Controversy in Houston

Sam Farmer - Contributing Writer (@Samfarmer24)

It’s what everybody in the baseball world is talking about. Was Mookie Betts interfered with on that potential Jose Altuve home run yesterday? Did Joe West and the team make the right call? Did the Astros’ have a tying home run stolen away from them?

There were a lot of incredible moments in ALCS game 4, ranging from JBJ’s go ahead home run, to the game ending sliding catch by Andrew Benintendi. However, the biggest moment came early on in the bottom of the first inning.

Jose Altuve hit a deep drive to right field that looked destined for the stands, but Mookie Betts came running up and jumped in perfect timing towards the ball. With his glove outstretched, Mookie looked to be about to make the catch. Only he didn’t. The glove of the likely AL MVP collided with Astros fan Troy Caldwell and shut milliseconds before the ball was to hit leather. Instead, the ball caromed off the glove, into the stands, and back onto the field.
Bob Levey / Getty Images

Joe West made a couple of signals but his main signal was a closed fist, signifying that despite the non-catch, the call was an out on fan interference. Houston fans in Minute Maid Park booed in disbelief as they tried to understand what had happened. The play went right to review, and the New York replay office determined that there was insufficient evidence to overturn West’s call, and Altuve was out.

Astros manager AJ Hinch tried to argue, but had no ground to stand on after the replay. It took away two runs from the Astros and left the Sox 2-0 lead intact. The game had plenty of action left however, so although this was a pivotal moment, it didn’t decide the game. The Astros fan himself has said that he thought it was a terrible call, and asked how it could be interference when he was in the stands and the ball had exited the field of play.

There are a couple of questions to answer when trying to figure out whether this was indeed the right call:

Was Mookie interfered with?

Yes he was. Upon further review, it was pretty apparent that the fan prevented Mookie from being able to make the catch. I firmly believe that based on the positioning of his glove and his trajectory, that Mookie would have made this catch if not interfered with. This is somewhat irrelevant though. With the contact with the fans outstretched hands shutting Mookie’s glove, he didn’t have a chance to make the play. The fan prevented him from an opportunity, and thus interfered with the attempted catch.

Does it even matter that he was interfered with/was the ball still in the field of play?

This seems to be the argument that the Astros and their supporters are making. Although most would concede that Mookie was indeed interfered with, the second question asked is “was this ball in play?” If the ball is in play, Mookie has every right to make the catch and it would be clear interference. Major League Baseball has seen this call play out a couple of times when an over eager fan reaches over the fence and catches or deflects a ball that may have not made it out. This play becomes complicated because it was pretty clear the ball would have been gone if Mookie had not made the catch or been interfered with. Houston fans believed that Mookie was well over the yellow line with his glove in the stands. Joe West believed that the ball had not yet crossed the wall when interference was made, and that the glove was within the realm of play.

At the end of the day, this ruling came down to Joe West’s initial interpretation of the call in the context of MLB rule 3.16, which states “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."

3.16 further states that "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."

West saw spectator interference, and deemed that the interference happened over the field of play.

At the end of the day, although it was a very important play in the 1st inning, and did nullify two runs for the Astros, this call didn’t have any ultimate deciding impact on the game. The Astros and the Sox traded leads throughout and the Red Sox came out on top to claim a 3-1 series lead. There will surely be controversy regarding this call for a while, but it is what it is. The Astros are never going to feel like they weren’t robbed, and the Sox are going to firmly believe that the right call was made, and that Mookie would have made the catch.

Game 5 should be another great one.