ST. PETERSBURG — Tim Nielson didn't even get to keep the souvenir from his 30th birthday trip. Perhaps he'll get an asterisk in the Baseball Encyclopedia.
Or he'll settle for the distinction of being involved in the first instant-replay reversal in a major-league baseball game, awarding Rays slugger Carlos Pena a three-run home run in the fourth inning.
Pena's drive over the yellow-painted barrier above the wall in right-centerfield was initially ruled a double and the play halted on fan interference, indicating umpires thought Nielson had touched the ball in play. Replays confirmed that Nielson made contact — or vice versa — well above the barrier, and crew chief Gerry Davis emerged from the third-base dugout after a delay of 4:10 to award Pena his 31st homer of the season.
"It was clearly above the yellow line," Nielson asserted.
Instant replay has been used to settle fair/foul and home-run calls three times since being introduced midseason, twice at Tropicana Field. A home run by Alex Rodriguez over the leftfield foul pole was confirmed Sept. 3, as was a Hunter Pence double Sept. 9 in Houston.
Nielson, a Denver native and Twins fan, wife Amy, brother-in-law Eric Ulferts, sister-in-law Gretchen and 7-month-old Titus were in town for one day, resplendent in Twins blue and red, to watch one game as an early birthday junket. They had moved down a few rows to the empty seats 9, 10, 11, 12 early in the game. While Nielson made a play for the ball, the rest of the party blanketed Titus, with Gretchen Ulferts thinking, "Somebody better catch that ball."
"I'm sitting here and I even play baseball a lot, and it was like the longest fly ball coming straight to me that I'm camped under — and my glove is in the car," Nielson said. "So the ball's coming straight at me, and I know I can't reach over the fence, but I still want to make a play at the ball, and instead of cupping it with two hands, I just used one and … it was right on top of me."