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Phillies-Cardinals game showcases white knuckle thrill of challenges

Find your seats, everyone! Mike Matheny is fingering his chin on the dugout steps!

Scott Kane/Getty Images

Eons ago, The Committee to Modernize Baseball - a collection of looming, soundless monoliths arranged in a semi-circle deep within the Shadow Realm - made a decision. Or, more accurately, a mysterious, near-indecipherable series of hieroglyphics appeared engraved on them that no one had noticed before, and that ancient scrawl was taken back to our dimension and transcribed into baseball law.

That law became quite cataclysmic in the sport. Many of us rabid, blubbering fans were demanding at the time that the game not take so long, among other schemes we'd hatched to make America's pastime unrecognizable to the previous generation. The consensus was, baseball just takes way too long.

Thankfully, the new laws set upon us by the monoliths addressed this issue exactly. Unfortunately, the rigid, unmovable pillars felt differently; if anything, baseball had simply gotten too hot, and needed desperately to slow down before things got way, way too sexy. Therefore, they imbued MLB's managers with a new, unsexy power: the instant replay challenge.

No one got more mileage out of the oft-debated tactic than Cardinals manager Mike Matheny last night, who did not officially challenge every play, but seemed to be considering it each time the ball didn't go the Cardinals' way. One of the times he actually did challenge, however, was literally for that reason.

The Cardinals weren't having a great night, and everyone knew it; not just because of the scoreboard, but because of the petulant whining that was undoubtedly wafting from their dugout and into the night air. They were losing, 4-0 in the fifth inning, but they had preferred to be winning.

Matheny decided he'd rather Ruben Tejada's foul ball be a lead-off double, so he tossed the multi-colored Challenge Stones each manager receives in a small, decorative sack at the beginning of each season onto the field. The umpires gathered and knew immediately the gravity of their task.

On the other end of the phone, the monoliths creaked and groaned from the strain of peering into another reality. Through the window they tore into the universe, they could see Tejada rounding first and winding up safely on second. In a series of a quiet howls that could have been mistaken for the wind passing through a keyhole, they communicated this to the umpires at Busch Stadium, and Tejada was granted second base, despite a lack of empirical evidence that any of it should really be happening.

"Thus speaketh the monoliths," Pete Mackanin seems to have been told by an umpire upon questioning the decision. He probably did not want to investigate much further into the matter, given the dilated pupils and bleeding nose of the ump (These symptoms are quite common for those who commune with the unyielding, merciless rectangles that determine the direction of this sport).

Adam Morgan hadn't quite been cruising to this point - he'd allowed two hits and a walk through four innings of work with two strikeouts - but after the five to six minute delay the game suffered due to the glacial pace of the monolith's visions, it is all too easy to correlate Morgan's further downward spiraling that inning to the prolonged break in the action. He gave up a walk and three consecutive singles following the odd decision, and then handed the ball off to Colton Murray.

After such a roaring success, the Cardinals seemed to consider challenging every play that didn't go their way for the rest of the evening. The Phillies, trying desperately to appease the monoliths themselves, also threw a few stones, but failed to please the overseers and their challenges were ignored. At one point, St. Louis even deployed their third base coach into the middle of a critical play, and when Mackanin came out to ask why... or how... this could possibly be allowed, all the umpire could do was shrug, and probably wipe the dried blood from under his nose.

Is it fair to classify the Cardinals as "whiny" for challenging close plays that did not benefit them? No, because what the hell other kind of play would you challenge? The Phillies put everything on pause with a challenge of their own, for the same reason - they didn't want to lose and thought they might, too, be in the monoliths' good graces (they were not). It was more the frequency of the considered and executed challenges - and in the cases of Tejada's double and the third base coach's interference, it was also the mind-boggling decision, or lack thereof, on the play.

But, as the old baseball saying goes, "Thus speaketh the monoliths."

Obviously, as constantly objective/rational Phillies radio broadcaster Larry Andersen brought up last night, the penalties for losing a challenge - or stopping the game and wasting everyone's time to no avail - should be stiffer. Like for instance, maybe the team who loses a challenge has a run subtracted from their score. Or how about, if Mike Matheny's foot touches the dugout steps one more time after something breaks the Phillies' way, the Cardinals franchise is dismantled and each part is sold to a different sleazy business tycoon, all of whom live in separate corners of the planet..

These are the sort of rules we can only hope appear, as if from nowhere, on the monoliths one day. Perhaps today will be that day! We'll probably get a look pretty soon, as the Phillies and Cardinals' series finale is at 1:45, which means Matheny will be probably challenging something by 2:00.