By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Plenty of time has passed since the controversial call made in the first inning of Game 4 of the ALCS. You know the call. Mookie Betts went to rob a home run. Fans interfered with him. Joe West ruled fan interference. Instead of hitting a game-tying home run, Jose Altuve was out.
The only question on the play was whether Betts reached his arm past the wall and into the stands, or whether it was the fans who reached over the wall to interfere with Betts in the field of play. And as people yammer on and fight and dispute the call, they’re all ignoring the simple fact that nobody can say for sure which party was reaching over the wall. And if you look at the view from left field, you can see how far Betts’ body was from the wall when the contact was made.
Even that, though, is unclear. It’s a guess.
And ultimately, considering Betts was going to make that catch (as he’s done many times before), the ultimate ruling was fair.
(We could mention how the Red Sox were robbed of a two-run hit the night before but managed to overcome a failure of MLB’s replay system, but that need not enter the discussion for the time being. We could also bring up the fact that the Astros took two separate leads in the middle innings but blew them both immediately. Again, that’s not entirely relevant to the point at hand.)
Regardless, the arguments and discussion about this one call in the first inning is distracting from the fact that had the Houston Astros just made a couple of simple, basic plays and decisions, they most likely would have won the game. Both plays involved the second base bag.
Carlos Correa Misses Second Base
This was just inexcusable.
With one out and a runner on first base in the seventh inning, and with the Red Sox leading by a run, Ryan Pressly induced a layup of a double-play ball off the bat of Rafael Devers. Correa fielded the ball, stepped toward second, then fired on to first base for the easy double play to end the inning.
Except he forgot to touch the base. He just missed. Wasn’t even close.
Second base umpire Mark Wegner saw it (how could he not?) and ruled Xander Bogaerts safe at second base.
Correa’s explanation didn’t really past muster, as he said he would not have been able to make a strong throw to first if he got his foot on the bag.
“I cannot step on top of the bag, then I will have nothing behind my throw,” he said. “It was either that or just step on the bag and get one out at second base. So I felt like that’s all I could do right there.”
Not entirely true, as tapping that left foot a few inches further to the left would have easily allowed for the double play to be turned. Nevertheless.
After that, Pressly walked Steve Pearce. Lance McCullers entered to replace Pressly, and promptly issued a bases-loaded walk to Brock Holt to plate the Red Sox’ seventh run and stretch their lead to two.
All of that could have been avoided if Correa had just touched the bag.
Tony Kemp Needlessly Goes For Second Base
As a base runner, when you’re down three runs, you don’t matter. You don’t matter in the sense that you need to score one way or another for your team to have a chance to make a comeback. It’s a process. And whether you’re standing on first base or second base doesn’t really matter much in that endeavor, outside of eliminating the double play opportunity.
But that limited benefit shouldn’t lead a hitter to needlessly try to stretch a single into a double while trailing by three with nobody out in the eighth inning.
And as you know by now, Tony Kemp made that mistake. Mookie Betts made him pay.
Granted, it was an all-time throw by Betts, who sprinted to the ball and managed to field it, spin, and fire a strike to second base all in the blink of an eye. Defensive plays don’t get much better than that.
But in no way should Kemp have ever been even thinking about testing that defense. If Kemp was rounding third as the tying or winning run, and the third base coach decided to send him, thus forcing the outfielder to make a perfect play for the out? That’s wise. If it’s 8-5 in the eighth, and you hit a leadoff single, you better plant your body on the first base bag unless you can make it safely to second while hopping on one leg.
And because baseball can be a cruel game, Kemp had to watch from the dugout as the next batter was hit by a pitch and the following batter ripped a double. One run did score on a fielder’s choice to short. The Astros then loaded the bases in the ninth, with the tying run on second base and the winning run on first.
You can’t simply place Kemp at second and say that everything else that inning would have played out the same, obviously. So you can’t say the tying and winning runs would have moved up a base in the ninth, or that another run or two would have definitely scored in the eighth. But given Craig Kimbrel’s lack of command and general struggles, it’s not at all difficult to imagine that eighth turning into a game-changing — and potentially a game-winning — inning for the home team.
But, instead, Mookie Betts made a tremendous play.
In the ninth, Josh Reddick made a diving catch on a sinking line drive with the bases loaded … only to be matched by Andrew Benintendi doing the same to end the game.
The ballgame ended with some great defensive plays, and Houston third baseman Alex Bregman made a play in the third that is a candidate for play of the night. At the same time, George Springer missed on two catchable fly balls — one a double off the bat of Benintendi, the other a double off the bat of Christian Vazquez prior to the Jackie Bradley Jr. home run. Both batters came around to score, with the Benintendi run being aided by a wild pitch.
And in two critical moments, the Astros made a terrible defensive miscue, and the Red Sox made a brilliant play — with a little help from some terrible decision-making on the bases.
If those two plays go the much simpler route (a 6-3 double play, and single to right field), then it’s very likely that nobody would be spending more than two minutes a day later talking about an impossible-to-determine fan interference call from the first inning. But they didn’t, so here we are.