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Replay-challenge system would limit controversies

It's hard to argue that video replay has worked in baseball when it comes to home runs (although it was kind of odd to see it used Friday at Fenway Park when the Yankees and Red Sox were trying to pay homage to 1912). I'd like to see it more. An NFL-like challenge system would be nice. One time a game for each team on a trap/catch or play at a base.

I maintain most teams will hold their challenge until the late innings, so things won't get all that drawn out. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly certainly would have liked one Wednesday night in Milwaukee, as Nyjer Morgan scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th for the Brewers even though replays showed catcher A.J. Ellis was blocking the plate.

"[Mattingly's son] Preston said if they look at replays for a home run, they should replay plays at the plate, and he's right," Mattingly said. "They should. Those plays always cost a run, which can cost a game. You can't say it cost us a game, but it cost us an opportunity to win a game."

Mattingly admitted plays at the plate can be tough calls because the ball and runner are arriving at the same time and the umpire also can be moving to get a better view of the play.

"Any time the ball is coming and [the runner] is coming and the catcher is trying to block the plate and catch the ball and it's all happening at once, that's tough even with replay," he said. "You see a few replays and, I don't know, then they finally got it to that point, and he's out. With replay in the NFL and the NBA, that's one of those plays that can really change a game."

What Mattingly said certainly resonates to me based on what happened in the eighth inning of the Bisons' homestand finale Thursday afternoon. One out, bases loaded for Lehigh Valley in a 2-2 game. Simple enough. Then things turned goofy.

Rich Thompson blooped a single to right but Hector Luna had to hold at third to make sure the ball fell in. Right fielder Matt Tuiasosopo charged in, grabbed it on a hop and fired home for what looked like an easy forceout as catcher Rob Johnson was simply standing on the plate to make the play.

But plate umpire A.J. Johnson clearly brain-cramped on the rules and forgot about the force, first indicating there was no tag by the Buffalo catcher and then belatedly waving that the throw pulled Rob Johnson off the plate when the Bisons began to argue.

On the next pitch, veteran Scott Podsednik lashed a two-run single to left to make it 5-2 and the IronPigs eventually finished a five-run inning and coasted home to an 8-4 win.

Umpires will always make judgment mistakes but forgetting the rules is inexcusable. Especially at this level. This is A.J. Johnson's seventh year of professional umpiring and he's one of eight Triple-A rookies in the International League this year. That's a lot of inexperience in blue, a story that bears watching the rest of the season.

Obviously, you're not going to have replay in the minor leagues. But imagine that same play in the big leagues. A quick challenge, a quick reversal. Would make a big difference.

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Red Sox roll call

The Red Sox announced there were 212 former players/coaches at Fenway Park for Friday's terrific 100th anniversary celebration. I counted 10 ex-Bisons on the list: Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Selby, Sean Casey, Wes Chamberlain, Alan Embree, Daryl Irvine, Dennis Lamp, Lou Merloni, Danny Sheaffer, Tim Wakefield and Mark Whiten.

Former UB pitcher Joe Hesketh, who pitched for the Sox from 1990-94, was also part of the ceremony.

Ex-Bisons outfielder Dave Roberts, whose stolen base in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS is widely viewed as the most important in baseball history, did not attend because he's a coach in the Padres system. Names like Manny Ramirez and Grady Little did not respond to the Sox invitation while other notables like Wade Boggs, Curt Schilling and Fred Lynn were unable to attend due to family or business commitments.

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Albert still waiting

Because he now does most of his work after we all go to bed, not many folks back East know that Albert Pujols entered the weekend with exactly no home runs in 54 at-bats for the Angels. Now, it should be noted he was batting .296 and was on a nine-game hitting streak.

But for 10 years and $240 million, Pujols is expected to approach his annual average of 41 homers he put up in St. Louis. Still, he had a 27-game homer drought last year for the Cardinals but managed to finish with 37.

"I can't wait until I hit a home run so you guys can stop talking about it," Pujols told reporters after a 3-for-5 night Thursday against the Athletics. "I mean, guys, whenever it happens -- whether it's going to be tomorrow, a month from now, two months from now -- I don't know when it's going to happen.

"I'm not going to go out there and try to hit the ball out of the park. My job is to go out there and have good at-bats. I know I have power. I know I can hit the ball from corner to corner. I know all that. But I'm not going to think about and get caught up and say, 'Man, I haven't hit a home run,' because I don't get caught up in all that."

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Late-night dealing

Speaking of the West Coast, you were either sleeping or (like me) watching hockey and missed some terrific pitching on Wednesday night. There was the Phillies-Giants game, a 1-0 San Francisco win that lasted 11 innings and was over in just 2 hours, 27 minutes, and there was Bartolo Colon's eight shutout innings in Anaheim -- during which he fired 38 straight strikes at one stretch.

Colon's work marked the most strikes recorded since pitch-by-pitch records started officially in 1988. He finished with 108 pitches and 82 strikes

"I've never seen anything remotely close," outfielder Jonny Gomes told MLB.com "You can't even get 38 strikes out of a pitching machine."

In San Fran, Phillies lefty Cliff Lee went 10 innings and became the first pitcher to go that distance and not get a win since Bret Saberhagen in 1994. Matt Cain went nine for the Giants.

Lee allowed seven hits and struck out seven. He threw 81 strikes out of his 102 pitches.

"It was the first time I've ever thrown 10 innings," he said. "It was neat. But I'd rather give up a couple runs and get the win."

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Around the horn

Derek Jeter passed Dave Winfield for 18th on the all-time hit list with No. 3,111 Friday at Fenway. Next up are Tony Gwynn at 3,141 and Robin Yount at 3,142. Willie Mays is No. 10 at 3,283 and Jeter could certainly get close to that by the end of the season.

Barring injury or a complete and sudden decline in his play, Jeter is looking good to become the sixth player to reach 3,500 and who knows where he goes from there.

Bryce Harper is scheduled to be in Buffalo with the Syracuse Chiefs to open a four-game series on May 1, but you wonder if the 19-year-old outfielder will make the trip because he's been badly overmatched in Triple-A so far.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2010 entered the weekend batting just .232 with no homers and one RBI, an on-base percentage of .295 and a slugging percentage of .339. Tough spot for the parent Washington Nationals. They fast-tracked him to Triple-A.

I'll be watching two things closely when the Bisons return home: Signs of improvement from pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia and an increase in the club's mental toughness. One error on the homestand led to five runs, another led to three runs and the blown call led to a five-run inning as well. Sometimes, teams have to simply overcome adversity. The Herd didn't do it enough last week.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com