Maintaining that Hernandez and Cash's initial card was wrong, the Red Sox didn't withdraw their protest. For now it goes in the book as a 3-2 loss.

They'll wait to hear back from the league, and in the event MLB feels the umpires erred, the game would be replayed from the point of protest in the eighth inning. 

Good grief.

Terrible pace of play, little communication, and no concrete resolution? Welcome to the worst of baseball in 2019. 

Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Gloucester Daily Times and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at cmason@northofboston.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason

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