A controversial fan-interference call stripped Houston Astros designated hitter Jose Altuve of what would have been a game-tying, two-run home run in the first inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday.
After the Boston Red Sox scored two runs on a first-inning single from Rafael Devers, George Springer reached on a one-out single in the bottom of the frame. Altuve then launched a 2-1 pitch out to right field for what looked as if it would be a game-tying homer.
However, Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts tracked the ball to the wall and made a leaping attempt to catch it. During his attempt, a fan made contact with Betts’ glove, and right field umpire Joe West called fan interference.
The call was subjected to a lengthy review, after which Major League Baseball ruled the call on the field would stand, meaning there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch came out to argue the ruling.
“(West) just said that it was fan interference on the field. And my argument was more about that the ball was leaving the yard, the trajectory was there,” Hinch told Fox in a midgame interview. “Jose paid kind of the ultimate price for something out of his control.
“I’m not sure if Mookie makes that catch. He’s a great athlete. But how it’s an assumed out, it’s unbelievable.”
West said postgame, “When (Betts) jumped up to reach for the ball, the spectator reached out of the stands and hit him over the playing field and closed his glove.” He added, “The replay official said I was right. ... He said I have nothing that can change it.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, “It was right away, (West) called it right away. We were pretty sure that the call was going to stand.”
Betts added, “That was a ball I could catch. I’m 100 percent positive I was going to be able to catch that one. ... I definitely felt like somebody pushed my glove out of the way. It may not have been on purpose, but it definitely happened. And I was pretty positive that ball was going in my glove.”
Altuve’s response: “When I hit the ball, I was expecting to tie the game. I thought I did. They called an out. It’s tough. That was two runs in the first inning that would have helped us a bit more.”
MLB issued a statement about the video ruling: “After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official could not definitely determine that the spectator failed to reach out of the stands and over the playing field, clearly preventing the fielder from catching the ball. The call stands, the batter is out.”
Though Betts’ catch attempt was affected by the fans, it appeared to come with the ball already outside the field of play, which isn’t subject to interference according to Rule 6.01(e):
“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.”
Instead of a homer, Altuve was ruled out, and the fans at Minute Maid Park made their disapproval of the call known with a hefty amount of boos. Red Sox starter Rick Porcello eventually got out of the inning without allowing a run.
The fan ruled to have interfered with Betts, Troy Caldwell, told the Houston Chronicle midgame, “I’m going to need security to escort me out of here if the Astros don’t come back to win this.”
The Red Sox went on to win 8-6 and jump ahead 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
After the game, Hinch refused to blame the loss on the interference call.
“There was a lot of game left,” he said. “There was a lot of action in that game. No, I’m not going to go there. It would have been nice to tie the game at that point. But that’s not the difference. That’s not how the game plays.”
Asked whether he agreed with the ruling and how he kept his head after the decision, Hinch said, “I can get ejected in the first inning, which is ridiculous in a playoff game, but there’s no mechanism for me to change their mind, to change their interpretation, change the fact that I thought the ball was a row or two into the stands.
“It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not in New York (in the replay center), and I’m not an umpire.”
—Field Level Media