ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' 4-3 walk-off win over the Reds on Thursday -- a crucial victory for a Cardinals club chasing the Mets and Giants in the National League Wild Card standings -- was laced with controversy, as Yadier Molina's RBI double, by rule, should not have been a game-winning hit at all.
With Matt Carpenter at first and two out in the ninth, Molina drove a ball to deep left. It bounced on the warning track and then off a panel of signage above the left-field wall before caroming back to left fielder Adam Duvall.
"It hit the sign. I heard it," Duvall said. "From my angle I didn't know there was a gap in between the sign and the fence. From my angle I wasn't sure if it was in play or not."
Duvall's throw and the subsequent relay home were not in time to get Carpenter, who slid in safely to give the Cardinals the win. That initiated a celebration, as well as some confusion. As the Cardinals mobbed Molina near second base, the Reds' video coordinator reviewed the play inside the clubhouse. He quickly called the dugout, wanting manager Bryan Price to know that he should challenge the call. No one picked up the phone.
"Because of the crowd noise, we couldn't hear the phone ring," Price said. "There's no siren or blinking light to let you know."
After no one answered, a Reds staff member ran from the clubhouse to the dugout to deliver the message. Price went looking for crew chief Bill Miller, wanting to challenge that the ruling on the field should have been a ground-rule double. In that case, Carpenter would have been sent back to third.
By the time Price found Miller, the umpires had already cleared the field. That's because, Price was told later, he waited too long.
"In this situation Bryan Price did not come up on the top step," Miller said after the game. "We stayed there. I waited for my partners to come off the field. I looked into the dugout, the Cincinnati dugout, and Bryan Price made no eye contact with me whatsoever, and then, after 30 seconds, he finally realized -- somebody must have told him what had happened -- and we were walking off the field."
Price was informed that, by rule, he lost his opportunity to challenge the call when he didn't request a review immediately. Unlike plays that end innings, where a manager has 10 seconds to alert the umpire he is considering a challenge and 30 seconds to decide, there is no grace period on a play that ends a game.
"That's a terrible rule," Price said. "How do you let a game, any game -- but for this matter, it has playoff ramifications -- end because you won't wait more than 10 seconds on the field. That's ridiculous. ... It's ludicrous. I'll tell you, the San Francisco Giants, I imagine they're going to be all sorts of upset about this one if anything changes in the playoff format at this point."
Indeed, this was a call that could have wide-ranging playoff implications. With the win the Cardinals stayed just one game back of the Giants, who hold the second spot in the National League Wild Card standings. Had the Cardinals lost, they would have been two back with just three games to play.
Had Price challenged, the call would have been overturned. Per Busch Stadium ground rules, a ball that hits the advertisement signage beyond the wall is out of play.
"Trust me, we're here to get things right," Miller said. "That's why we have replay. Unfortunately, in this situation, we all have obligations to follow. If Bryan Price would have come onto the field and gotten us before we walked off, it was still too late."
Miller could have initiated a review himself had he or any of the other three umpires realized where the ball hit. None did.
While the Reds remained on the field trying to sort things out, the Cardinals took their celebration into the clubhouse.
"No reason to hang around," manager Mike Matheny said.
"I didn't know what happened," said Molina. "I was waiting for [an on-field] interview, and I saw the players standing on the field, and I didn't know what happened. So I came inside, and they were saying it was a ground-rule double. But I didn't know what happened at the moment."
Per Rule 7.04, the Reds have until noon on Friday to file a protest regarding the outcome. It's unlikely that would change anything, however, as protests must be related to a misapplication of the rules by the umpire. In this case the umpires, even though the call was incorrect, did not err in applying the rules of replay. The mistake came from the Reds, who did not initiate a review quickly enough.
Walt Jocketty, the Reds' president of baseball operations, immediately reached out to Randy Marsh, MLB's umpire director, to see what sort of recourse might be available. The Reds expect to receive additional clarification on Friday.
"I mean, it affects the teams that are in the Wild Card race with them, and us," Jocketty said. "We lost a game. It affects the Giants, and possibly the Mets. But more so the Giants. It's unfortunate."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.