HOUSTON — Controversy hit Game 4 of the ALCS in the bottom of the first inning on Wednesday night when the Red Sox were awarded an out on a ball Mookie Betts did not catch. It proved to be a pivotal play in the Red Sox’ 8-6 victory.
With a runner on first, Jose Altuve sent a Rick Porcello pitch to right field. Betts timed his leap perfectly, but the ball glanced off his glove for an apparent home run.
But Joe West, the umpire in right field, immediately ruled fan interference and called Altuve out. As Betts jumped, he nearly had the ball in his grasp. But his glove was forced closed by a fan also trying to catch the ball.
“I was just going back, and I got a good jump on it,” Betts said. “And I was pretty positive I was going to be able to catch it. But as I jumped and went over, reached my hand up, I felt like somebody was kind of pushing my glove out of the way or something.”
West, the umpire crew chief, called for a video review, and the call was upheld as the crowd at Minute Maid Park booed loudly.
“I think it’s just part of the game,” explained Betts. “It’s just a great fan experience. And we can interact with the fans with them being close, [in] good and bad ways. It’s just one of those things where it was just a freak accident.”
The fan in question was Troy Caldwell, a native of Houston who now resides in Atlanta but made the trip back home specifically to attend Game 4. Wearing a “Reagan/Bush ’84” hat, Caldwell was adamant he did nothing wrong.
“I don’t understand even what happened,” said Caldwell. “I was over the line and the ball hit — I had my hands out, you can see it. I got like 800 pictures that already came to me — but I’m over the line and I put my hand out and the ball hit my hand. I never touched his glove. I don’t understand why it wasn’t a home run.”
Caldwell, a lifelong Astros fan, was not ejected by security. When asked what his thoughts were on West as an umpire, Caldwell responded, “A joke.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the paper,” he said. “That’s about the worst call I’ve ever seen. That ball was gone, no matter what. My hand wasn’t over the yellow.”
Caldwell said Betts didn’t speak to him after the play ensued. His phone however was buzzing off the hook.
Another fan who was wearing a blue cap and sitting next to Caldwell did appear to interfere with Betts’s glove. The fan declined an interview request from the Globe.
Altuve echoed Caldwell’s sentiments in a more restrained manner.
“When I hit the ball, I was expecting a tie game,” Altuve said. “I thought I did. Normally I don’t get mad at an umpire’s call. That one, I was a little upset.”
Per 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.”
The rule further explains that if a fielder reaches over “a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball,” said fielder is doing so at his own peril. If Caldwell’s word is accurate, that he and the fan beside him weren’t “over the yellow” when the ball arrived, West got the call wrong. If they crossed the plane, West got it right.
“When he jumped up to reach for the ball, the spectator reached out of the stands and hit [Betts] over the playing field and closed his glove,” West said.
The veteran umpire further confirmed that both the ball and Betts’ glove had not crossed the yellow coated railing. Replay officials in New York saw nothing that could change West’s call.
Neither manager believed West was in the wrong for how he handled the situation. Red Sox’ skipper Alex Cora believed Betts was parallel with the wall and that he didn’t reach over the fence.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch had a little fun with the situation.
“Earlier, we started the day with, ‘Do we have too many cameras in the park?’” He joked, referring to allegations that the Astros were taking pictures of signs being given in Boston’s dugout during Game 1 at Fenway Park.
“So, yeah, I wish we had an angle that was perfectly along the fence line that would show [whether he was over.] That’s the one camera we don’t have.”
Porcello ended up finishing the inning, and the Sox held their 2-0 lead.
“I’ve never seen or been a part of a play like that,” Betts said. “So, yeah, I guess you could say I was kind of surprised he made the out call. And as I watched the video, it’s like he got it right because I feel like it was going in my glove for sure.”