It was a wild American League Championship Series game between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox with memorable moments, great batting, fielding and pitching, and a diving catch to end it. But what most people wanted to talk about on Thursday morning was a controversy in the first inning on Wednesday night.
The Houston Astros were already trailing 2-0, but got a man on in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, Jose Altuve hit a long fly to right that looked like it might leave the park. Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox jumped at the wall for the ball, and his glove hit an Astros fan who was also reaching for it. The ball careened back onto the field, but umpire Joe West immediately called fan interference and ruled that Altuve was out.
The key to the ruling was where the ball was when the contact occurred. If it was still on the near side of the wall, Betts had to be given his chance to catch it unmolested. But if it was over the wall, the fan had every right to go for it.
“The spectator reached out of the stands and hit him over the playing field and closed his glove,” West said after the game. He said it was clear the ball had not yet crossed the railing.
The Astros called for a video review, and while it was underway fans chanted, “Home run.” But West’s ruling was confirmed. Altuve was out. The Red Sox went on to win, 8-6, and take a three-games-to-one lead in the series.
A key to the final decision was West’s interference call on the field. Baseball’s video review rule says: “To change a reviewable call, the Replay Official must determine that there is clear and convincing evidence to change the original call that was made on the field of play.” The replay officials may have considered the call a close one. Had West’s ruling been a home run, that might have been unchanged as well.
Needless to say, opinion was divided on the ruling. "That was a clear home run," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said.
Betts said he was “100 per cent positive” he would have caught the ball were it not for the fan.
The man at the centre of the controversy, Troy Caldwell, is an Astros fan, although his baseball cap read, "Reagan Bush '84."
“I don’t understand even what happened,” he told the Boston Globe, contending he had stayed on his own side of the wall. “I got my hand out, and the ball hit my hand. I never touched his glove. I don’t understand why they said it wasn’t a home run.”
“I’m going to need security to escort me out of here if the Astros don’t come back to win this,” he told the Houston Chronicle during the game. Caldwell was given a warning after the incident but was not ejected.
Bill James, the baseball statistician and a consultant for the Red Sox, said the call was correct. He tweeted: “The fan very clearly DID reach over the fence. The fan right next to him has his hand on the FRONT of the fence – look at it – and is reaching FORWARD so his left hand is forward of the right. The interfering fan has his hand at the same level, so it is CLEARLY in the field of play.”
But plenty of fans and media members said they disagreed, contending that the ball was over the wall and that therefore the fan was within his rights to reach for it. The rule reads: “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.” - New York Times