Wednesday evening the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros thrilled the baseball world with a great baseball game that went back and forth and came down to a couple of inches of Andrew Benintendi’s glove in the bottom of the 9th inning. Yet after the game – the conversation that dominated wasn’t about the harrowing 9th inning, or the great throw by Mookie Betts in the 8th inning, or the firepower exhibited by dueling home run hitters and a small defensive-minded outfielder, but an anticipated catch that didn’t happen.
Jose Altuve, the defending American League MVP thought he had tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the 1st inning. The ball went back, back, back – and then umpire Joe West immediately called fan interference. Jose Altuve was out and the Astros would not score in the inning. They ended up losing 8-6, with the two run margin being the difference in the game.
Fan and team debates began immediately. This was no “super obvious” instance like the 1996 Jeffrey Maier debacle that changed baseball history(author’s opinion) where the fan obviously reached INTO the field of play. This was no Steve Bartman either, where Moises Alou stood near stationary next to the stands and reached into the stands only to be thwarted by fans hands in an interference that was not called.
This would’ve been a tremendous home run saving jumping catch by Mookie Betts. For me, it conjured up the image of Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, a play I’ve gone into more detail here.
That said – clearly the fan stopped Betts glove movement and it was on track to make the play. But Betts was also going above the wall to make this catch.
Mookie has been known to make these plays, once even with some fan help.
A lot of people have now become baseball rules experts and point to this part in the baseball rule book:
MLB Rule 3.16, “When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference…no interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”
The question of course is if Betts was going to make this catch. Astros Manager AJ Hinch explained after the game: “We assume — and you can assume a lot with Mookie because he’s an incredible athlete — we assume he’s going to make this spectacular catch, jumping as high as he can into the crowd.”.
Umpire Joe West – who has been around since 1976 and managed more season than any other umpire in history – made the call. He maintained that Betts glove didn’t actually leave the playing field. “Cowboy Joe” can be controversial when he tries to maintain his own sense of baseball law order like calling out pine tar on Steve Howe in a 1988 playoff game, throwing a pitcher to the ground to break up a fight, and grabbing Jonathan Papelbon by the jersey after Papelbon grabbed his crotch in a gesture to fans and likely stating “Listen here Sonny. We don’t do that here.”. While some don’t like him, Angel Hernandez he is not.
In the end – I agree with this call and the decision that was made. Yes – it would have been a spectacular catch – but the fan needs to let the ball play on its own as counter-instinctual as that is – or perhaps there needs to be more of a barrier in the stadium. We pay the money to see the players play – not the fans.
Of course – had the Astros won the game, this would ultimately not be a big deal. But they didn’t, and now the defending champions are down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series and know they will have to win two in a row in Boston after winning Game 5 tonight in Houston. They nearly came back in this one, with their best hitter coming up with the bases loaded and two outs in the 9th, but a terrific diving catch by Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi ending the game. If there is one side of one ballpark in baseball that doesn’t worry about fan interference it is the Green Monster in Fenway Park. In the end the biggest robbery of this play was robbing us fans of one of the greatest catches we will never actually see.