While the divisional series were a little low on drama, the ALCS has made up for it. The lead in Wednesday night’s Game Four in Houston swung back and forth, with two incredible catches — and one controversial call on a no-catch — framing the action before the Boston Red Sox pulled it out to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the seven game series. Of all the wild plays that took place, it was Andrew Benintendi’s game-ending catch on a sinking line drive from Alex Bregman that may be best remembered. That assumes that Boston hangs on to win the series.
However, Benintendi’s catch wasn’t the controversial one. After the Red Sox got out to a lead in the top of the first inning, the Astros appeared to tie the game on a two-run shot to right field by Jose Altuve. Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts reached over the wall to rob Altuve, and made contact with the hands of fans sitting in the front row in the process. The ball bounced off of Betts’ glove back into the field of play as the Astros raced around the basepaths. Was it a home run? An out? Or was the ball still in play?
Anyone else realize how eerily similar tonights’ Altuve/Betts interference play looked to that one Victor Martinez home run Josh Reddick coulda/woulda/shoulda caught in Game 4 of the 2013 ALDS? pic.twitter.com/T0cOrSCGHE— Postseason Armchair Manager Bat (@Miggysbat) October 18, 2018
First, let’s just marvel at Betts’ hops right here.
The issue in question is whether this all constitutes fan interference. Country Joe West thought so in real time, as he ruled interference and called Altuve out. However, West had a terrible view of the play compared to what was available by the broadcast cameras.
The two key issues are whether Betts would have made the catch if he hadn’t made contact with the fans’ hands, and whether the fans involved were actually reaching into the field of play. The first is unknowable, though vieo footage (and Betts’ abilities) tell you he had a good chance of hauling it in.
The fan interference call from last night we were just discussing. Do you think Mookie Betts was going to make the catch? pic.twitter.com/HcvhYRnM7J— Wake Up Zone (@WUZ1045) October 18, 2018
That’s probably going to be caught. The question is whether or not the fans are in the wrong or not in interfering with Betts’ glove.
The arguments went on and on, and Joe West explained himself, but in the end, the replay officials went with the old, “not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field,” canard, and decided to let West’s call stand. That’s a pretty bad decision in considering a play that cameras lend a much better view of, but hey, life isn’t fair, right?
The fundamental question is whether or not that was interference by the letter of the rule. MLB Rule 3.16 defines interference as only happening when the ball is in the field of play. Unlike the famous Steve Bartman play for the Chicago Cubs back in 2003, these fans don’t appear to be reaching out over the wall — though it’s hard to say if they’re breaking the imaginary plane above the wall. They have their hands out in anticipation of the ball, but it’s hard to know what else they are supposed to do in the scenario. Do fans in the front row have to simply scatter? Or just take the impact of the ball without getting handsy? These would seem to be ridiculous expectations.
From MLB Rulebook ...— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 18, 2018
Joe West 3.16 says you're out. pic.twitter.com/LGK1BjKfPY
The ball was going to be a home run, guaranteed. It wasn’t caught, nor did fans obviously interfere with Betts within the confines of the actual field of play. In practice, since Betts did knock the ball back onto the field, one would think it was still a live ball. In reality, it was called an out, and the leagues replay rules — and the available camera angles — proved not quite up to the challenge. Somehow, in a stadium rigged to capture the spin rate of pitches and the exit velocity, launch angle, and distance of every ball hit, there was no clear view along the wall with which to judge. And so, the call on the field stood.
A play like that in the first inning doesn’t decide the game, but for many Astros fans, it probably feels otherwise. Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs thinks the call turned out to be the right one in the end. As for manager A.J. Hinch and his team? They aren’t happy. Sports Illustrated broke down an image that may live in baseball history forever.
Reddick and Benintendi’s dueling catches
The Red Sox entered the ninth inning with a lead, and almost blew the game wide open against Colin McHugh. Look at this fantastic do-or-die play by Astros right fielder Josh Reddick to save the Astros’ bacon.
Riding the momentum of that catch, the Astros got to work in the bottom of the ninth, desperately needing to pull out a victory. Once again, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel obliged. The Astros managed to load the bases for their most dangerous hitter, Alex Bregman.
Andrew Benintendi with the most “All or nothing” play you’ll ever see.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 18, 2018
Miss this ball and the series goes 2-2.
He caught it. The series is now 3-1. pic.twitter.com/xUxI3lmAqQ
If that ball lands, the game is tied. If it gets by Benintendi to the wall? The Astros probably walk off in epic fashion. If the Red Sox go on to World Series glory, Benintendi’s catch is going to go down as one of the greatest plays in Boston sports history.
The technology war is growing colder by the day
One of the key takeaways from the first game of the ALCS was Boston’s complaint about an Astros employee stationed to observe the Boston dugout. Apparently, tipped off by the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox quickly became aware of the Astros’ staff member and he was forced to move by MLB security. The Astros claim they were trying to keep an eye on the Red Sox to ensure they weren’t using video monitors in their dugout. You may recall that it was the Red Sox in trouble last season for allegedly using an Apple watch in the dugout to communicate with observers in the stadium.
MLB accepted this explanation, but sign stealing continues to be a major issue, either in reality, or in the heads of teams worried about the possibility. It’s slowing the game down as pitchers and catchers constantly adjust signs throughout games, and even from at-bat to at-bat. Jayson Stark of the Athletic broke down the growing paranoia, and a possible wireless solution.
Zip Recruiter may be working out from Brad Ausmus
Several teams around the league are looking for a new manager, or a new GM in some cases. Reports are that former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has interviewed for the vacant Los Angeles Angels’ managerial spot. He spent this season working as a consultant to the Angels. Ausmus has also made it to the second round of interviews for the Cincinnati Reds managerial vacancy. It will be interesting to see if he gets another gig so soon after his rough four-year tenure in Detroit.
Another interesting job opening is located in New York, where the Mets are in search of a new GM. A surprise candidate hit the news on Wednesday in the form of Tigers assistant GM Dave Littlefield. Littlefield has interviewed for the position, and hey, we can only hope he’s a front runner. CBS Sports has a rundown of Littlefield’s greatest hits from his time as the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager. Let’s just say things didn’t go so well last time around. Best of luck, Dave!
Around the horn
A look at Manny Machado’s dirty streak. Clayton Kershaw shrugged off criticism and shoved against the Brewers on Wednesday. The Brewers tried the ol’ bait and switch against the Dodgers heavily platooned lineup. It didn’t work though. Was the Astros’ deal for Justin Verlander the best deadline deal of all time? Probably, and right now he’s all that stands between Boston and the World Series.