The Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in the ALCS by winning Game 4 by two runs. The Astros had a two-run homer wiped out by a truly confounding ruling of fan interference. That’s the math for a call that could be remembered for a very, very long time.
And it was Joe West’s call, because of course it was. (Though perhaps it wasn’t Angel Hernandez only because umps aren’t eligible to work two playoff rounds in a row.) You saw it last night; watch it again, from every available angle, and decide whether you think fans interfered with Mookie Betts’s attempt to make an amazing catch on a Jose Altuve drive that was headed for the stands:
The relevant rule here is 6.01(e), which defines spectator inference, and the important part of the rule is this:
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.
That first part means that how once it’s out of the playing field and in the seats, it’s fair game. Fans can touch the ball, the fielder’s glove, pour hot sauce in his eyes, whatever; it’s not interference, and it’s a home run. Since no one denies that a fan or fans jostled Betts’s glove, the only point of controversy here is where the ball was when fans got involved.
For reference, here’s what the first row looks like in right. The yellow line marks the boundary:
There is a camera in the right field corner that would indubitably show whether Betts was interfered with before or after the ball crossed the line. This is what that angle showed:
Oh. Great. (A.J. Hinch got off a pretty good joke about all this, deadpanning that “we started the day with ‘there were too many cameras in the park,’” a reference to accusations against the Astros of stealing signs. It’s good to have a sense of humor.)
The replay angles umpires did have access to were not conclusive, they said. Astros fans, and I, and—unscientifically—most people watching would disagree. But the replay review came back and declared that the call on the field “stands.” This is, of course, not the same thing as confirming the call; it is saying they would not overturn the call on the field. So the call on the field is the thing, and that call was made by right-field umpire and crew chief Joe West.
If you even know the name of an official in sports, it’s because they a) make a lot of bad calls, b) are confrontational to the point of belligerence, or c) have big biceps, and Joe West doesn’t have big biceps. And here he is, explaining his call that gave this game an entirely different flavor:
Q. What did you see that prompted the initial call of fan interference?
JOE WEST: Well, when he 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.
Q. So the ball had not yet crossed the railing?
JOE WEST: No.
Q. And Betts’ glove had not yet crossed the railing, do you believe?
JOE WEST: No.
Q. Okay. Did the fan —
JOE WEST: Here’s the whole play, here’s the whole play. He hit the ball to right field. He jumped up to try to make a catch. The fan interfered with him over the playing field. That’s why I called spectator interference.
Q. So it’s a clear call in your mind?
JOE WEST: Yes.
Q. Were there already — was there a single call that you saw, that the replay officials saw on replay that confirmed —
JOE WEST: I don’t know what he saw. He just — the replay official said I was right.
JOE WEST: That’s all. He said I have nothing that can change it.
(Again, the replay official did not say West was “right.” The replay official only said that there was no conclusive proof West was wrong.)
We can never know for absolutely certain where Mookie Betts’s glove was when it was interfered with, or if—even though it doesn’t matter—he wouldn’t made an unbelievable catch if it hadn’t been. I only know what I saw. And that Joe West saw something completely different. And that on such differences, pennants can swing.