He tried to act as natural as possible.
The last thing Xander Bogaerts wanted to do was make eye contact with anyone.
He kept chewing his gum and walking off the field hoping the only one who noticed that he didn’t touch second base on what, at that point, looked like a double play to end the second inning, was him.
Second base umpire Cory Blaser was right on top of the play. He watched Astros No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez shoot a ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off Red Sox starter Joe Kelly and bounce Bogaerts’s way.
He watched Bogaerts scoop it up then go to second for the force out and fire to first in one motion.
He was close enough to see that Bogaerts didn’t actually step on the bag for the out at second until after he let the ball go, but if Blaser wasn’t going to say anything, neither was Bogaerts.
“I knew right away that once I let that ball go that I stepped after,” Bogaerts said. “It’s kind of something that I knew I messed up right there, but hopefully the umpires would not look at the replay and we’d get a double play.”
Kelly Johnson wasn’t going to draw any attention to it after he made the pick at first base.
He just turned, inspected the ball, and strolled into the dugout.
The rest of the Sox followed him in. But Astros manager Bo Porter knew.
“We had confirmation from our people that the ball was out of his hand before he touched the base,” Porter said.
When Porter jogged out to chat up Blaser, he had all the information he needed, knowing that in a series defined by game-changing defensive mistakes, the play had a chance to be pivotal.
The Sox and Astros spent the weekend trying to outdo each other’s miscues. In the end, the four-game split had plenty of blooper-reel material. But Bogaerts’s neighborhood play was the turning point Sunday in an 8-1 win by the Astros.
“That there is a big play,” Porter said. “You look at that stage of the game and what proceeded to happen after that, one could say that was the biggest play of the game.”
What happened after was a series of conversations, arguments, reviews, and explosions that ended with the double play being overturned, the Astros getting an extra out, AL batting leader Jose Altuve hitting his first career grand slam, and Sox manager John Farrell getting ejected.
It was all set in motion once Porter challenged the play.
“Just wanted to make sure obviously that you’re not challenging the neighborhood play, which is something that you can’t challenge,” said Porter.
The question was whether the play was reviewable.
Initially, Farrell was told the “neighborhood play” on a force out — a play in which, according to the baseball rulebook, “the defensive player may or may not have touched second base in his attempt to complete a double play and avoid a collision with the runner” — couldn’t be looked at on replay.
But by the umpires’ interpretation, what Bogaerts did wasn’t a neighborhood play, it was a race to beat the runner to the bag.
Wanting to make sure he was accurate, crew chief Jim Joyce chose to double check.
“Actually, we have not had that play, per se, where the shortstop or the second baseman go right to the bag on their own. So, just to make everything clear, I explained to Bo that I was going to ask New York, the replay center, if it was in fact reviewable because a neighborhood play is not,’’ said Joyce. “New York came back to me and said, ‘Yes, that play is reviewable,’ and I came back to them and said, ‘OK, Houston is challenging that play.’ ”
The video clearly showed that Bogaerts let the ball go before stepping on the bag.
Farrell didn’t agree.
“My interpretation is the neighborhood play should not be dependent upon a feed throw or not,” he said. “A neighborhood play is not a reviewable play.”
But it was out of his hands.
In a matter of two batters, so was the game.
After Robbie Grossman worked Kelly for a walk, Altuve blasted a shot over the Monster.
The slam blew the game open. Farrell blew his lid.
As Altuve circled the bases, Farrell fumed. He aired his frustrations at first base umpire Doug Eddings, but the only thing that came of it was his third ejection of the season. Farrell came sprinting from the dugout to confront Eddings face to face, yelling until Joyce came in to settle things down.
“I went too far with my reaction,” Farrell said.
The inning had already been frustrating enough.
The Astros got their first run when Yoenis Cespedes lost track of Marc Krauss’s fly ball to left field with the bases loaded and no outs in the second inning.
“Off the bat, he didn’t get a read,” Farrell said.
Matt Dominguez followed with a sacrifice fly to double the lead.
What ended up being a six-run inning blew a hole in Kelly’s Fenway debut. He gave up a career-high seven runs in four innings.
Had Bogaerts turned the double play, Kelly would’ve gotten out of the inning with limited damage.
“Getting a double play right there would’ve been really huge and it really would’ve turned the game around,” Bogaerts said. “But since I didn’t make it, it turned it around in their favor.”
Farrell didn’t make any excuses.
“He’s got to touch the bag before he throws, for one,” Farrell said. “Then you’ve got the ability to read the direction of the runner. You can direct yourself either inside or to the outside part of the base path or the path in which the runner is taking. Unfortunately he released the ball right prior to touching the bag.”
Bogaerts made no excuses either.
“I wish I could do that again,” he said.
He took it as another tough lesson in what’s been a long season.
“A lot of lessons, man,” he said. “I think it’s time to stop messing up so much, you know? I’m going out there every day, you know? I’m trying the best I can.’’